What Can I Do with a Special Education Degree?
While being a special education teacher is likely the first job that comes to mind when asking what you can do with a special education degree, you'll find that this field does have other career opportunities as well.
The qualifications for a special education teacher include at least a bachelor's degree, supervised teaching experience and, if you plan to teach in a public school, appropriate state licensure. If this is a little more education and experience than you're comfortable with, you might consider becoming a special education paraprofessional, a position that requires minimal schooling but will still allow you to work with special education students.
On the other hand, you might have higher aspirations in the special education field. Your career options with a master's in special education can include becoming a special education coordinator, arranging special education programming on a large scale.
Outside of these popular career choices within special education, there are several other career options you can consider. Keep in mind that these careers will involve additional or alternative education requirements, but they all allow you to work within special education. Here are some other options to consider:
- Art therapist
- School psychologist
- Speech-language pathologist
- Occupational therapist
- Assistive technology specialist
- Music therapist
Let's learn more about some of these special education careers to see if either route is right for you!
What is a Special Education Teacher?
A special education teacher job description can vary based on several factors, including the age and number of students you work with and your specialty (for example, if you focus on an area like autism spectrum disorders or applied behavior analysis). In general, though, as a special education teacher, you'll work with students from PreK to 12th grade. You'll also collaborate with regular classroom teachers, teaching assistants, school counselors and administrators, and parents to meet the educational needs of students with various types of learning, mental, or physical disabilities or impairments.
There are a few different types of special education teachers including:
- Teacher for students with high-incidence disabilities
- Teacher for students with low-incidence disabilities
- Teacher for students with emotional or behavioral disorders
- Teacher for students with autism spectrum disorders
As mentioned your duties as a special education teacher can vary based on the type of special education teacher you are, but in general, your day-to-day tasks could include:
- Assessing students' needs and adapting the general curriculum accordingly
- Developing, implementing, evaluating and updating students' Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)
- Working with students on a one-on-one basis, in small groups, or in a regular classroom
- Meet with parents and other school faculty to give student progress updates
If you are the type of person who is creative, dedicated, easy-going, and organized, then becoming a special education teacher may be right for you.
As a special education teacher, you could expect to earn an average annual salary of $47,767. This will of course vary by location and years of experience.
Special Education Teacher Requirements
The requirements to work as a special education teacher in a public school start with a bachelor's degree. Depending where you work, you may need to major in special education; however, in some states, you can instead earn a bachelor's degree in elementary education or a specific educational content area, along with an endorsement in special education. It should be noted though that if you choose this route, you might be referred to as a special education generalist.
In addition to meeting education requirements, you'll have to complete a supervised teaching experience and pass two or more certification exams (one general teaching test and at least one special education-focused test) to qualify for your state teaching license. Once hired, your state might require you to earn a master's degree in special education to achieve full certification.
What Is the Job Outlook for a Special Education Teacher?
As a special education teacher, you'll face average career prospects, with projected 8% growth in job opportunities between 2016 and 2026. Opportunities are expected to grow the most, at 11%, if you work in a preschool setting. Additionally, you might find more favorable job circumstances in certain specialty areas, such as working with autistic students.
With a graduate degree, you can take advantage of advancement opportunities for special education teachers, some of which have a better job outlook than special education teachers. For example, with a master's degree, you might find work as a school psychologist, a career with anticipated job growth of 14%, or an instructional coordinator, at 11% projected growth.
Special Education Paraprofessional Job Description
Special education paraprofessionals are also called special education paraeducators, instructional assistants and teacher's aides. In this job, you'd work with special education students to meet their unique educational and environmental needs. Using curriculum plans developed by a special education teacher, you'd interact with students one-on-one or in small groups, while doing the following:
- Documenting student performance to share with the teacher
- Assisting students with mobility issues
- Providing personal care to students who need help with activities like eating or using the bathroom
The amount of education you'll need to be a special education paraprofessional will depend on the state in which you want to work. Some only ask that paraprofessionals have a high school diploma, while others call for at least two years of postsecondary education. You can find certificate and associate's degree programs for aspiring paraprofessionals both online and on-campus through numerous community colleges.
The average annual salary for special education paraprofessionals is $18,984.
Special Education Coordinator Job Description
As a special education coordinator, you'd likely work for the district rather than for an individual school. Your main job duties would include managing special education programs for elementary and/or secondary students and ensuring that your district complies with all special education requirements at local, state, and national levels. To this end, you'd work with teachers and administrators to:
- Develop and assess curriculum
- Monitor special education programs and services
- Train special education teachers and support staff
- Foster communication among students, parents and educators
To work as a special education coordinator, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree in special education, although most employers prefer that you have a master's degree You'll also need teaching experience and current teaching licensure with a special education endorsement.
As a special education coordinator, you can expect to earn an average salary of $58,027 a year in this career.
All statistics come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017) and PayScale.com (2018).