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Special Education & Communication Disorders

College of Education & Human Sciences

Role of Early Childhood Special Education Teacher

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Early Childhood Special Educator

In Nebraska, there are two teaching credentials that reflect academic preparation for work exclusively with young children, birth to age 5 who have disabilities / developmental delays. These are: 1) Early Childhood Special Education (birth through Kindergarten) and 2)Early Childhood Special Education (birth to Kindergarten). Both these educational preparation programs are housed in the UNL Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders. The former can be an initial teaching certificate program or an add-on specialization to an existing Early Childhood or Elementary Education certificate. The latter is available to current teachers who are certified already in special education or or Speech-Language Pathology.

 

Early childhood special educators should possess a common core of knowledge and skills with the early childhood educator as well as specialized knowledge and skills regarding young children birth through age 5 with special needs and their families. This content includes child development and learning, curriculum development and implementation, family and community relationships, assessment and evaluation, and professionalism with appropriate field experiences through which to apply this content. The early childhood special educator may work directly with children with special needs who are in this age range or work in a collaborative relationship with early childhood educators, family members and other professionals serving young children with special learning and developmental needs and their families.

The early childhood special educator may provide services in both public and private schools, child care centers, homes, hospitals, and other facilities which serve young children with disabilities and their families.  They may act as a teacher providing direct instruction with children or often as consultant/coach to families, child care providers, preschool teachers and other members of a child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) team.

Bricker (1989) discussed five major roles for early childhood special educators: conceptualizer, synthesizer, instructor, evaluator, and listener. The conceptualizer has a broad conceptual knowledge base of developmental processes and curricular domains. This broad conceptual base allows for flexibility in adapting for children with special needs. The synthesizer actively seeks input from other professionals, offers advice to other team members, and coordinates this information for planning programs and service delivery strategies for children and families. The instructor role encompasses direct work with children who have special needs, collaboration with therapists, other teachers and families, and training for support staff. The evaluator helps develop an evaluation system that assesses outcomes of children and families and provides mechanisms for reporting to staff and families and the appropriate state agency. The listener role is a support role for the family and other team members. It includes communication skills such as listening, questioning and problem-solving.

With the shift in service delivery toward family-centered services and inclusion, the early childhood special educator is being required to shift roles from that of primarily providing direct services as a classroom teacher to indirect service delivery as a consultant or coach. When direct services are provided by the early childhood special educator, they are likely to be delivered within an inclusion model as a team member (e.g., team teaching) or as a lead teacher, serving children both with and without special needs.  Indirect service delivery roles continue to require the early childhood special educator to possess knowledge and skills in the roles identified by Bailey (1989) and Bricker (1989) to serve effectively as a consultant, collaborator, parent educator, program administrator, and staff development specialist for family members, other professionals, and paraprofessionals.

In states like Nebraska and Iowa, that have adopted unified licensure requirements, the early childhood special educator should be a key team member who will typically assume more indirect service delivery roles such as consulting/collaborating with early childhood educators and related services professionals to ensure appropriate services for young children with special needs and their families in inclusive settings.

For more information see: Recommended Practices for ECSE Teachers and the Council for Exceptional Children/Division for Early Childhood website.

Early Childhood Educator

Early childhood educators should possess a common core of knowledge and skills that includes content specific to young children, birth through age 8, both with and without disabilities. This content includes child development and learning, curriculum development and implementation, family and community relationships, assessment and evaluation, and professionalism with appropriate field experiences through which to apply this content. The early childhood educator may work directly with children birth through age 8, including children with a range of abilities and special needs, and work collaboratively with families and ECSE professionals.

This work may occur in a variety of settings such as public and private schools, child care centers, homes, and other facilities in which children within this age range and their families are served. In addition to the traditional role of teacher, the early childhood educator may assume a variety of roles that require specialized knowledge and skills, including but not limited to early childhood subject area teacher, parent education coordinator, family educator, social service coordinator, education coordinator, program administrator, and early childhood unit administrator (NAEYC, 1992; 1994).

In Nebraska, two teaching credentials are associated with academic preparation as an Early Childhood Educator: 1) Early Childhood Education (P-gr. 3) and 2) Inclusive Early Childhood Education (birth to gr. 3). The latter includes some preparation in special education for the purpose of adapting early childhood settings for children with special needs and permitting the teacher to serve as IFSP/IEP manager. Both of these teacher preparation programs are housed at UNL in the Department of Child Youth & Family Studies in concert with faculty in Elementary Education.
  • National Association for the Education of Young Children (1996). Guidelines for preparation of early childhood professionals. Washington, D.C. :NAEYC.
  • Sandall, S., Hemmeter, M.L., Smith, B., & McLean, M. (2005).  DEC Recommended Practices: A comprehensive guide for practical application in early intervention/early childhood special education.  Longmont, CO: Sopris
  • Buysse, V. & Wesley,P. (2005).  Consultation in Early Childhood Settngs. Baltimore MD: Paul Brooks Publishing
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