Career Information for a Degree or Certification in Special Education

Learn about the education and preparation needed to for a career in special education. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and certifications to find out if this is the career for you.

With a degree and certification in special education it is possible to teach special education at the preschool, elementary, middle or high school levels. With a master's degree or PhD it is possible to teach at the postsecondary level, and with a master's degree and license another career option is to work as a special education administrator.

Essential Information

Special education teachers work with students who require unique teaching methods and resources to help them learn and gain life skills. Graduates of degree or certificate programs in special education can qualify to teach children with learning disabilities. State teaching certification is generally required to teach special education classes, though voluntary certification could demonstrate a teacher's proficiency in the field.

Career Special Education Teacher (preschool - secondary) Assistant or Associate Professor of Special Education Special Education Administrator
Education Bachelor's degree Master's degree or PhD Master's degree
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% for all special education teachers 13% for all professors 6% for all principals
Median Salary (2015)* $53,990-$58,500 for all special education teachers $72,470 for all professors $90,410 for all administrators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Special Education Career Information

Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers are trained to provide individually tailored instruction to students with mental, physical or other learning disabilities. Special education teachers design individual education plans (IEP) for each student. IEPs incorporate a combination of teaching methods, classroom strategies, curricula and materials. Support services often include speech and physical therapy.

Special education teachers can specialize in specific disorders, including autism or emotional and behavioral disorders. They might also integrate the efforts of therapists, psychologists, social workers, administrators and parents into the education of their students. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates employment for special education teachers will grow 6% between 2014 and 2024, which is as fast as average.

BLS statistics indicate that in 2015, special education teachers at the preschool level earned a median annual salary of $53,990. The median salary for those working with Kindergarten and elementary students was $55,810 per year at that time, and special education middle and high school teachers made median yearly wages of $57,280 and $58,500, respectively.

Education and Licensure Requirements

Preparation for a career as a special education teacher generally requires a bachelor's or master's degree in special education and a state teaching license. Some states issue special education endorsements for a general teaching license, while others require licensing in the candidate's area of specialization, such as autism or behavioral disorders.

Assistant or Associate Professor of Special Education

Assistant and associate professors of special education teach undergraduate and graduate courses in special education subjects. They could teach these courses through traditional campus-based classes, online or in both formats. They might also advise students, conduct research, publish material for professional journals and write grant proposals. The BLS expects the number of postsecondary teaching jobs to increase faster than average at 13% from 2014 to 2024 and listed the median yearly salary for those who taught education at $61,560 in 2015.

Education Requirements

To teach at the university level, special education instructors typically require a doctoral degree. To enroll in a doctoral program, applicants typically need a degree in teaching or special education and teaching experience. Licensure is not required to teach at colleges or universities.

Special Education Administrator

A special education administrator supervises the special education programs at their school. They set academic standards, establish policies and procedures for their teaching and administrative staff, ensure compliance with applicable state and federal laws and manage resources to meet legal requirements. Administrators commonly meet with staff, parents and community groups to mediate disputes and offer resolution to conflicts. The BLS predicts a 6% job growth from 2014 to 2024 in the field of education administration, which is as fast as average for all professions in the U.S. In 2015, the BLS indicated that elementary and secondary school administrators earned a median salary of $90,410 a year.

Education and Licensure Requirements

A career as a special education administrator typically requires a master's or doctoral degree in special education administration or a related field. Those who have a master's degree and experience in education might be able to pursue non-degree, post-graduate credentials. Special education administrators who work in public schools must also possess state licensure, and teaching and/or leadership experience in the field is usually required to obtain employment.

Certification Information for Special Education Teachers

Public school teachers and administrators at preschool through high school institutions must obtain a state certification or license. Additionally, special education educators at any level can earn voluntary board certification through professional organizations, such as the National Association of Special Education Teachers or the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. To earn a special education credential, candidates generally need to meet specific education or experience requirements. Certification typically indicates that special education teachers and administrators have the knowledge and skills that meet professional standards, which could improve career opportunities.

A degree and certification in special education prepares graduates to work with students who may have a disability that affects their learning process. These students are typically on an individual education plan that their teacher helps develop, and must follow. The IEP determines the academic goals for the student based on their needs, and may include appropriate rewards, schedule modifications, and methods that should be used to help the student learn. Special education administrators oversee special education teachers and special needs students.


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