Special Education Teacher

If you're interested in teaching and want to help students who have physical, emotional or learning disabilities, becoming a special education teacher could be for you. Continue reading to learn how you can qualify for a career in special education, including education and certification requirements.

Is Teaching Special Education for Me?

Career Overview

Special education teachers work with children in preschool and grades K-12 who have emotional, cognitive or physical disabilities. As a special education teacher, you may work with special needs students outside of the regular classroom or help a lead teacher who has one or two special needs students in her classroom. You'll gain experience working with children and youths who have hearing or language impairments or are autistic or intellectually disabled.

Career Options

With a doctoral degree, you may manage a school's special education program or department or teach special education classes at a college or university. You may also find work in a medical facility or adult care center.

Employment and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2012, there were approximately 442,800 special education teachers employed in preschools and grades K-12. Nationwide, employment of special education teachers at the K-12 levels was projected to increase by a slower-than-average rate from 2012-2022. However, special education teachers at the preschool level can expect a 16%, or faster-than-average, increase in job openings through 2022. Government funding and high turnover among teachers will have a positive impact on job growth.

As of May 2013, the BLS also reported that the median annual salary for special education teachers in kindergarten classrooms and elementary schools was $53,910, while those in preschools earned $52,070. In the same month, special education teachers in middle schools and high schools earned $56,300 and $56,920 respectively (www.bls.gov).

How Can I Become a Special Education Teacher?

Educational Requirements

The first step to becoming a special education teacher is earning a bachelor's degree in education or special education. If you didn't earn an undergraduate degree in special education, you'll need to complete additional training. Before you can teach, you must pass the licensing exam offered by your state's Board of Education. Some states require that you have a master's degree in special education, according to the BLS.

Undergraduate Programs

In an undergraduate special education program, you'll study lesson planning, classroom management and educational psychology, as well as the characteristics of individuals with learning disabilities. You'll also take courses in child development, language acquisition and remedial reading instruction, while learning how to teach math and science to special needs students. Additional requirements include a student teaching experience and the chance to gain some hands-on training in a special education classroom.

Graduate Programs

In a master's degree program in special education, you may learn about emotional disorders and the effects of learning disabilities on a student's ability to absorb information; trends in special education might also be covered. You'll also complete internships and interact with special needs students in real-world situations. Doctoral programs in special education are also available, through which you can take education and policy courses, attend research seminars or examine existing and developing K-12 special education teaching methods. Doctoral programs typically culminate in a research dissertation. Graduate areas of specialization can include emotional impairments, learning disabilities, visual impairments or severe disabilities.

Required Skills

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), special education teachers must be patient, able to motivate their students and understand their students' needs. You must also be able to accept your students' differences and develop a relationship with them. Although this job can be emotionally and physically exhausting, it can be rewarding to see your students make progress.

Certification

A master's degree in special education may qualify you for board certification from the National Association of Special Education Teachers (www.naset.org).

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