Special education teachers work with students with learning, behavioral, and physical disabilities. In classrooms across the country, special education teachers adapt lesson plans for students with disabilities and create inclusive learning environments. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the career outlook for special education teachers remains strong, offering job growth and above-average salaries.
Most special education teachers need at least a bachelor's degree in a related field, which takes about four years of full-time study to complete. They also typically need teaching licensure. During a bachelor's in special education degree, undergraduates take courses on topics like differentiated instruction, diagnostic assessment, and positive behavior support. They also complete student teaching requirements to build classroom-ready skills.
This page provides information on how to become a special education teacher, including education and certification requirements.
What Does a Special Education Teacher Do?
Special education teachers adapt lessons and curricula for students with disabilities. They may teach subjects like reading and mathematics while also teaching basic life skills for students with moderate or severe disabilities. Special educators typically develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each of their students based on assessments. They use the IEP to set goals and track student progress. In addition to working in the classroom with students, special education teachers coordinate with other teachers, administrators, and counselors. They also regularly meet with parents.
Special education teachers may work in classrooms that include students with and without disabilities or in classrooms exclusively for students with disabilities. Special educators may also specialize in a particular area, such as visually impaired students. Depending on their work environment, special education teachers may use assistive technology to communicate with students.
Special education teachers work during school hours and prepare lessons and write reports outside of school hours. They may also meet with parents outside of school hours.
Special Education Teacher Salary and Job Growth
According to the BLS, special education teachers earned a median annual pay of over $61,000 in 2019, with the top 10% of earners making over $98,000 annually. The BLS projects jobs for special educators to grow 3% between 2018 and 2028.
Salaries for special education teachers vary by factors like location, education, and experience. For example, special education teachers with a master's degree typically earn more than those with just a bachelor's degree. Additionally, special education teachers at public schools often earn higher salaries than those at private schools.
Four Steps to Becoming a Special Education Teacher
The following sections cover how to become a special education teacher, including education and certification requirements.
Earn a special education degree
One of the main special education teacher requirements is earning a bachelor's degree. During a bachelor's degree in special education, learners study evidence-based teaching practices and gain hands-on training through a student teaching experience.
When researching special education programs, prospective students should check a program's accreditation status. In some states, only an accredited special education degree meets the requirements for a teaching license.
Choose an area of specialization
Learners earning a bachelor's degree in special education often pursue a specialization to build advanced skills in a certain area, such as elementary education, gifted and talented education, or autism spectrum disorders. The specialization may require additional coursework or work experience, depending on the program.
Obtain state certification
Graduates with a bachelor's degree in special education who are interested in teaching at public schools must apply for state certification or licensure. During the certification process, candidates must provide documentation demonstrating their bachelor's degree and student teaching experience. Most states also require candidates to pass specialized exams and a background check.
Find a special education teaching position
Finding a teaching position represents the final step in becoming a special education teacher. Licensed special education teachers can apply for special education jobs at public elementary and secondary schools. Most special education teachers work in public schools, but a small number also work in private schools or in residential facilities.
Preparing to Become a Special Education Teacher: Schools and Programs
Depending on the school, students can earn a bachelor's degree in special education or a bachelor's degree in teaching with a concentration in special education. Several schools offer online special education degrees, including the University of Georgia and Western Governors University.
During an online bachelor's degree in special education, learners complete coursework online and student teaching requirements at an approved local site. An accredited online special education degree meets the education requirements for a teaching license in every state.
When evaluating special education programs, prospective students should consider several factors, such as admission policies, start dates, and graduation requirements. They should also consider transfer policies, program length, delivery format, and financial aid opportunities to find a good fit.
Courses in Special Education Teacher Programs
During a special education degree, students complete courses on topics like inclusive instruction, classroom management, and differentiated instruction. In addition to coursework, special education learners complete student teaching experiences under the supervision of an experienced special educator.
The following list outlines several courses commonly found in bachelor's in special education programs.
Introduction to Special Education
Positive Behavior Support
Teaching Exceptional Learners
Accreditation for a Special Education Teacher Program
Prospective special education teachers should research a school's accreditation status before applying. In many states, educators need an accredited degree to earn a teaching license. Additionally, only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid, and many schools only accept degrees and credits from accredited institutions.
Accredited colleges and universities meet the highest standards for granting degrees. To earn accreditation, schools must undergo a rigorous, third-party review of their student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, and graduation requirements. Schools may earn regional or national accreditation, with regional accreditation generally considered the more prestigious of the two.
Programs within a school may also hold accreditation. For example, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation grants accreditation to teaching programs. In some states, students must attend an accredited program to earn a teaching license. Prospective students can check the Department of Education's database to find accredited schools and programs.
Special Education Teacher Specialties
Special education students can pursue a specialization to focus their skills and prepare for specific careers after graduation. Some programs offer formal concentrations as part of a special education degree, while others let students design a custom concentration through electives.
Students can earn a specialization in elementary or secondary education. They can also pursue specializations in areas like autistic spectrum disorders or visual impairment. Many schools also offer a concentration in gifted and talented education.
Special Education Teacher Certification
Special education teachers must hold state licensure or certification to work in public schools. Requirements vary by state, but most states require a bachelor's degree from a teacher preparation program. Some states require specific classes or a special education major for certification.
Candidates may also need to pass required exams. For example, candidates for American Board's special education teacher certification must pass a professional teaching knowledge exam, a special education exam, and an elementary education exam. Certified teachers must maintain their credentials by meeting continuing education requirements.
Components of a Successful Special Education Teacher Career: Skills, Credentials, Tools, and Technology
Strong communication skills help special educators differentiate education based on each student's needs. Special education teachers must also communicate effectively with other teachers, counselors, parents, and administrators.
Patience and resourcefulness also help special educators succeed. The ability to stay calm with students and develop creative ways to present information allow special educators to effectively instruct students. A successful career in special education also requires an understanding of the tools and technology commonly used in the field, such as assistive software programs.
Special education teachers must also meet certain job requirements, which may include a teaching license with a special education endorsement or certification in special education. Some states also require a master's degree for special education jobs.
Special Education Teacher Professional Organizations
Professional organizations help special education teachers advance their careers. Many organizations offer benefits such as networking, professional development, and continuing education opportunities. The following list outlines several professional organizations for special educators.
National Association of Special Education TeachersA national professional organization for special educators, NASET promotes and advocates for special education. Members gain access to professional development programs, newsletters and journals, and continuing education courses.
International Association of Special EducationCEC brings together educators who work with children with exceptionalities. The organization develops special education professional standards and offers webinars, professional development resources, and events. The council also publishes research in the field and hosts a career center with job postings.
National Association of Special Education TeachersIASE encourages collaboration between special educators worldwide. Founded in 1985, IASE hosts members from 50 countries, including teachers, researchers, and professors. The association hosts international conferences and works with other special education organizations to promote the interests of individuals with special needs.
Council for Learning DisabilitiesAn international organization, CLD advocates for high-quality education for individuals with learning disabilities. The council promotes evidence-based research on special education, hosts conferences, and offers professional development resources. The council also posts jobs in special education.
National Education AssociationFounded in 1857, NEA hosts more than three million members, including special education teachers. NEA promotes public education and provides professional development support for teachers. The association also offers resources and articles for special education teachers.
FAQs on Becoming a Special Education Teacher
What does a special education teacher teach?
What is the qualification of a special education teacher?
Are special education teachers in high demand?
How much schooling does a special education teacher need?
Resources for Special Education Teachers
National Center for Learning DisabilitiesNCLD advocates for Americans with learning and attention disabilities. The center promotes high-quality special education instruction, offers scholarships for students, and provides research and resources for educators. NCLD also offers information on the legal responsibilities of special education programs.
Learning Disabilities OnlineThis site provides resources for teachers, principals, and other educators involved in special education. These resources include instructional strategies for particular learning disabilities, information on differentiating instruction, and strategies for using technology in the classroom. The site also provides resources on inclusion and accommodations.
Individuals with Disabilities Education ActThe IDEA governs special education services across the country. The website offers a resource page for educators that lists department-funded projects in different states. It also provides information on the legal obligations of school districts.
Office of Special Education ProgramsA division of the Department of Education, OSEP organizes programs and services for children with disabilities. The office provides grants that support research, personnel development, and parent training.
Related Careers at a Glance
How to Become a Preschool Teacher
How to Become a Professor
See all Posts
What skills do you need to be a special needs teacher? ›
Excellent communication skills. Teach students with a variety of special needs. Research strategies and resources in SEN. Understand and connect with students on a personal level.What qualifications do I need to work with special needs children? ›
You must be a qualified teacher to work as a SENCO. To achieve qualified teacher status (QTS) in England and Wales you'll need an undergraduate degree in any subject and a postgraduate teaching qualification (a PGCE).How will you succeed in your chosen career as a teacher? ›
- Believe In Your Students' Potential.
- Learn Everything You Can About Your Field.
- Be Fun and Energetic.
- Take Risks.
- Be Creative and Think Outside The Box.
- Be Consistent and Decisive.
- Always be Up-To-Date.
- Adaptability. Classrooms can be unpredictable. ...
- Collaboration. ...
- Communication skills. ...
- Compassion. ...
- Devotion to improvement. ...
- Assessment skills. ...
- Knowledge of theory and practice. ...
- Listening skills.
- Assess students' skills and determine their educational needs.
- Adapt general lessons to meet students' needs.
- Develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each student.
- Plan activities that are specific to each student's abilities.
- Teach and mentor students as a class, in small groups, and one-on-one.
The special educator ensures the involvement of parents of students with additional requisites in the educational processes of their children. The special educator collaborates closely with teachers, other professionals and administrators to foster the teaching and learning of students with additional requisites.What is the most important thing for you as a teacher to learn in special education? ›
The most important rule whether you are teaching special needs children or general education children is patience. We need to have and show patience. We cannot be frustrated because we will be faced with many questions that we do not know the answers to.What top 3 skills do you believe you need to be successful as a special education assistant? ›
The qualities identified with top workers in the field of special education often mimic those exhibited by parents: patience, compassion, consistency, acceptance and an passion to see their children do well. Assistants need these qualities and more, as they will be called upon to advocate for their students.What qualifications do you need to teach? ›
You'll usually need: 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including English and maths. 2 to 3 A levels, or equivalent, for a degree. a degree in any subject for a postgraduate course.
It's about preparing children who are most in need for their life, helping them to be successful, get a job - and ultimately live independently one day. It's about giving them a life without limits, opening doors and showing them that anything is possible.
Why do you want to be a teacher best answer? ›
"I want to become a teacher so that I can make a real difference in children's lives. I take the task of developing young people into kind, thoughtful and contributing adults very seriously. I have always been so grateful to my teachers and the educational system for making me the person that I am today.What motivates you to become a teacher? ›
By becoming a teacher you'll get job satisfaction that few will experience. Other than parents, teachers have arguably the biggest influence on a child's life. The visible results you'll see from pupils are guaranteed to send you home with a sense of pride!Why do you choose teaching as your line of career? ›
Becoming a teacher lets you impart life lessons they will never forget and puts you in a position to influence their decisions, behaviors, strengths, weaknesses and imagination. Becoming a teacher lets you take part in shaping the next generation.What do you say in a special education interview? ›
What do you enjoy most about teaching? Why did you choose to work with students with disabilities? What do you hope to contribute to the special education field? What's the biggest challenge/reward in working with students who require special education?Why do I love being a special education teacher? ›
There is not much better than helping a student reach their potential. I feel great knowing my students have learned something new because I was able to teach them in a way that made sense for them. It's rewarding to know I have been able to reach them and help them on their way to future independence.
- Empathy or kindness.
Special education is of great importance for children with learning disabilities, because it gives them the opportunity to get quality education in line with their unique needs. Special education enables every student to gain a high level of independence and reach their full potential.What is the main goal of special education and inclusive education? ›
The primary objective of inclusive education is to educate students who have disabilities in the regular classroom and still meet their individual needs. Inclusive education allows children with special needs to receive a free and appropriate education along with general education students in the regular classroom.How do you deal with students with special needs? ›
- Lean on others. ...
- Stay organized. ...
- Don't reinvent the wheel. ...
- Know that each student is unique. ...
- Keep instructions simple. ...
- Embrace advocacy. ...
- Create opportunities for success. ...
- Don't feel pressure to be perfect.
Special education serves children with emotional, behavioral, or cognitive impairments or with intellectual, hearing, vision, speech, or learning disabilities; gifted children with advanced academic abilities; and children with orthopedic or neurological impairments.
Who is called a special teacher? ›
a teacher who works in a school for children who are unable to benefit from ordinary schooling because they have learning difficulties, disabilities, etc. Collins English Dictionary.Why did you choose to work with students with disabilities? ›
Working with special needs students gives you the opportunity to impact the lives of children who have disabilities, learning disorders, and developmental delays. Not only are you making an impact in the lives of students by giving them tools and resources to learn according to their learning style.What is special education in your own words essay? ›
Definition Of Special Education
"It takes a special kind of person to care for a child with special needs" wrong, actually a child with special needs will inspire you to be a special kind of person. Special education refers to a range of social services provided mostly by public schools for people with disabilities.
The key to inclusive special education programs is understanding and accepting students for who they are. This means not just helping them overcome their weaknesses but assisting them in finding and developing their talents too.How do I prepare for a special education assistant interview? ›
- How would you describe yourself?
- What are your greatest weaknesses?
- Who are your heroes?
- How do you handle stress in the workplace?
- Describe a time you helped somebody.
- Describe your work style.
- Tell me about your top three skills.
- Managing Disruptive Behaviors. ...
- Differentiating Instruction. ...
- Collaborating With Parents.
You can work as an unqualified teacher in a secondary school/further education while training part-time or you can complete a University or College course such as the Professional Certificate in Education (PCE) or the Certificate of Education (CertEd), which both meet the requirements of Level 5 DET.Is teaching a good career? ›
Is teaching a good career choice? Again – yes! Whether you get into teaching for a few years or a lifelong career, it's a respected profession that is sure to enhance your professional skills in many ways. Firstly, you'll build skills such as organization, motivating others, coaching, creativity and public speaking.What qualities do you possess that make you a good special needs teaching assistant? ›
- Good communication skills with the ability to communicate clearly to teachers and students.
- Active listening skills.
- Compassion and sensitivity towards children.
- Knowledge of the curriculum.
- Ability to use a computer.
Variability of student's needs
In all classes, you will see students who are at different ability levels, learn in different ways, and understand concepts at different times. Differentiated instruction and individualized teaching practices are challenging for all teachers.
What is the most difficult part of being a special education teacher? ›
Managing difficult students: It can be very challenging to manage difficult students in a special education classroom. These students can often be disruptive and challenging to teach as a result of their disabilities. Lack of resources: Special education teachers often face a lack of resources in their classrooms.Will special education teachers be needed in the future? ›
Overall employment of special education teachers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The employment growth of special education teachers will vary by type of institution.How do you handle difficult students in the classroom? ›
- Praise their efforts and their achievements. ...
- Ask them for help. ...
- Give them responsibilities. ...
- Ensure students are clear about your expectations of them in the classroom. ...
- Mirror their body language.
“I was recently awarded 'Teacher of the Year' in the current school where I am teaching.” “I'm very organized and I can work with minimum supervision.” You can add some positive personal qualities, too. But do not overdo it.How do you prepare to be a teacher? ›
- Complete your bachelor's degree.
- Complete student teaching (usually as your last semester of college)
- Pass the exam(s) required by your state.
- Obtain any required clearances, such as fingerprints or child abuse clearance.
- Apply for your certificate in the state you wish to teach.
Some qualities of a good teacher include skills in communication, listening, collaboration, adaptability, empathy and patience. Other characteristics of effective teaching include an engaging classroom presence, value in real-world learning, exchange of best practices and a lifelong love of learning.How do I make a career choice? ›
- Think deeply about yourself. ...
- Create a broad list of careers. ...
- Start investigating your list. ...
- Shorten your list. ...
- Talk to people in those fields of study. ...
- Think of your life goals. ...
- Make your career choice.
Special education teachers typically do the following: Assess students' skills and determine their educational needs. Adapt general lessons to meet students' needs. Develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each student.What is your special skills answer? ›
Sample Answer: “I have very good organizational and time management skills, but my greatest strength is my ability to effectively handle multiple projects and deadlines.” Sample Answer: “My strength is my flexibility to handle change.What is the role of special teacher? ›
Special education teachers serve as advocates for students with disabilities and special needs. This includes ensuring that all school officials and employees understand the importance of inclusion and how to best implement inclusion in all campus activities.
Why do you want to work with students with autism? ›
Working with special education students is rewarding
Students with autism need people in their lives that value them, their uniqueness, and want to see them succeed. Most special education teachers are not simply “in it for the money.” They value their careers and want to see the benefits of their efforts.
Show that you have skills and experience to do the job and deliver great results. You never know what other candidates offer to the company. But you know you: emphasize your key skills, strengths, talents, work experience, and professional achievements that are fundamental to getting great things done on this position.How do you manage a classroom? ›
- Understand your students. Get to know each student as an individual. ...
- Practice patience with Rational Detachment. ...
- Set effective limits. ...
- Keep to the schedule you set. ...
- Be aware of the causes of behavior. ...
- Engage with students. ...
- More classroom management resources:
When answering, mention what your top strengths are, provide examples on how you've used them in the past, and finally, describe the results you've gotten. Be super specific with your answers. Don't just say “I'm good at X” - really dive deep and give the interviewer a comprehensive answer.How long does it take to become a special needs teacher? ›
Most special education teachers need at least a bachelor's degree in a related field, which takes about four years of full-time study to complete. They also typically need teaching licensure.How long does it take to become a SEN teacher? ›
You'll need to be a qualified teacher with experience of working in a mainstream school to become an SEN Teacher. A qualification in SEN teaching is also essential (which should have been completed within the last three years).Do SEN teachers get paid more? ›
Here are some fast facts: The average Sen teacher salary in London is £24,196. This is 10.2% more than the average national salary for Sen teacher jobs. The average London Sen teacher salary is 43% less than the average salary across London.How do I become a special needs assistant teacher? ›
A good start for those who want to pursue a career in SNA is to look for short training courses for special needs assisting. You can choose between a variety of classroom-based, online, or blended learning course options. Classroom-based classes and blended learning options often require students to attend classes.Is special educator a good career? ›
A career in special education is best suited for those who have a strong desire to educate and care deeply about disabled children. Individualized instruction is provided to children with a variety of physical and mental disabilities through special education.Why do so many special education teachers quit? ›
Lack of support from administrators and colleagues. Large caseloads. Non-teaching responsibilities (e.g., excessive paperwork) Student behavior.
Why do you want to work with special needs students? ›
Working with special needs students gives you the opportunity to impact the lives of children who have disabilities, learning disorders, and developmental delays. Not only are you making an impact in the lives of students by giving them tools and resources to learn according to their learning style.Are special ed teachers happy? ›
A solid majority of special education teachers enjoy their work environment, probably contributing to overall higher satisfaction with working as a special education teacher.What teacher position makes the most money? ›
When you are looking for the best-paid teaching jobs for your area of interest or specialized skill, then you may consider working as a professor in a college or university. A college professor prepares course material, teaches students in a classroom environment, and grades student work.
– Special education teachers are at heightened risk for stress and burnout, which negatively impacts their effectiveness and well-being.What skills does a special needs assistant need? ›
Communication and Interpersonal Skills • Is an excellent communicator who is able to motivate, encourage and instil confidence. Has the ability to quickly build rapport. Is respectful and displays high emotional intelligence. Is resilient, has patience and energy to persevere.What are the roles and responsibilities of a special needs assistant? ›
Their duties and responsibilities involve:
Special assistance as necessary for pupils with particular needs e.g. helping physically disabled pupils with typing or writing. Assistance with clothing, feeding, toileting and general hygiene. Assisting on out-of-school visits, walks and similar activities.
prepare learning materials under the supervision of the teacher. work inside or outside the classroom with individuals or groups. adapt support according to needs. look after children's physical, social and emotional welfare.