Teaching of Individuals with Mental Retardation

Teaching people with the mental disabilities known as 'mental retardation' can help them reach their full potential. Learn more about how you can start a career as a teacher of individuals with these special needs.

Is Teaching Individuals with Mental Retardation for Me?

Career Overview

Teachers who work with students who are mentally retarded are called special education teachers. According to federal codes, mentally retarded individuals have significantly below-average intellectual capabilities and need special teaching methods to learn basic and complex concepts. They could also have adaptive behavior deficits and other disabilities that might adversely affect their educational performance. To be a teacher for these students, you'll need to be creative, patient and dedicated.

As a teacher of mentally retarded students, you could work in public, private or residential schools as well as hospitals or clinics. You might teach a class of students, offer instruction for a single individual or serve as a resource teacher within a mainstreamed classroom, adapting a curriculum according to students' needs. In addition to standardized subjects, you could teach life skills and help students find or maintain jobs. You'd normally be part of a team of professionals helping mentally retarded students achieve their potential. To become a special education teacher, you'll generally need specific training or a degree in special education instruction, which could be part of, or supplemental to, an education degree program.

Employment Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for special education teachers in general was expected to grow by 6% between 2012 and 2022, with the most growth in early education institutions (www.bls.gov). Increased standards for education of students with disabilities, earlier diagnoses and interventions for disabled individuals were expected to drive the growth. Median salaries for special education teachers in 2012 were reported to be $52,480 for pre-K, $53,820 for kindergarten and elementary levels, $55,780 at the middle school level and $56,830 for high school teachers.

How Can I Become a Teacher of Mentally Retarded Individuals?

Education and Certification

To teach in a public school, you'll need to obtain teacher certification through your state. You can earn a bachelor's or master's degree in education, and many schools offer concentrations or supplemental certificate programs in special education teaching. If you already have a bachelor's degree in education, most states have programs that allow you to teach under the supervision of a licensed teacher while you meet certification requirements for your special education endorsement.

However, in addition to practical experience, you'll usually need to complete an academic program in special education, whether it's a full degree or a certificate program. Along with basic general requirements, special education classes could focus on a specific age group or a particular learning disability. Your classes might cover behavior management, the history of special education, teaching methodologies, assessment and diagnostics, educational psychology and remedial education. Many schools offer new teachers a 5-year, combined bachelor's and Master of Education program that includes basic and advanced teaching instruction, special education topics and teaching practicums that meet licensure requirements.

Professional Development and Graduate Education

Continuing education is required to maintain a teaching license. To advance in the field, you could earn a certificate in advanced studies or a master's degree in special education, which can lead to a job as a director of a special education program. Doctoral degrees in special education are available also, which can prepare you to teach special education to future teachers or advance to a leadership position within your department or district.

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