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Not all people who work directly with a special education need to have a degree or certification in the field. Here are some options for a special education career if you don't have the usual degree.
Support staff, who work as "wrap around" or classroom aides, work directly with children but are not required to have college degrees or certification in special education. Some college can be helpful, and because support staff does not "take their work home"--ie. plan or write reports, it is often rewarding work with little stress. Some training may be required, but the district, school or agency who employs you will provide it.
Therapeutic Support Staff (TSS)
Often referred to as a "wrap around" a TSS is assigned to assist a single student. They are often provided by a county mental health agency or other outside agency at the request of the parents and school district. The responsibilities of the TSS revolve around that single student. That child may have been identified as needing "wrap around" support because of emotional, behavioral or physical needs that require individual attention.
The first responsibility of a TSS is to be sure a child's Behavior Improvement Plan (BIP) is followed. The TSS will see that the student stays on task and that besides supporting the student in participating appropriately in class, the TSS also sees that the student does not disrupt the educational progress of other students. They are often provided in order to help a student stay in their neighborhood school in a general education classroom.
School districts or agencies will hire the TSS's for students. Check with your local school to see if they hire TSS's, or whether you should contact an agency or perhaps the Intermediate Unit in your county.
College is not usually required, but some college credits in social services, psychology or education can be helpful, as well as experience and interest in working with children. TSS's make something between minimum wage and $13 an hour, 30 to 35 hours a week.
School district will hire classroom aides to assist special education teachers, occupation therapists or in full inclusion classrooms to provide support to students with disabilities. Classroom aides may be expected to provide toileting, hygiene or hand over hand support to children with more severe disabilities. Learning support children need less direct support: they need help completing assignments, checking homework, playing drill games, or working on spelling assignments.
Classroom aides are hired by the hour, and work between the time the students arrive and the students leave. They work during the school year this is often a great job for a mother who wants to home when her children are home.
A college education is not required, but having some college in a related field can be helpful. Classroom aides usually make something between minimum wage and $13 an hour. Large districts may provide benefits. Suburban and rural districts seldom do.
Para-Professionals Can Make a Special Education Program.
The teacher with whom a paraprofessional works are responsible for a child's special education program as defined by their IEP. A good para-professional pays attention to what the teacher wants him or her to do. Often these tasks are laid out explicitly, sometimes they are a continuation of activities that have supported learning in the past. A great para-professional anticipates what is necessary to keep students on task, and when the teacher needs to hand off a child to the para-professional so the teacher can move on to other children.
Para-professionals need to remember they have not been hired to babysit or to become the child's best friend. They need strong, responsible adults who will encourage them to give their best, stay on task and participate in their class.