Roles & Responsibilities of Special Education Professionals

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Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

The roles and responsibilities of special education professionals are varied. They are responsible for complying with many federal and local laws and regulations regarding the treatment and well-being of people with disabilities. Their roles involve every aspect of the educational process.

Teachers and Special Education Professionals

First, let's look at the roles of a teacher. In short, a teacher teaches, but they also design the educational content to pass knowledge to students. Teachers are responsible for assessing students' learning and skills through testing or other assignments designed to illustrate the students' abilities. Through these assessments, teachers are often expected to identify at-risk students and bring those students to the attention of the proper departments within the school.

In short, a teacher is much more than a person who presents information.

Now, what is the role of a special education professional? A special education professional's roles include those of a traditional classroom teacher and of a support service provider. The difference between a special education professional and a mainstream teacher is that the special education professional performs all duties with and for students with varying degrees of disability and not all duties are related to teaching. All teachers must be aware of laws that regulate the education environment, but special education professionals must also be aware of the laws pertaining to people with disabilities. As we discuss special education professionals, we should first discuss their responsibilities to their students as vulnerable individuals.

Responsibilities of Special Ed Professionals

All special education professionals must comply with the rules and regulations set forth in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), of 2004, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). All of these acts ensure that people with disabilities are given equal access to all aspects of life and living as any non-disabled person, including education and the right to personal privacy.

Special education professionals are also responsible for creating an individualized education plan (IEP) for each of their students. An IEP is a document specifying documented medical issues, accommodations, and educational goals for each disabled student. A typical IEP might inform all education professionals working with a particular student that the student has moderate autism, needs additional testing time in an isolated area, as well as isolated downtime during the day, and that the student's goal is to limit self-isolated sessions to five per day. IEPs assist all educational professionals who work with the student with accommodating the student's needs.

Additionally, special education professionals must follow ethical guidelines set by the Council for Exceptional Children for the treatment of their students. These guidelines include:

  • Setting challenging but realistic expectations that allow students to strive for their best
  • Encouraging integration of students with disabilities into mainstream activities whenever possible
  • Remaining professional at all times when working with children with exceptional educational needs
  • Working well in teams to meet the broad needs of students with disabilities
  • Working closely with families to achieve the best educational outcome for students
  • Ensuring a safe environment for students
  • Using research and instructional data to develop educational plans (IEPs) for students
  • Following all laws and rules, both federal and local
  • Continuing to learn and grow through professional development in order to benefit students by using the most current methods of education

We can probably agree that special education professionals have a lot of responsibilities, but what are their roles?

Roles of the Special Ed Professional

There are many roles that a special education professional can have. Some are identical to those of a non-special education teacher, while others have very little to do with traditional concepts of what a teacher does. We can divide their roles into categories: teachers and support service providers.


A special education teacher has the same roles and responsibilities of a mainstream classroom teacher. The difference is that the special education teacher teaches in a variety of scenarios. Instead of managing their own classroom, the special education teacher may have one-on-one sessions with students, team-teach small classes, or be resource-room teachers. The special education teacher could also be assigned to assist a specific student in a mainstream class as a consultant teacher, giving that student special support to succeed in a mainstream environment.

Some special education teachers teach in a contained classroom. They have fewer students because the students all have special needs. The students might be all one grade level or many grade levels and abilities. The severity of disabilities could range from high- to low-functioning autism, sensory issues, developmental delays, language barriers, or any combination of these.

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