Teaching of Individuals with Emotional Disturbances

Read about the job duties of special education teachers who help students with emotional behavior disorders. Review the education and licensure requirements for working in this field, and explore some undergraduate and graduate degree programs that can prepare you to teach students with emotional disturbances.

Is Teaching Individuals with Emotional Disturbances for Me?

Career Overview

Emotional disturbed children may be depressed or unhappy and exhibit inappropriate feelings and/or behaviors in ordinary situations. There are no health, sensory or intellectual reasons as to why they can't learn. These conditions occur over an extended period and can prevent a child from learning, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Teachers of students with emotional disturbances, which are also called emotional behavior disorders (EBD), work within the field of special education. In this field, you may work with students of all ages, from preschool through high school. You create Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for your students and help them meet the goals set forth in these plans. You may work to transition your students from one education level to the next. You can also work with older teens, helping them learn to live independently.

In this field, you may teach in a residential school for children with emotional disturbances, or you may work with individual students or clusters of students within a larger school. Students with emotional disturbances have problems learning due to conditions such as schizophrenia or depression. Children with emotional disturbances often have other special education needs, and you will likely be part of a team, which provides both education and support for your students and occasionally for their families.

Important Qualities

Teaching students who are emotionally disturbed requires patience, perseverance, creativity and an ability to communicate well. You need to have good interpersonal skills and be very detail oriented, as you need to document student progress on a daily basis. Jobs working with emotionally disturbed individuals have a high degree of turnover due to the sometimes stressful classroom situations inherent in the job.

Employment Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2012 there were 442,800 special education teachers (www.bls.gov). Job openings in this field were expected to grow slower than average between 2012 and 2022, except at the pre-k level, where faster than average growth of 16% was projected. In May 2013, the BLS reported median salaries for special education teachers at the pre-k level of $52,070, at the elementary level of $53,910, at the middle school level of $56,300 and $56,920 at the high school level. Most teachers work a 10-month year.

How Can I Work Teaching Students with Emotional Behavior Disabilities?


There are many pathways to becoming a special education teacher of individuals with emotional disabilities. You may take a bachelor's or a master's programs leading to licensure to teach special education. Special education teacher certification may be for K-12, elementary or secondary classes. If you want to teach students with emotional disturbance, you may have to get an emotional disturbance endorsement on your license.

Training programs typically include general education classes and then add coursework in special education covering the history and issues involved in special education, teaching methods, classroom management, assessment and diagnostics, family consultation and remedial education.

Many teachers go on to earn graduate level degrees in special education. In fact, some states require a combined B.S./M.Ed. (Bachelor of Science/Master of Education) program, which takes five years to complete and provides you with a year of graduate-level education. Master's and doctoral degrees in special education are widely available. Graduate degrees may lead to positions of team leadership within education, as well as professorial positions training future special education teachers.

Licensing and Certification

All teachers working in public schools in the U.S. have to be licensed to teach, but not everyone becomes licensed or certified the same way. In special education, you may be able to get a job teaching if you have a bachelor's degree and then earn teacher certification while you are working. Many states have provisions that allow you to train under the direct supervision of a mentoring teacher while taking certification classes. Once you are certified, you'd likely continue to be mentored for a period of up to two years. Continuing education is required to maintain certification. If you want to teach emotional disturbed students, along with students who have other disabilities, you may earn certification to teach children with mild/moderate disabilities or moderate/severe disabilities.

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