A special education teacher works with students who have physical, mental or social difficulties. The job requires a background in many disabilities so the teacher can build bonds of trust in students. That bond helps teachers develop students’ academic and life skills.
If you’re a special education teacher, your work day might include activities like these:
This article describes many aspects of being a special education teacher from elementary through high school. It includes salary and job prospects, a job description, personality characteristics that point to job satisfaction, and resources that can help you advance in a special education career.
|Elementary school||Middle school||High school|
|Education||Bachelor’s degree and state-issued teaching certificate||Bachelor’s degree and state-issued teaching certificate||Bachelor’s degree/ master’s preferred and state-issued certification|
|Typical study time||4 years||4-5 years||4-5 years|
|Job growth outlook||+6%||+6%||+6%|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
A teaching degree plus a special education specialty is required for work in public schools.
Special education teachers also work in colleges and universities with students who are pursuing degrees. Most colleges require teachers to hold at least a master’s degree.
Someone who is:
If these traits describe you, then a special education career could be your calling. People who are committed to enriching the lives of children with disabilities and who can deal with lots of paperwork may have what it takes to succeed as a special education teacher.
Before you devote your life to this career, keep in mind that you may end up spending most of your time working one-on-one with students in specially designed classrooms. You’ll need to be comfortable doing your job without other adult colleagues around. Think about whether that appeals to you.
Special education teachers work so closely with students that they can become more emotionally involved than other teachers might. Letting go of these emotional ties is tough enough when a child moves to another school, but it can be excruciating at times (like when a student has a terminal illness).
Special education teachers work with students who have mild to moderate disabilities, such as speech and vision problems, limited motor skills, sensory-processing difficulties or some combination of these. A special education teacher, also known as a special needs teacher, evaluates individual students and then revises the standard curriculum to match each child’s functionality or skill level.
Special education teachers collaborate with other teachers, therapists, supervisors and parents to ensure the curriculum is appropriate and that the student is improving. The job requires filling out many forms, including results of testing and notes on student improvements and special challenges.
The special education teacher uses several standard techniques, including one-on-one instruction, imitation, repetition and problem solving.
Elementary special education teachers teach, coach and often mentor disabled children. They also evaluate children’s skills and functionality, and modify existing standard courseware to meet individual needs. Because elementary school is often the child’s first experience with group learning, special education teachers may work more on social skills with those who are more severely disabled.
Continue reading to learn more about elementary school special education teachers
Elementary special education teachers teach either in a regular classroom or a specially designed classroom, depending on the severity of their students’ disabilities. The special education teacher may be required to teach life skills or social skills, as well as academic coursework. The day-to-day duties include:
Elementary school special education teachers who work in public schools are required to have a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate issued from the state where they teach.
Part of the bachelor’s degree work for special education teachers includes:
At the elementary school level, a master’s degree is a bonus.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for elementary special education teachers is $55,810. More estimates:
The BLS job-growth projection is 6 percent.
As with any jobs, there are pluses and minuses to being an elementary school special education teacher.
Middle school special education teachers sometimes teach at a higher level than elementary special education teachers do. If the students are severely challenged, however, the training may not change.
Continue reading to learn more about middle school special education teachers
Middle school special education teachers work with students who have disabilities, but may have already had some remedial training in elementary school. Depending on the severity of the disability, students may be further along in their life skills and may have improved functionality. Therefore, special education teachers are often working to increase social or developmental skills, as well as academic knowledge.
During middle school, a student may be emotionally or physically prepared to integrate into a normal classroom. The special education teacher helps with the transition and supports the special needs student after the transition.
Teachers also may be called on to evaluate sports options appropriate for their charges.
As with other teaching positions, a special education teacher requires at least a bachelor’s degree and a state-issued teaching credential. Some states require a master’s degree to obtain a teaching credential. Student teaching is often also required.
A master’s degree in special education may include courses such as:
According to the BLS, the median salary of a middle school special education teacher is $57,280. Other estimates:
BLS job-growth projection is 6 percent.
The rewards of being a middle school special education teacher are substantial. But there are also some downsides.
Here are some of each:
High school special education teachers work with disabled students in grades 9-12, including testing and evaluating each student. Based on their recommendations, class work is modified to suit each student.
Continue reading to learn more about high school special education teachers
High school special education teachers teach both life skills and academic course work. Depending on the severity of the handicap, special education teachers may either teach in a separate classroom or co-teach with a regular teacher in a standard classroom.
High school special education teachers often recommend activities that parents can do with the child to help improve skills and functionality.
To become a special education teacher at the high school level, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree and a state-issued teaching license. Many schools require a master’s degree in special education.
Depending on the specialization within special education, the teacher may take additional courses to work with students who have autism or who are deaf or blind.
Many states also require student teaching to obtain a teaching certificate.
High school special education teachers earn an average salary of $58,500, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other estimates:
High school special education teachers face many challenges and difficulties.
Once you have your degree and teaching credentials, you can expand your teaching horizons through continuing education options such as:
These professional associations serve special education teachers:
A special education teacher can find many jobs outside the traditional classroom, such as: