How Can I Become a Special Education Teacher?

Research what it takes to become a special education teacher. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Emotional & Behavioral Disorders degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Special Education Teacher?

Special education teachers work with children and adolescents with special needs, including physical, developmental, cognitive and psychological challenges. They set individualized student goals and implement plans to attain these goals. Special education teachers adapt lesson plans for students with moderate disabilities, and work to teach basic skills to those with severe disabilities. These professionals track each student's progress and will discuss it with parents and other teachers. Special education teachers also work to prepare their students advance grades and prepare for life after graduate. They may oversee teacher assistants assigned to help them in the classroom. See the table below for more information:

Degree RequiredBachelor's degree at minimum; master's degree is most common; doctoral degrees available
Education Field of StudySpecial Education
Key SkillsAdminister tests and assessments
Collaborate with administrators and professionals
Confer with parents
Develop Individual Education Plans (IEPs)
Develop and implement strategies to achieve student goals
Encourage and motivate students
LicensureTeacher's license
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6% for kindergarten, elementary, middle, and secondary; 9% for preschool*
Mean Salary (2015)$57,670 for all types of special education teachers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Special Education Teacher Job Responsibilities

A special education teacher is trained to teach children and adolescents with a wide variety of special needs and disabilities. Most special education teachers work with students who have mild or medium-level disabilities; some may work with students who have severe disabilities. Some disabilities may be physical in nature, while others are mental. A few disabilities that you might encounter as a special education teacher include blindness, deafness, mental retardation and autism.

What Education Do I Need?

If you have a high school diploma or a GED, you can enroll in a bachelor's degree program in special education. Many programs will prepare you to teach grades K-12. A few courses that you can expect to take are legal issues in special education, vocational disabilities, adaptive physical education, exceptional child assessment and remedial reading.

You'll usually need to fulfill a student teaching requirement in order to gain hands-on experience working with special needs students. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some states may expect you to earn a master's degree in special education before you can become licensed to teach special needs students (www.bls.gov).

Get Licensed

Before you can start working with special needs students in a professional capacity, you'll need to earn your teaching license. The requirements for licensure vary from state to state. In addition to passing a state licensure exam, you'll typically need to obtain a minimum amount of hands-on, classroom experience with special needs students under the direction of a licensed teacher. Some states also offer alternate forms of training and licensure for individuals with bachelor's degrees in areas other than education.

What's the Job Market Like?

Most special education teachers work in public or private schools; some may work with special needs individuals at their homes or in hospitals. According to the BLS, the number of positions for special education teachers in preschools is expected to grow by 9% between 2014 and 2024. During the same time frame, the number of employed kindergarten, primary, middle, and secondary school special education teachers is projected to increase by only 6%, per the BLS.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A similar career that requires a bachelor's degree is a recreational therapist. Recreational therapists may also work with disabled patients, or those who have been injured or ill. They oversee recreational activities, like arts and crafts, sports, or music programs, to improve patients' emotional and physical health. Instructional coordinators and occupational therapists are a couple of other alternatives, but require at least a master's degree. Instructional coordinators work in education and oversee school standards. This typically involves working with teachers and administrators to develop new instructional materials and methods. Occupational therapists work with injured, ill or disabled patients to help them re-learn or develop the skills necessary to work.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

Popular Schools

  • Southern New Hampshire University

    Southern New Hampshire University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Southern New Hampshire University:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available

  • Regent University

    Regent University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Regent University:

    • Doctoral
    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees
    • Certificates

    Online Programs Available

  • Purdue University Global

    Purdue University Global responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Purdue University Global:

    Online Programs Available

  • Grand Canyon University

    Grand Canyon University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Grand Canyon University:

    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees

    Online Programs Available

  • Colorado State University Global

    Colorado State University Global responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Colorado State University Global:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available

  • Northcentral University

    Northcentral University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Northcentral University:

    Online Programs Available

  • Walden University

    Walden University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Walden University:

    • Doctoral
    • Master

    Online Programs Available

  • Trident University

    Trident University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Trident University:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available

  • Pacific Oaks College

    Pacific Oaks College responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Pacific Oaks College:

    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees
    • Certificates

    Online Programs Available

  • Penn Foster High School

    Penn Foster High School responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Penn Foster High School:

    Online Programs Available

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next »