Special Education Teachers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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Top 3 Special Education Teacher Jobs

  • Special Education Teacher - The Menta Group - Chicago, IL

    Successful candidates will be creative, energetic and eager to develop and implement innovative solutions to critical problems in education. This

  • Special Education Teacher - Elementary - Hiawatha Academies - Minneapolis, MN

    HLA-Morris Park is our flagship elementary school, founded in 2007. We serve Kindergarten through 4th grade. HLA-Morris Park is currently seeking a

  • Special Education Teacher, Secondary School - Green Dot Public Schools - South Seattle, WA

    Green Dot Washington is part of the larger Green Dot Public School network (www.greendot.org) which is the leading charter school operator in Los

See all Special Education Teacher jobs

What Special Education Teachers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Special education teachers work with students who have a wide range of learning, mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. They adapt general education lessons and teach various subjects, such as reading, writing, and math, to students with mild and moderate disabilities. They also teach basic skills, such as literacy and communication techniques, to students with severe disabilities.

Duties of Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers typically do the following:

  • Assess students' skills to determine their needs
  • Adapt general lessons to meet the needs of students
  • Develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each student
  • Plan, organize, and assign activities that are specific to each student's abilities
  • Teach and mentor students as a class, in small groups, and one-on-one
  • Implement IEPs, assess students' performance, and track their progress
  • Update IEPs throughout the school year to reflect students' progress and goals
  • Discuss students' progress with parents, other teachers, counselors, and administrators
  • Supervise and mentor teacher assistants who work with students with disabilities
  • Prepare and help students transition from grade to grade and for life after graduation

Special education teachers work with general education teachers, counselors, administrators, and parents. Together, they develop IEPs specific to each student's needs. IEPs outline the goals and services for each student, such as sessions with school psychologists, counselors, and special education teachers. Teachers also meet with parents, administrators, and counselors to discuss updates and changes to the IEPs.

Special education teachers' duties vary by the type of setting they work in, students' disabilities, and teachers' specialties.

Some special education teachers work in classrooms or resource centers that include only students with disabilities. In these settings, teachers plan, adapt, and present lessons to meet each student's needs. They teach students in small groups or on a one-on-one basis.

In inclusive classrooms, special education teachers teach students with disabilities who are in general education classrooms. They work with general education teachers to present information in a manner that students with disabilities can more easily understand. They also assist general education teachers in adapting lessons that will meet the needs of the students with disabilities in their classes.

In addition, special education teachers collaborate with teacher assistants, psychologists, and social workers to accommodate requirements of students with disabilities. For example, they may have a teacher assistant work with them to provide support for a student who needs particular attention.

Special education teachers work with students who have a wide variety of mental, emotional, physical, and learning disabilities. For example, some work with students who need assistance in subject areas, such as reading and math. Others help students develop study skills, such as highlighting text and using flashcards.

Some special education teachers work with students who have physical disabilities, such as students who are wheelchair bound. Others work with students who have sensory disabilities, such as blindness and deafness. They also may work with those who have autism spectrum disorders and emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

Special education teachers work with students from preschool to high school. Some teachers work with students who have severe disabilities until the students are 21 years old.

Special education teachers help students with severe disabilities develop basic life skills, such as how to respond to questions and how to follow directions. Some teach the skills necessary for students with moderate disabilities to live independently, find a job, and manage money and their time. For more information about other workers who help individuals with disabilities develop skills necessary to live independently, see the profiles on occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants and aides.

Special education teachers must be comfortable with using and learning new technology. Most use computers to keep records of their students' performance, prepare lesson plans, and update IEPs. Some teachers also use various assistive technology aids, such as Braille writers and computer software that help them communicate with their students.

Work Environment for Special Education Teachers[About this section] [To Top]

Special education teachers hold about 439,300 jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up special education teachers is distributed as follows:

Special education teachers, kindergarten and elementary school 188,900
Special education teachers, secondary school 131,900
Special education teachers, middle school 89,300
Special education teachers, preschool 29,200

The largest employers of special education teachers are as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local 86%
Elementary and secondary schools; private 7

A few work with students in residential facilities, hospitals, and the students' homes. They may travel to these locations. Some teachers work with infants and toddlers at the child's home. They also teach the child's parents methods and ways to help the child develop skills.

Helping students with disabilities can be highly rewarding. It also can be quite stressful—emotionally demanding and physically draining.

Special Education Teacher Work Schedules

Special education teachers typically work during school hours. They also use that time to grade papers, update students' records, and prepare lessons. They may meet with parents, students, and other teachers before and after classes.

Many work the traditional 10-month school year and have a 2-month break during the summer. They also have a short midwinter break. Some teachers may work for summer programs.

Teachers in districts with a year-round schedule typically work 9 weeks in a row and then are on break for 3 weeks.

How to Become a Special Education Teacher[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Special Education Teachers near you!

Special education teachers in public schools are required to have at least a bachelor's degree and a state-issued certification or license. Private schools typically require teachers to have a bachelor's degree, but the teachers are not required to be licensed or certified. For information about teacher preparation programs and certification requirements, visit Teach.org or contact your state's board of education.

Education for Special Education Teachers

All states require special education teachers in public schools to have at least a bachelor's degree. Some require teachers to earn a degree specifically in special education. Others allow them to major in elementary education or a content area, such as math or science, and pursue a minor in special education.

In a program leading to a bachelor's degree in special education, prospective teachers learn about the different types of disabilities and how to present information so that students will understand. Programs typically include a student-teaching program, in which they work with a mentor teacher and get experience teaching students in a classroom setting. To become fully certified, some states require special education teachers to complete a master's degree in special education after obtaining a job.

Teachers in private schools do not need to meet state requirements. However, private schools may prefer to hire teachers who have at least a bachelor's degree in special education.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Special Education Teachers

All states require teachers in public schools to be licensed in the specific grade level that they teach. A license frequently is referred to as a certification. Those who teach in private schools typically do not need to be licensed.

Requirements for certification or licensure can vary by state but generally involve the following:

  • A bachelor's degree with a minimum grade point average
  • Completion of a teacher preparation program and supervised experience in teaching, which is typically gained through student teaching.
  • Passing a background check
  • Passing a general teaching certification test, as well as a test that demonstrates knowledge of the subject the candidate will teach.

Many states offer general certification or licenses in special education that allow teachers to work with students with a variety of disabilities. Others offer licenses or endorsements based on a disability-specific category, such as autism or behavior disorders.

Some states allow special education teachers to transfer their licenses from another state. Other states require even an experienced teacher to pass their state's licensing requirements.

All states offer an alternative route to certification or licensure for people who already have a bachelor's degree. Some alternative certification programs allow candidates to begin teaching immediately, under the close supervision of an experienced teacher. These alternative programs cover teaching methods and child development. Candidates are awarded full certification after they complete the program. Other alternative programs require prospective teachers to take classes in education before they can start to teach. Teachers may be awarded a master's degree after completing either type of program.

Advancement for Special Education Teachers

Experienced teachers can advance to become mentors or lead teachers who help less experienced teachers improve their teaching skills.

Teachers may become school counselors, instructional coordinators, and elementary, middle, and high school principals. These positions generally require additional education, an advanced degree, or certification. An advanced degree in education administration or leadership may be helpful.

Important Qualities for Special Education Teachers

Communication skills. Special education teachers discuss students' needs and performances with general education teachers, parents, and administrators. They also explain difficult concepts in terms that students with learning disabilities can understand.

Critical-thinking skills. Special education teachers assess students' progress and use that information to adapt lessons to help them learn.

Interpersonal skills. Special education teachers work regularly with general education teachers, school counselors, administrators, and parents to develop Individualized Education Programs. As a result, they need to be able to build positive working relationships.

Patience. Working with students with special needs and different abilities can be difficult. Special education teachers should be patient with each student, because some may need the instruction given aloud, at a slower pace, or in writing.

Resourcefulness. Special education teachers must develop different ways to present information in a manner that meets the needs of their students. They also help general education teachers adapt their lessons to the needs of students with disabilities.

Special Education Teacher Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

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Entry Level Experienced

The median annual wage for special education teachers is $57,910. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,760, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $93,090.

Median annual wages for special education teachers are as follows:

Special education teachers, secondary school $59,700
Special education teachers, middle school 58,560
Special education teachers, kindergarten and elementary school 57,040
Special education teachers, preschool 52,460

The median annual wages for special education teachers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local $58,670
Elementary and secondary schools; private 50,440

Special education teachers typically work during school hours. They also use that time to grade papers, update students' records, and prepare lessons. They may meet with parents, students, and other teachers before and after classes.

Many work the traditional 10-month school year and have a 2-month break during the summer. They also have a short midwinter break. Some teachers may work for summer programs.

Teachers in districts with a year-round schedule typically work 9 weeks in a row and then are on break for 3 weeks.

Union Membership for Special Education Teachers

Most special education teachers belong to a union.

Job Outlook for Special Education Teachers[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of special education teachers is projected to grow 8 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The employment growth of special education teachers will vary by type of institution. (See table below.) However, overall demand will be driven by school enrollment and the need for special education services.

Enrollment in special education programs has increased slightly in the past couple of years. Demand for special education services and teachers should rise as children with disabilities are increasingly being identified earlier and enrolled into special education programs.

Federal laws require free education for students with disabilities, and every state must maintain the same level of financial support for special education every year. This mandate provides special education programs with consistent funding and reduces the threat of employment layoffs due to state or federal budget constraints. However, employment growth may depend on increases in funding.

Job Prospects for Special Education Teachers

Teaching students with disabilities can be quite stressful, emotionally demanding, and physically draining. As a result, many schools have difficulties recruiting and retaining special education teachers. Accordingly, special education teachers are expected to have good job opportunities, which will stem from the need to replace teachers who leave the occupation each year.

Job opportunities also may be better in certain specialties, such as those requiring experience with early childhood intervention and skills in working with students who have autism.

Employment projections data for Special Education Teachers, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Special education teachers 439,300 472,600 8 33,300
  Special education teachers, preschool 29,200 32,500 11 3,300
  Special education teachers, kindergarten and elementary school 188,900 202,800 7 13,900
  Special education teachers, middle school 89,300 95,700 7 6,300
  Special education teachers, secondary school 131,900 141,600 7 9,700


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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