About Teresa

Teresa Cooper is a 30-something wife, mom and teacher from Havelock, North Carolina. She has a Masters of Science in Education for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment from Walden University and a BA in Psychology with a minor in Creative from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Having struggled with anxiety and depression most of her life and later having birthed a child with autism, she is passionate about spreading awareness and acceptance of mental illness and autism and has been writing for Embracing the Spectrum since 2011. She also writes for The Mighty, The Huffington Post, and The Educator’s Room.

By: Teresa Cooper

Whether you’re a co-teacher, a resource teacher, a life skills teacher, an Autism specialist, or a behavior support specialist, you know that working as special education teacher comes with a special set of skills and that things exist in our world that other teachers just don’t understand. As a tribute to special education teachers everywhere, I wanted to list…

10 Things Only Special Education Teachers Understand

1. You wonder why you have no planning time, but you find a way to get it done anyway. Maybe you have a shorter planning period than regular education teachers, maybe you have no planning period at all, but somehow you wound up with less. We are the masters of time and even if we aren’t, we have to magically make up that time somewhere else. It’s all part of the job.

2. If anyone wants to know how to fill out paperwork, they come to you. Why? Well, everyone knows that special education teachers do all the paperwork. Even at home, your husband makes you fill out paperwork because somehow that’s part of your job description.

3. You have spidey-senses when it comes to detecting kids in trouble. Somehow you just know that Little Johnny had a bad morning and needs a break today and that Susie forgot to take her medicine before anyone else notices.

4. You want to rescue every kid on your caseload. You got into this job because you have the heart for it. No Child Left Behind, to you, means that when a child falls, we should pick them up and carry them on. You nurture your children and genuinely feel crestfallen when you can’t help.

5. You hate it when people ask you how long the meeting will last. I don’t know about you, but I’m usually grateful when I get this question via email so that I can roll my eyes in the privacy of my own room and then send a diplomatic email about the typical length of a meeting with the caveat that I cannot predict how long the meeting will last due to parent questions during a meeting.

6. You want to offer advice to random people about their children. You know all these strategies for all sorts of things, so when you hear conversations about kids who have trouble reading, writing, or math, you sometimes internally struggle with whether or not to jump in, inquire further, and offer advice. You know not to touch behavior with a ten-foot-pole though.

7. You can eat lunch in less than ten minutes. You know what to pick out for lunch so that you can accomplish this goal, because it’s an important one. A lot of teachers have little time for lunch, but oftentimes we get students in crisis during lunch and lunchtime gets eaten up by that (pardon the pun). Choose lunch wisely, because you may eat it on the run.

8. You know the art of talking to parents. It’s a gift, really. You become closely related to most of the parents of your students as a direct result of your need for their support and the fact that you often have so many meetings with them. Most teachers don’t get to know parents on such an intimate level, but you do. Sometimes you know more than you wish you knew, but you handle this information with grace and dignity, you smooth-talker, you!

9. You feel a bit like a loner. This happens especially if you don’t co-teach. Get you get left out of a lot of important meetings. You don’t go to lunch with other teachers. You don’t get recognized as teacher-of-the-year because, unless you have time for sports, clubs, or other things, no one really knows your name. The only acknowledgement you get comes from your students and some of the parents you work with.

10. They pull you back in. Just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in. In the end, it’s all about the kids. You could complain about the pay, other teachers, lack of recognition, lack of time, and feeling alone, but what did you really get into this job for? Those everyday moments with the kids bring you back every day. Every time you think about calling in sick, you think about how Mark would feel without you there to ask him how his morning went or how Julie would fare without someone to check her binder at the end of the day. If you quit, you would miss Mario’s smile and the way only Raquel laughs at your lame jokes.

Yes, no matter how you got into this teaching gig, it just so happened to become one of the sweetest positions you could get. As special education teachers, we have the good fortune of teaching some of the best kids at the school. Don’t tell the “regular” education teachers that, though. They might try to take our jobs.


I also have two projects at DonorsChoose.org to help support special education children at my school. Please help my students gain resources below: Technology Needed for Terrific Kids Diverse Learners Desire Learning Opportunities

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