September 27, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
Mary Baldwin University
Appalachian State University
San Jose State University
Gibraltar Public School
Clarion University of Pennsylvania
Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis
Nicholls State University
Virginia Commonwealth University
Mary Baldwin University
Applied Behavior Analysis & Autism Studies
Dr. Rachel Potter: In addition to being a university faculty member, I have also been a school-based and central office administrator, and when reviewing resumes of candidates for special education positions, one of the most important things I looked for was a history of diverse experiences. Many special education credentials qualify a candidate for positions that may span a wide range of grade levels. In Virginia, for example, initial special education teaching endorsements are K-12, so a resume will stand out if it shows that the applicant has had a breadth of experience across age/grade ranges. If a student is just newly credentialed, did they have fieldwork opportunities with early/primary grades, pre-teens, and older adolescents? Do their fieldwork experiences (and perhaps other related opportunities working with children) demonstrate that they have worked or volunteered across different demographics as well (rural settings, urban settings, settings that draw from differing socio-economic backgrounds, setting with higher rates of English-language learners, settings rich with racial/cultural diversity, settings that reflect practicum and student teaching placements in more than one school division)? While successful diverse experiences in and of themselves are not "skills," the reader of a resume can often infer likely associated skills, such as flexibility, collaboration, patience, cultural competence, and an understanding of "community in context," when a candidate has benefitted from a variety of experiences.
Dr. Rachel Potter: In any teaching position, whether special education or otherwise, it is perhaps the soft skills that are the greatest indicators of professional aptitude and success. In my years as a principal, we used to call this "teacher mojo," and it was an aura that is easier to glean in an interview than on a resume but centers around those personal traits that the person brings with them to the table beyond their content and pedagogical knowledge and expertise. A hiring administrator wants to know that the candidate is collaborative; special education teachers are expected to partner with their general education colleagues and related service providers and serve as case managers of interdisciplinary teams. They need to have excellent listening and facilitation skills, demonstrated through approachability, patience, flexibility, cultural competence, and the ability to lead sometimes difficult conversations. Special educators need to have impeccable time management skills and be reliable when meeting deadlines, as timelines are set by federal legislation and state regulation, not simply the whim of a school administrator. Additionally, they need to model inclusivity and kindness; they are often the voices in their buildings for the excluded students. They should be confident enough to say, for example, "have we thought about accessibility concerns for the upcoming field trip?" and be willing to kindly remind their colleagues of equal access and inclusivity when someone suggests "leaving those kids behind just this one time."
Dr. Rachel Potter: It would be important for a special education teacher applicant to have experience administering standardized assessments and to be able to list specific examples of names of those assessments. These could include state assessments administered for NCLB purposes or norm-referenced assessments administered to students who are undergoing the child study or eligibility (or re-evaluation) process. Additionally, successful candidates can articulate not only standard classroom technology hardware and software systems in which they may be proficient but can also specifically name examples of adaptive and assistive technology equipment and programs they have used with students for IEP accommodations. Finally, special education teachers must also have skills in data collection and analysis, as they are responsible for setting measurable individualized targets for student performance, gathering regular data to assess growth toward those targets as skills are taught, and then analyzing those data to make instructional decisions. They also need to be able to use and interpret these data and other assessment data for stakeholders (such as parents) and work with the IEP team to plan appropriate services, accommodations, and placements for students based on measurable outcomes.
Dr. Rachel Potter: Public school teachers, including special educators, are typically compensated based on non-negotiable pay scales set by local school boards, with specific salaries determined on a published table or grid based on educational level and years of experience. The rigidity of these scales allows little to no room for any flexibility. However, special education teachers with additional leadership or specialization experience may be afforded additional work opportunities to supplement their income through stipends and/or additional hourly pay. For example, an experienced special education teacher might be called upon (and compensated) to lead their school's child study (eligibility team). A teacher who has demonstrated particular skills with home-school collaboration and working independently might be asked if they want to pick up extra hours in the summer for a student who might need home-based intervention services through Extended School Year. A teacher fluent in a foreign language or ASL might be offered hourly contract opportunities to provide interpretation assistance for school-related meetings or document translation support for the district. While the rigidity of public school pay scales can limit earning potential in the broadest of terms, special education teachers can also consider furthering their education to seek credentials in school and division-wide administration if that is an area of interest.
Appalachian State University
Department of Reading Education and Special Education
Dr. Susan Hedges Ph.D.: Being a special educator today is about much more than just knowing which strategy to use to support a child with diverse abilities or how to use Zoom. Today's special educators need to be trained in trauma-informed pedagogy as more and more of our students in this country face trauma in a variety of ways. Thinking of the pandemic, students may have recently lost a close family member, or perhaps their family is suffering economically and they are facing food insecurity, or there's abuse at home. There are a number of ways the pandemic is creating trauma in children's and educators' lives. Since the majority of students today across the US are BIPOC and our educators are about 80% white (and female), having skills in culturally relevant pedagogy is also critical. What our children witness if not in their own communities, then on TV and social media, can make it difficult to learn. Educators need to be prepared for that. Ignoring it as though it is not happening is not an option.
Dr. Susan Hedges Ph.D.: If I were hiring special educators in my district, I would look for those who have strong technology and organizational skills along with a solid foundation in special education assessment, law, and evidence-based practices. I would also look for someone who has demonstrated strong collaborative skills. Special educators are always collaborating and need to be extremely good at it. They need to work with classroom teachers, specialists, administrators, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, and most importantly families.
Dr. Susan Hedges Ph.D.: Everywhere in the US, there is a need for highly trained special educators. The pay varies of course but so does the cost of living. I would encourage someone just starting out to find a location where they feel comfortable and start looking for a job.
Department of Educational Leadership and Special Education
Dr. David Bateman Ph.D.: Trend one-teachers thinking about retirement.
Trend two-increasing respect for how hard it really is to teach kids.
Trend three-very difficult to get aides for special education classrooms. Since we don't pay very well-they can make more at Sheetz-it shouldn't really be a surprise.
Dr. David Bateman Ph.D.: Certification. Experience working with children with disabilities.
Dr. David Bateman Ph.D.: 49 states say they have shortages in special education teachers. The other one is lying. School districts are desperate for qualified individuals. I can't think of one area that is better than others.
Dr. Jen Newton Ph.D.: I think we will see fewer teachers on the market this spring/summer with a far more than typical number of openings. Traditionally prepared first-year teachers are feeling underprepared as the pandemic has limited their time in classrooms.
Dr. Jen Newton Ph.D.: I think distance learning experiences and familiarity with a variety of technologies and tools will be an asset going into the fall.
Dr. Jen Newton Ph.D.: Special educator shortages are a national crisis. We will see need everywhere for well-prepared educators.
Marcy Zipke Ph.D.: Teachers are essential, and will always be needed. One thing the pandemic has demonstrated is how parents have really been stretched thin, juggling work and childcare. As soon as it is safe for elementary students to go back to school full time, I am sure we will see a hiring boom as more teachers are needed. And a good thing to keep in mind is that, whether school is online or in-person, the fundamental nature of teaching has not changed. Elementary teachers who can connect with students and establish strong relationships will always be in demand.
Marcy Zipke Ph.D.: Now that many students are learning online, and the use of technology has been established, it will be hard to put that cat back in the bag. My advice would be to spend the gap year exploring educational technology tools like Google Classroom, Seesaw, Schoology, Screencastify, Kami, BrainPop, Padlet, MobyMax, NewsELA, and more. In the future, there may or may not be a need to teach completely online again, but these tools can be useful in the classroom or for home/school connections as well.
Marcy Zipke Ph.D.: The best teachers focus on student needs, both academic and social-emotional. It is absolutely crucial to get to know your students both in general, while preparing for an interview, and then personally when you begin teaching. Do your homework! Make sure you know the answer to questions such as: What are the expectations of the district? What are the students' home lives like? Does the curriculum need supplementing? and more.
Dr. Peg Hughes Ph.D.: In light of the pandemic and the racial justice movement, it makes sense that, first, employers will be looking for those graduates who have had extensive fieldwork experience in planning, teaching, and assessing student outcomes online using Google Classroom, Zoom, or Webex platforms. Secondly, employers will perhaps also be looking for those trained in social justice and equity practices, particularly to serve those underrepresented students with disabilities. SJSU has been deemed the number one Transformative College in the country in part because we take an emancipatory approach in our teaching, research, and service. Our Education Specialist graduates are transformative educators and advocates for all students and work as change agents to improve the lives of students with disabilities/risks and of their families by addressing issues of equity in their classrooms and schools.
Dr. Peg Hughes Ph.D.: -Transformative educators who are skilled in addressing racial and social inequities in their programs
-Educators who are fullly qualified and trained to work with students with disabilities who are also English-language learners
-Educators who are trained to work collaboratively with general educators on planning, teaching, and assessing those students with disabilities in gen-ed classrooms, i.e., co-teaching in inclusive settings
-Fluent in other languages besides English due to the diverse language backgrounds of students and families (at least in California)
-Any evidence of leadership work on the job, e.g., trainings for general educators on inclusion, diversity, families, and more
-Strong technology skills for communication with all stakeholders and for teaching students virtually
-Trained to teach using UDL approaches to address diversity of student learning styles
Dr. Peg Hughes Ph.D.: I'm not really privy to employment outside of California, but certainly there is always a demand for education specialist in our states. Often our student teachers are hired immediately by districts where they do their student teaching, so this is a nice pipeline for employment.
Gibraltar Public School
Department of Special Education
Andrew Burgess: I believe that there will be. Education is usually a very fluid environment in the best of years, and this schoo yearl with COVID-19 will shape how online teaching is thought of. This school environment will shape any student teaching that a college student will be taking. The classroom is a very different landscape than it was one year ago.
Andrew Burgess: Graduates will need to be much more versatile with technology. Learning to teach online will be the next step in the evolution of teaching. Understanding how a virtual classroom runs and what it takes to run that classroom is a must for them.
Andrew Burgess: I think the experience that showcases their use of technology and how to fill out IEP paperwork will stand out for them.
Dr. Richard Sabousky Ph.D.: Since students in their charge will have varying educational experiences, the new graduates entering public schools in special education will have to individualize instruction even more. Problems may manifest not just related to a student's disability but also associated with the most recent educational experiences. There could very well be gaps in achievement that are not readily observable.
Dr. Richard Sabousky Ph.D.: New faculty will have to demonstrate an increased ability to differentiate instruction and work with the general education faculty to meet students where they are and implement techniques to accelerate the learning of all students who may have experienced COVID-related gaps in knowledge. Specifically, these skills would be related to explicit instruction and Direct Instruction, as well as other evidence-based techniques. Applications of instructional technologies mediated through computers and tablets, peers, and teachers will need to be used. An example would be related to questioning, having students respond to teacher questions in various ways. The most basic of these responses would be a binary response, such as right false questions next to a provided set of choices for students to select. Then, the most difficult of reactions - a production response, would show students' in-depth understanding. All of the above would be driven by the new faculty's experience with assessment and assessment practices. The outcomes of assessment, both formal and informal, will drive instruction.
Another skill or activity to be undertaken will be an intimate knowledge of the standards students must meet and resource materials available in their respective schools to help meet those standards. The textbook is not the curriculum or the standards but a vehicle to achieve those standards. By familiarizing the curriculum, educators will better handle those prerequisite skills needed to perform at the highest levels.
Dr. Richard Sabousky Ph.D.: Resumes reflect experience in giving assessments linked to instructional outcomes, curriculum mapping, and implementation of evidence-based instruction. Other activities may include the practice of online education and the use of various technologies to achieve desired student outcomes. Although not mentioned above, applying the principles of applied behavior analysis, often used in teaching students with Autism, would also be a huge plus.
Patricia Rogan Ph.D.: Education graduates should work to stand out in the crowd during their Student Teaching experiences and make connections with school administrators. After graduation, they should tap all possible personal/professional contacts for job leads, stay in touch with their university faculty, and NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK. Our grads should interview schools as much as schools are interviewing them, so they find the right fit. Education graduates should remember that when they are interviewing and seeking employment, they should be asking questions that are important to them and align with their teaching values. It may make sense to take a short-term appointment (e.g., for maternity leave) in order to get a foot in the door in a district in which the graduate would like to work.
Patricia Rogan Ph.D.: Educators will continue to advance learning in online or virtual contexts and will use a wider variety of e-learning tools and resources to bring the curriculum to life. Schools will ensure that students have access to computers and the internet, and students will be more tech-savvy as a result of increased online learning. Specific technology that enhances and enriches students' individualized experiences with content and instruction will be key. For example, future teachers may want to become familiarized with technology (including assistive technology) that facilitates learning for students with learning disabilities, students who are emergent bilinguals, and students who may need to access applications or software that engages visual, auditory, tactile, and/or kinesthetic learning in a multitude of ways.
Patricia Rogan Ph.D.: Teacher salaries continue to grow, but they vary from state to state and district to district. According to the NEA, the average starting salary for beginning teachers in 2017-18 was $39,249. The average salary of all teachers in the U.S. was $61,730 in 2018-19, which was a 2.1% increase from the previous year. Despite COVID-19 and its impact on teachers, it is doubtful that teacher salaries will jump significantly in the years ahead (due to state economic challenges) unless teachers strike.
Nicholls State University
Tara Martin: I feel that the coronavirus and the whole COVID pandemic will have an enduring impact on graduates and impact the learning of students of all ages. I am sure that our entire world's quality of education, since March 2020, has significantly declined from preschoolers to higher education. It is quite sad to see, and it is scary that something invisible can effect our country's educational system.
Tara Martin: Special education teachers are a rare breed. Because our world will always have students who require specialized education, special education teachers should gain employment across the United States. Students who need these services typically don't learn with an array of modifications and accommodations. For this to happen, a real-life teacher will be essential.
Tara Martin: I think technology will continue to grow at dangerous rates, and our students will have to continue to deal with the downsides of what technology brings with it. I also think that meetings and appointments will be conducted via technology, and technology will be used to track our every move and sound. Do I like it and think it's a good thing- NO!!!
LaRon Scott: I anticipate that there will be a reduction in special education educator graduates as potential state budget cuts loom, impacting incentives for future educators. Although the need for special education teachers will continue to increase, the coronavirus pandemic has caused many in-service and preservice teachers, who have concerns about the virus, to consider retirement and to take a break from returning to in-person learning at universities. Furloughs and salary reductions may also be looming. While we wait to see the total impact of what may be looming, one can predict that these issues will only exacerbate the special education teacher shortage challenges.
LaRon Scott: I believe we all hope that future graduates will enter the teaching workforce. The special education teacher shortage concerns are far too great. Therefore, we cannot afford to not have a strong and effective pipeline of teachers moving into P-12 public schools. High-needs and urban school districts are likely going to be hit the hardest by this pandemic, and filling those vacancies with well-prepared special educators will continue to be critical.
LaRon Scott: Many states struggle to outline effective virtual plans that can meet the needs of students with disabilities. The pandemic has likely worsened concerns for areas that do not have access to high-quality internet. I do think that higher education programs will need to evaluate how technology will play a role in training future special education teachers. A great majority of teacher education programs do not incorporate virtual learning/training for teacher educators.
School of Education
Dr. Michelle Powers: One of the differences, about the pandemic compared to other large scale events, is that this event touched everyone's lives. No one was left without an impact from going through COVID 19. As future professionals, our graduates are at a point in their lives when they are ready to make their mark on this world. Knowing what is ahead of them, with the potential for future health challenges such as this, I would say there is a substantial impact on how they now perceive their future and their role. They see the challenges of communities, which, of course, include our school systems, struggling to balance personal rights and health concerns. As part of Augustana's core values, our students are focused on caring for one another and the world around us. I expect our graduates, having lived and learned under these unusual times, will pursue their vocation of teaching with great passion and a deep commitment to providing the best educational opportunities possible for their students, no matter what circumstances or challenges we face in the future.
Dr. Michelle Powers: The field of education, including special education, is full of incredible and rewarding work opportunities, across the US, for new graduates. As our current teaching workforce begins to reach the age of retirement, more and more options are going to emerge. Whether you want to stay in your community or reach out for a new adventure, school districts need skilled professionals to lead their classrooms. Sometimes, places that recent graduates might not consider beginning their careers can turn out to be a great fit. Smaller, more rural communities embrace young professionals and can give them mentoring and support to grow their skills and expertise. I am unsure if new professionals consider the Midwest and the opportunities we present for them, but I would encourage any recent graduate to look at these areas. The school systems here are excellent, more diverse than you might expect, and are doing some fantastic things in their classrooms that would be exciting and rewarding for anyone who loves teaching.
Dr. Michelle Powers: The importance of a skilled professional in the classroom continues to be the most critical factor in influencing student educational achievement. Being proficient in using technology, as a school tool, has never been more essential than today, but its value will never be outweighed by the teacher who wields the tool. Educators are challenged to remain current, as technology continues to evolve, which can be overwhelming, especially to the new teaching professional. Using your mentors and staying focused on the purpose of technology in the classroom will help to streamline the selection and integration of the most influential technology practices in the school. It is an exciting time to be an educator, and technology is a big part of that excitement. Still, ultimately, the real excitement is in seeing students engaged, excited, and learning.