Students may have the option to specialize in special education or choose elective courses in that field while pursuing a 4-year bachelor's degree in education. Master's degree programs may be focused on specializing or advancing in special education, or they may be designed for individuals who hold bachelor's degrees in areas other than education. An internship in a classroom is usually required as well as obtaining a state license.
A high school diploma or the equivalent is needed for entry into a bachelor's program; master's programs require an undergraduate degree, though not necessarily in education.
Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education, Special Education Emphasis
Bachelor's degree programs in early childhood education prepare students to earn teacher certification and gain positions in elementary schools and preschools. Students in this program are required to complete a field practicum or supervised internship at an elementary school before they can graduate and gain eligibility for licensure.
Special education courses offer basics of classroom management, instruction and literacy education with a focus on the unique educational needs of exceptional and disabled children. Some of the courses might include:
- Foundations of early childhood education
- Cognitive development
- Early learning theory and technology
- Play and early learning
- Developmental assessment
- Special education laws and practices
Master of Arts in Special Education and Early Childhood Education
Master's degree programs in special education and early childhood education are designed for education students interested in further study and for mid-career professionals interested in making a career change into special education. Programs generally last 33-39 credit hours, which can take up to two years of full-time study to complete.
Master's students explore advanced theories, teaching styles and assessment strategies while pursuing new research and innovative strategies in special education. Some examples of courses include:
- Principles of learning and development
- Measurements for students with disabilities
- Methods of developing curriculum
- Working with families of special needs children
- Technology for special education
- Special education literacy assessment
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Special education teachers working at the preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school levels held 208,300 total jobs in the United States in 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported (BLS, www.bls.gov). The BLS expects the level of employment to increase by 8% for special education teachers in preschools and by 3% for special education teachers in kindergarten and elementary schools from 2018 to 2028. These professionals primarily worked in elementary schools or provided individual education services to families. Special education teachers in preschools earned a median salary of $55,840 per year as of May 2018. Kindergarten and elementary school special education teachers earned a median salary of approximately $59,390 per year as of May 2018, according to the BLS.
Continuing Education Information
All 50 U.S. states require special education teachers to be licensed before they can work legally. Licensure is granted by a state board of education. For most states, applicants must have a bachelor's degree in education as well as supervised practice teaching experience and training in special education before they can receive licensure to work as a special education teacher. Most degree programs in education help students to meet these requirements.
An early childhood degree program with a specialization in special education can provide graduates with skills to work with special needs students. After graduation, these students have the ability to work with families of special needs children, as well as understand technology for special education.