Master's in Special Education: Salary and Career Facts

Learn about the positions for which a master's degree in special education may qualify you. Get some facts about coursework, state licensing rules, salary information and future employment outlook. Schools offering Emotional & Behavioral Disorders degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Can a Special Education Teacher Do With a Master's Degree

Special education teachers work with students who may have emotional problems, learning disabilities, or physical handicaps. These teachers assess students for special education and then devise individual education plans for each young person. These plans are discussed with administrators, faculty and parents, and implemented as needed. Throughout the year, they will update the plan and discuss progress with other instructors.

While working toward a master's degree in education, you will learn about how to teach children who have special needs and work with their families and other teachers. Coursework will cover topics such as child development, instructional methods, conducting assessments and making diagnoses. Explore more about the career in the following table.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree at minimum in most states; master's degree is the minimum requirement in some states
Licensure State licensure is required for public school teachers; in some states, separate licensure might be required for special education teachers
Key Responsibilities Teaching in classrooms or one-on-one; working with teachers and parents; coordinating services; creating learning plans; diagnosing problems; conducting assessments
Job Growth (2014-24)* 6% for all special education teachers
Average Salary (2015)* Salaries for special education teachers vary by level:
Kindergarten - Elementary: $58,640
Middle School: $60,300
High School: $62,180

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Will a Master's Program in Special Education Teach Me?

A master's degree in special education will prepare you for working with children with special needs. In this degree program, you will focus on the ethical and legal issues working with handicapped children, communication skills, developmental skills and instructional methods. You will learn how to help a special needs child develop their language, social and mental skills to the highest level possible. You will also work with parents and other teachers in coordinating education and training programs, so good communication skills are a must in this profession.

What Will I Study?

Some of the topics that you may study during your master's degree program are teaching diverse learners, educational assessment, educational planning, language development, cognitive development, consulting and instructional methods. Other possible topics include identifying learning disabilities, reading assessment, educational psychology and culture.

Are There Any Special State Licensing or Certification Requirements?

You must be licensed or certified by the state in order to work as a special education teacher in public schools. Some states require special education teachers to obtain a general teaching license or certificate, while others offer a license specifically in special education. Other states offer additional licenses in specialty areas of special education. Most states require that you hold at least a bachelor's degree, although in a few states the minimum requirement is a master's degree.

How Much Can I Make as a Special Education Teacher?

Your salary can differ depending on the level of school you decide to teach. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), special education teachers at the kindergarten through elementary school level made an average salary of $58,640 in 2015 ( At the middle school level, the average salary for special education teachers was $60,300, and at the high school level they earned $62,180 a year.

What is the Career Outlook in This Field?

The BLS projected that between 2014 and 2024, the number of special education teachers would increase by 6%. This growth rate would be due in part to the growing number of services offered to special needs children and the need to replace teachers leaving the profession. Also, advances in diagnosis and treatments might increase the number of children in need of special education services at a younger age. However, tight public education budgets might limit opportunities in a given area.

Location and specialty would be major influences in the number of positions available across the country. There are projected to be more openings in areas with high enrollments and in rural areas. If you have training in a special education specialty, such as autism or early childhood intervention, or if you are multi-lingual, you should have more employment opportunities.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Most related careers will be a part of the education field. Many teachers of special education move to become traditional classroom teachers. From elementary, middle, and high school teachers, to career and vocational educators, all of these positions require a bachelor's degree. Prospective teachers will be required to keep good records, create lesson plans and present lessons to students. With a master's degree in education you can work toward certification as an instructional coordinator, principal or superintendent. These educators juggle work with students, lesson plans, faculty, parents and school boards.

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:

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