On any day of the week teaching special education requires a good dose of adaptability, creative thinking, and intuition. So, what’s it like when you do it in a different country?
What similarities can you expect when you teach special education abroad?
The fundamentals of the job will be the same wherever you go.
Special educators work with students who have a range of learning, mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. Teaching can include adapting general education lessons, supporting students one-on-one, and teaching basic skills such as communication to students with severe disabilities.
But in many cases, that’s where the similarities end...
What differences can you expect when you teach special education abroad?
In any special education setting, teachers’ duties vary according to where they work and the needs of their students. The role of special needs educators can vary even more when working overseas as there may be completely different education systems in place and different attitudes towards special education.
- Not all countries share the same attitude towards disabilities. Although there are students with special needs all over the world, in some countries they are highly catered for and in others, their education needs are barely addressed.
- Staff and parents may have different beliefs and training than you do, so you can’t take it for granted that you’ll all be on the same page about how best to do things. You might find that you meet a ton of people you can learn from or you might be the expert that has to share your specialist knowledge with others.
- Students may not be grouped in the way you expect. Different countries (and even different schools within those countries) practice their own ways of organizing their students. Special education may be integrated into the mainstream classroom or completely separate from mainstream education. Or, it could vary somewhere between those two sides.
- The support system you have may vary. You might be used to working with general education teachers, parents, school psychologists, counselors, or administrators all focused on helping a special education student benefit from their classes. Some school settings will have all of these and more, and others will have barely any.
Where can I teach special education overseas?
The good news here is that pretty much anywhere you want to! Of course, there’s a caveat—you have to be somewhat flexible in how your role as a special education teacher works.
As you might have picked up from the list above, different countries can have hugely varying facilities for special education teachers and students! To give you an idea of just how much things can differ here’s a brief overview of some of the world’s most popular international teaching destinations:
In the UAE, schools are required by law to accept special needs students and many schools have been praised for their inclusivity and facilities, especially in early years education.
In Japan, special needs education may take place in a specialized school or classroom, mainstream classroom or a blend of both. Many TEFL teachers have written about their positive and negative experiences of teaching in special education schools with mixed needs classes.
Kuwait might not cross your mind as an obvious destination for teaching abroad, but in recent years the country has made a huge effort to improve its special education provisions and as such it offers always improving facilities and a ton of job opportunities.
Although it’s not a world leader in this area, awareness of the need for special education is growing in China (with the exception of Hong Kong, where it’s already quite well established) meaning there is an increasing number of jobs in the sector.
As you can see, there is no international norm for special education teaching. The best thing you can do while looking for a job is research, research, research! Find out as much as you can about special education in any of the countries you’re thinking of working in to make sure you find a context you’ll be comfortable teaching in.
What about teaching special education in an international school?
This is a great option for special educators who want to work abroad! International schools throughout the world offer special education provisions for their students meaning you could get all the adventure of living in a new place while working in a system that’s somewhat familiar.
Special education teachers who want to work in international schools will need to make sure they are fully qualified, which normally means having a degree in the subject as well as a teaching license.
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What if I can’t find a special education job in my chosen country?
If there is a country you’re super eager to live in but you can’t find a special education opportunity in a school there, a different route could be seeking out a family (or families) who need private care and special education tutoring for their kids. These might be more available in rural areas where programs in local schools don’t suit the students’ needs.
Working as a one-on-one tutor is obviously quite different from working in a school setting but if you’re super keen on one location or want to specialize by working with one kid, this could be a great option for you.
One note though! If you are working independently with a family rather than in a school, make sure you still go through all the normal hiring steps. Do interviews, sign a contract, and consider going to a country where you can speak the language so you’re not completely dependent on your employer.
How can I find a special education job overseas?
So glad you asked! Why not start here :)