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How to Become a Special Ed Teacher

Learn how to become a special education teacher in this video. The education, licensing requirements, and general job description for special education teachers will all be covered.

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Should I Become a Special Education Teacher?

Special education teachers work with students who experience various physical, emotional, cognitive or mental disabilities. These professionals may instruct students who are deaf, blind or autistic or those who require a wheelchair. They also work with other teachers to adjust lessons and curricula to create Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Required by law, IEPs are documents that detail the educational and other needs of special needs students.

Some special education teachers concentrate on students from early childhood through age 21 while others focus primarily on elementary school children. Additionally, they may choose to work with students who are considered only mildly to moderately impaired or those with more serious disabilities. Working with children who face exceptional challenges on a daily basis can be stressful but may be rewarding at the same time. Special education teachers typically work full-time and most get summers off.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Teaching Gifted and Talented Students
  • Teaching Special Education - Autism
  • Teaching Special Education - Developmentally Delayed
  • Teaching Special Education - Emotional Disturbances
  • Teaching Special Education - Hearing Impairments
  • Teaching Special Education - Learning Disabilities
  • Teaching Special Education - Mental Retardation
  • Teaching Special Education - Multiple Disabilities
  • Teaching Special Education - Orthopedic Impairments
  • Teaching Special Education - Speech Impairments
  • Teaching Special Education - Traumatic Brain Injuries
  • Teaching Special Education - Vision Impairments
  • Teaching Special Education, Children and Young Children

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree required; some states require a master's degree
Degree Field Special education major, elementary education, content area major with special education minor
Experience Student teaching internship required
Licensure/Certification Teacher licensure/certification required; may need specialty certification depending on students' needs
Key Skills Patience, creativity, communication skills, people skills, flexibility
Salary $57,820 (Annual mean salary for a special education teacher)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014)

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Students enrolled in special education bachelor's degree programs take classes in a wide range of subjects. Most programs offer courses on classroom management and on the identification and assessment of students with disabilities. In addition, students may take classes focusing on techniques for teaching various subjects, such as math and reading, to children in special education programs. To become certified, special education and other teaching majors may also be required to complete a student teaching internship during their bachelor's degree program.

Success Tip:

  • Seek part-time employment, an internship or volunteer opportunities with an organization that works with exceptional children. Individuals interested in working as special education teachers may be able to volunteer with the Special Olympics. Additionally, one may be able to find opportunities to work with children with specific disabilities, such as autism or learning disorders.

Step 2: Get a Teaching Certificate

To become a special education teacher and work at a public school, an individual must be certified in the state they plan to teach in. Common eligibility requirements include completing a bachelor's degree program and a student teaching internship. Passing professional certification exams is another standard step. More specific requirements for obtaining certification differ by state. Some states issue a general certification and others award various specialty certifications. One can contact the Board of Education for his or her state for a comprehensive picture of the requirements for special education teachers. Continuing education courses must be completed, usually on a yearly basis, to maintain certification.

Step 3: Complete a Master's Degree Program

Some special education teachers with bachelor's degrees enroll in master's degree programs to broaden their skills and advance in their careers while others are required to earn their master's degrees to meet state requirements. Concentrations in subjects like early childhood or autism may be available and graduate students may complete coursework in American Sign Language, deaf psychology, methods of assessment, intervention strategies, life skills and curriculum adaptation. A clinical practicum or other fieldwork experience may be part of the curriculum. Some special education programs at the master's level are designed for those holding bachelor's degrees in a field other than special education or for teachers of other subjects who would like to add special education to their expertise.

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