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Importance of Hands-On Experience in Special Education

Every year more colleges and universities are offering advanced degrees in online programs, making it possible for working professionals to boost their careers with a master’s degree or doctoral degree while still working full time. This flexibility is ideal for professionals who cannot attend on-campus classes, but not everything can be taught successfully without practical experience. Teacher preparation is one such exception.

According to writer and educator David Recine, “There is nothing quite like really teaching. Actually being in a K-12 classroom and working with kids is full of unexpected joys and challenges that are almost impossible to describe secondhand. No amount of theory, course lectures, or textbook readings can truly teach someone what to expect once they get to the classroom.”

A master’s degree in special education is one specialty that requires a practicum or internship in which students can see firsthand what educators really do on a daily basis.

Special Education Requires Special Preparation

Preparing to be a special education teacher is no exception. In a study designed to examine the importance and value of pre-service clinicals or practicums when preparing for a career teaching special education at a college or university, the researchers first found a consensus of others in the field that participation in real-life classrooms were essential to worthwhile teacher prep programs. After conducting their own study, they also found the value of pre-service experiences specific to special education preparation programs.

When the study was completed, findings showed that the prospective teachers had made significant improvement in “creating and maintaining a positive and safe learning environment” and in “planning for instruction.” Improvements also surfaced in student engagement, learning assessments and professional development.

The best way to ensure readiness to handle the unique requirements of being a special education teacher is to offer hands-on experiences in an authentic supervised educational environment.  There is no substitute for working with a seasoned professional, applying various instructional and assessment methods, behavioral principles, and other critical teaching skills learned in theory to real-world situations.

What Would an Internship or Practicum Look Like?

An internship or practicum period provides an opportunity for teacher candidates to apply the knowledge and skills they acquired during the master’s program. Requirements may vary, depending on the college or university as well as the partnership with the supervising school and veteran teacher. Here are a few activities that may be included:

  • Observing the classroom, recording information and forming questions
  • Teaching assistance
  • Working with students individually or in small groups
  • Lesson planning
  • Direct instruction or co-teaching

The ULM M.Ed. C&I Special Education Internship

University of Louisiana Monroe offers a fully online degree program for teachers who want to pursue a Master of Education, Curriculum & Instruction with a Concentration in Special Education in Mild/Moderate Grades 1-12. Earning this degree includes an 8-week site-based internship “designed to provide candidates the opportunity to apply requisite knowledge, skills and dispositions to authentic instructional environments for students with special needs.”

Other coursework includes both theoretical and practical exposure to issues common to teaching students with special needs, whether in a self-contained environment, a general education classroom, a hospital or a homebound setting. The comprehensive curriculum spans issues from evaluation and disability determination to transitioning students from school into the workforce. Participants will investigate, research and discuss how to effectively consult with other educators and stakeholders, mainstreaming philosophies and practice, and effective instructional practices across content areas

Upon completion of the online coursework, candidates for this degree are required to log 100 clock hours of the all-important field-based activities in authentic school environments.

The program consists of 36 credit hours which can be completed in as few as 15 months. Offering multiple start dates per year and a very affordable tuition, ULM’s online program is taught by the same experienced faculty who teach on campus. The University of Louisiana Monroe School of Education teacher education programs hold accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

Learn more about ULM’s Master of Education, Curriculum & Instruction – Concentration in Special Education in Mild/Moderate Grades 1-12 online program.


Educational Research and Reviews: Making preservice teachers better: Examining the impact of a practicum in a teacher preparation

Magoosh: Student Teaching vs. Practicum

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