Special Education Teacher: Job Info & Qualifications

Special education teachers instruct students with emotional, physical and learning disabilities. They may work with infants, children and young adults, helping them develop the problem-solving, motor and social skills necessary to complete their education and live independently. Read on to learn more about this profession.

Career Definition for Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers instruct students who have various mental and physical disabilities that may impede learning, including autism, visual and hearing impairments, and emotional disturbances. By creating an Individual Education Program (IEP) for each student, special education teachers are able to set goals and develop a curriculum tailored to the individuals' abilities and needs. For kindergarten through 12th grade, these teachers are often found in a classroom setting, either working one-on-one with a student enrolled in a general education class or instructing a group in a special resources class. Teachers may also specialize in working with students who have a particular type of disability.

Education Bachelor's or master's degree in special education
Job Duties Create IEPs, develop tailored curricula, set goals for students
Median Salary (2015)* $ 55,810 (kindergarten through elementary special ed. teachers; $58,500 (high school special education teachers)
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% (all special education teachers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education and Certification Requirements

Every state requires special education teachers to be licensed. A bachelor's degree in special education is the minimum requirement for licensing in many states, but some states and employers require a master's degree. Many states also offer an alternative licensing program for candidates with a bachelor's degree not related to teaching. Most special education teachers are first licensed in general education for kindergarten through grade 12 before obtaining special education teaching certification. Employers may require further certification in specialized fields, such as teaching students with visual impairments. Additional board certification is offered through professional organizations, including the American Academy of Special Education Professionals (www.aasep.org).

Skills Required

Special education teachers must have excellent communication skills so that they can interact with students, parents, and educators. They must be able to work with students in both one-on-one and group settings, while understanding the abilities and needs of each child. They must have good computer skills for detailed record-keeping of each student's progress and familiarity with assistive technology devices used in the classroom. Special education teachers must be encouraging, creative, and flexible, with the ability to motivate students and inspire the confidence needed to attempt new tasks.

Economic Outlook and Financial Forecast

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted 6% job growth for special education teachers in general from 2014-2024, which is about average. However, a faster-than-average growth of 9% in employment for special education preschool teachers is forecast during that same decade. The BLS reported in 2015 that the median annual earnings for special education teachers at the kindergarten and elementary school level were $55,810, with the highest-paid ten percent earning more than $86,990. In that same year, median annual earnings for special education teachers at the secondary school level were slightly higher, at $58,500. The top-paid ten percent of these teachers made over $94,200 per year.

Alternate Career Options

Similar career options in this field include:

Recreational Therapist

Normally, after earning a bachelor's degree in recreational therapy or a similar field, these therapists work with people who have physical, emotional, and cognitive disabilities. They assess clients, create treatment plans, and implement programs that use recreational activities such as music, games, and sports in therapeutic ways. An annual median salary of $45,890 was earned by recreational therapists in 2015, according to the BLS, and faster-than-average employment growth of 12% was projected during the 2014-2024 decade.

Occupational Therapist

Requiring at least a master's degree, jobs in this profession involve treating disabled or injured individuals through the use of everyday activities as therapy. A much-faster-than-average job growth of 27% is anticipated by the BLS from 2014-2024, and a median wage of $80,150 per year was reported in 2015.

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