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Special Education Teachers: Career Info and Requirements

Jun 12, 2019

Special education teachers help students with disabilities excel academically and prepare to lead quality lives. Explore important special education teacher information to learn about job requirements and career opportunities for this position, and see some reasons why to teach special education.

Why Teach Special Education?

Enhancing the lives of students with mental, physical, emotional or learning disabilities could make the role of a special education teacher especially rewarding. While the list of reasons for pursuing this career might vary from person to person, common reasons to teach special education include:

  • Student Impact: Special education teachers have the opportunity to positively impact students facing unique challenges and prepare them to excel in school and in their everyday lives.
  • Job Options: Teachers with a degree and certification in special education could take on traditional teaching roles or venture into different areas within their specialized field.
  • Enhanced Teaching Skills: Special education classrooms present teachers with scenarios that allow them to improve their organizational skills, patience and overall resourcefulness.

Special Education Teacher Job Description

Special education teachers generally work with students at the K-12 educational levels to help them advance academically while accommodating needs associated with their specific disabilities. They might work in public or private schools at the preschool, elementary, middle or high school levels with students who have autism spectrum disorders, visual impairments, depression or physical disabilities that require a wheelchair.

Common responsibilities of a special education teacher include assessing and accommodating students' academic needs, creating activities that align with specific abilities and developing and implementing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to track student progress. Like all teachers, they also communicate with school administrators, teachers and parents to share students' progress.

Special Education Teacher Information

Examine the following special education teacher information, including education and skill requirements, salary details, career options and projected job growth.

Educational Requirements Bachelor's degree in special education is common; master's degree might be required in some states
Certification/licensure requirements All states require public school teachers to secure licensure or certification
Job Skills Communication, interpersonal and critical-thinking skills
Median Salary (2018)* $59,780
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 8%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education & Certification Requirements for Special Education Teachers

Individuals interested in teaching special education in public and private schools are required to secure a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Some employers might prefer candidates with degrees specifically in this area, and there are many schools where students can pursue studies in special education. Others might hire teachers who are prepared to teach specific grade levels or subject areas as long as they possess a minor in special education. Depending on the state, teachers might need to complete a master's degree program in special education.

In addition to meeting educational requirements, public school teachers in all states must secure licensure or certification for the specific grade level they teach. Private schools typically do not require this step. Securing licensure or certification might involve completing a teacher preparation program, passing a background check and earning a passing score on one or more certification tests.

What Skills Should Special Education Teachers Possess?

Teaching in the field of special education requires a variety of skills, including the ability to adapt well to students' educational and personal needs, maintain organized student records and quickly learn new technology for students with disabilities and impairments. Additional skills special education teachers should possess include:

  • Communication: Teachers need quality communication skills to educate in a classroom environment, small groups or one on one.
  • Interpersonal: Quality interpersonal skills can help teachers create a comfortable and friendly learning environment for students and maintain positive interactions with parents and coworkers.
  • Critical-thinking: When working with students with disabilities, teachers must be able to determine the best ways to manage common and unexpected scenarios that arise.

How Much Do Special Education Teachers Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), special education teachers earned a median annual salary of $59,780 in May 2018. However the salary of special education teachers can vary by the specific position. For instance, those working in secondary schools earned a slightly higher median salary at $60,600 while teachers working in preschools earned $55,840, per the BLS.

Special Education Teacher Job Outlook

Employment opportunities for special education teachers were expected to grow by 8% from 2016 to 2026, according to the BLS. A primary reason for this growth was earlier identification and enrollment of students with disabilities into special education programs. Special education teachers were also expected to experience job stability since states were required to financially support special education annually.

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