Early Childhood Special Education Teacher: Job Duties, Pay Information

Early Childhood Special Education Teacher: Job Duties, Pay Information
Robbie Bruens October 4, 2012

Article continues here

Early childhood special education teachers work with children under the age of 6 who have diagnosed mental, social, or physical challenges. Committed to helping children reach their learning potential, an early childhood special education teaching career is a rewarding and challenging path. Being an early childhood special education teacher is a chance to make a big impact on a child’s life at a very young age.

At-a-glance: early childhood special education teachers

Early childhood special education teacher job description

Early childhood special education teachers work with students who have developmental difficulties, such as speech and vision problems, limited motor skills, sensory-processing difficulties, or special learning challenges.

Students in these age groups may be newly diagnosed and the special education teacher plays a role in determining what services and accommodations they will need. Parents may still be coming to terms with their child’s special needs and will need support and advice.

Typical Duties:

  • Administering special education testing
  • Evaluating special-needs students, determining skill levels, and functional capabilities
  • Modifying lessons and revising the standard curriculum to match the child’s functional capacity and accommodations
  • Co-teaching in integrated learning settings
  • Meeting parents and others to review goals and assess progress
  • Creating materials to assist in teaching
  • Helping children, such as those with cerebral palsy, who need assistance with motor skills and eating/drinking
  • Providing an appropriate learning environment for students, such as those with sensory-processing challenges
  • Advising parents on how to work with their child
  • Instructing students one-on-one in imitation, repetition, and step-by-step problem solving
  • Completing evaluative and accommodation forms such as IEPs

Who makes a good early childhood special education teacher?

Someone who is:

  • Committed to enriching the lives of young children with special needs
  • Comfortable working one-on-one with students in specially designed classrooms
  • Passionate about education
  • Patient and compassionate
  • Kind
  • Well-organized
  • Flexible
  • Creative
  • Willing to work hard
  • Able to collaborate with colleagues
  • Resourceful and imaginative

Early childhood special education teachers in-depth

Early childhood special education teachers instruct, coach, and mentor children under the age of six with special needs. Early childhood special education teachers have the opportunity to influence the academic future of these children. Intervening at this early age increases the chance for children to improve in areas such as social skills, motor skills, language, and speech.

Early childhood special education teachers may work in a preschool, clinical institute, day care setting, or kindergarten classroom. They may work either in a regular classroom-like setting or a specially designed classroom, depending on the severity of students’ special needs.

Using patience and creativity, early childhood special education teachers adapt lessons and learning objectives so students with many kinds of challenges can progress academically and socially. These teachers also communicate findings to parents, administrators, counselors, and other involved parties.

Students in special-needs classrooms may be diagnosed with a variety of conditions, including autism, Down syndrome, and developmental delays. Class sizes are usually under 12 students. Learning objectives and classroom management techniques often need to be adapted to meet the emotional, behavioral, physical, and cognitive abilities of the students. Each classroom may have a lead teacher, as well as assistant teachers and special education aides. This allows for individualized attention and one-on-one learning.

Early childhood special education teachers also collaborate with other teachers, therapists, preschool supervisors, and parents to ensure educational goals are appropriate and that the student is progressing.

As students move toward kindergarten and first grade, early childhood special education teachers develop individualized education programs (IEPs) for each student. IEPs outline how the school will accommodate their unique special needs. Special education teachers track students’ progress and help ensure that each student receives the services described by the IEP.

Education and certification

  • Education: Bachelor’s or master’s degree
  • Typical study time: 4-6 years

Early childhood special education teachers who work in public schools are required to have a bachelor’s or master’s degree and a teaching certificate issued by the state where they teach.

Some private schools, day care centers, and clinical institutions may have less stringent criteria, so an associate degree or child development credential may be sufficient, but most give priority to candidates with higher levels of education, especially because of the demands of the job. Having a bachelor’s or master’s degree in special education can be a huge advantage over other candidates.

In addition to degrees, early childhood special education teachers may be required to complete a special education teaching instruction program, including a certain number of hours of special education teaching as an assistant or aide. Each state and institution may have specific certification requirements.

When seeking a bachelor’s degree, pursuing special education may be most beneficial. Some special education teachers choose to major in a general education area, such as math, and then minor in special education.

Acquiring a master’s degree in special education can distinguish candidates for potential jobs. The programs emphasize instructional strategies for differentiating instruction, serving students with special needs in inclusive general education classrooms, and implementing the Response to Intervention model at the classroom or school level.

Certification and licensing

A state-issued teaching certificate or license is generally required to become an early childhood special education teacher within a school district. Some private schools, and certain parochial, or faith-based, schools have their own requirements for special education faculty.

Certification and licensing requirements vary from state to state. Nearly all states require special teachers to take professional development courses as a condition of certification.

Teaching License Reciprocity by State: Visit our state-by-state teacher licensing and reciprocity page for regulations in your state.

Other early childhood special education institutions may not require teaching certificates or licensing, but will have their own regulations for employment. It is important to find the educational and licensing requirements appropriate for each institution.

Salary range and employment projections

Salary ranges can vary depending on the state, school district, experience, and degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the median income for an early childhood special education teacher at the preschool level is $55,840. The lowest 10% earn less than $34,300 and the highest 10% earn more than $100,160. The median salary for a kindergarten special education teacher is $63,110. The lowest 10% earn less than $38,980 and the highest 10% earn more than $95,730.

According to ZipRecruiter.com, the average salary for all early childhood special education teachers by state varies from $42,373 to $59,713.

The average salary median for individuals with an early childhood special education teaching degree is $50,274.

Here are more average salaries for early childhood special education teachers at the preschool and kindergarten level from some online sources:

  • Glassdoor.com: $52,727
  • PayScale.com:  $43,404
  • ZipRecruiter.com: $54,560

According to the BLS, the overall employment of special education teachers is projected to grow 3% from 2018 to 2028. As challenges are being identified earlier, and as children with special needs are enrolled in special education programs, demand for special education teachers will rise.

Federal laws require that every state maintains the same level of financial support for special education each year. However, employment growth will depend on increases in funding.

Advantages and disadvantages


  • Inspire young minds
  • Work is engaging and hands-on
  • Make a huge difference in the lives of students with special needs
  • Develop a close one-on-one working relationship with each of your students
  • Work with a group of professionals who are dedicated to helping children with special needs to thrive
  • Every day is unique


  • It’s very easy to become emotionally attached to a student
  • Can be difficult to align teaching experience with parents’ goals for the student
  • Responsible for a tremendous amount of paperwork associated with each special-needs student
  • Extensive testing in evaluating improvement
  • State and local standards
  • School funding
  • Long hours during the school year
  • Extensive training required

Professional development for special education teachers

Continuing education is a valuable way to stay current and up-to-date and increase one’s real value in the job market.

Special education teaching skills and understanding can be enhanced through continuing education options such as:

  • Board Certification in Special Education: This certification from the American Academy of Special Education Professionals (AASEP) teaches a national standard for professionals who work with children who have learning disabilities.
  • Additional certifications: Special education teachers can earn certification in additional areas such as learning challenges or behavioral disabilities.
  • Master’s degree: Occupational therapists, speech therapists and physical therapists must earn a master’s degree to be certified.
  • PhD or EdD in education: Teachers aiming to become leaders and top-level administrators in special education will find this degree invaluable.

Professional associations

These professional associations serve special education teachers:

Best of the web

The internet makes it easy to find and use high-quality early childhood special education resources. Here is a list of some of our favorites:

Favorite special education teacher websites and blogs

Who to follow on Twitter and Instagram

You may also like to read