Special Education Teachers


Quick Facts: Special Education Teachers
2017 Median Pay $58,980 per year
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2016 439,300
Job Outlook, 2016-26 8% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 33,300

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Special Education Career, Salary and Education Information

What Special Education Teachers Do

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.

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Special Education teachers

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

Special education teachers held about 439,300 jobs in 2016. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up special education teachers was 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 were 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.

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

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

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

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

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

Teachers may become school counselorsinstructional 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

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.


salaries for Special education Teachers

The median annual wage for special education teachers was $58,980 in May 2017. 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 $38,660, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $95,320.

 

Median annual wages for special education teachers in May 2017 were as follows:

Special education teachers, secondary school: $60,180

Special education teachers, middle school: $59,510

Special education teachers, kindergarten and elementary school: $58,600

Special education teachers, preschool: $53,640

In May 2017, the median annual wages for special education teachers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local: $59,720

Elementary and secondary schools; private: $51,300

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

Most special education teachers belonged to a union in 2016.


Job Outlook for special education TeacherS

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. (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

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

Employment, 2016: 439,300

Projected Employment, 2026: 472,600

Change, 2016-2026: +8%, +33,300


Careers Related to Special education TeacherS

Career and Technical Education Teachers

Career and technical education teachers instruct students in various technical and vocational subjects, such as auto repair, healthcare, and culinary arts. They teach academic and technical content to provide students with the skills and knowledge necessary to enter an occupation.

Childcare Workers

Childcare workers attend to the basic needs of children, such as dressing, bathing, feeding, and overseeing play. They may help younger children prepare for kindergarten or assist older children with homework.

Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

Elementary, middle, and high school principals manage all school operations, including daily school activities. They coordinate curriculums, oversee teachers and other school staff, and provide a safe and productive learning environment for students.

High School Teachers

High school teachers help prepare students for life after graduation. They teach academic lessons and various skills that students will need to attend college and to enter the job market.

Instructional Coordinators

Instructional coordinators oversee school curriculums and teaching standards. They develop instructional material, coordinate its implementation with teachers and principals, and assess its effectiveness.

Librarians

Librarians help people find information and conduct research for personal and professional use. Their job duties may change based on the type of library they work in, such as public, academic, and medical libraries.

Middle School Teachers

Middle school teachers educate students, typically in sixth through eighth grades. They help students build on the fundamentals they learned in elementary school and prepare them for the more difficult curriculum they will face in high school.

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and technical subjects beyond the high school level. They may also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.

Preschool Teachers

Preschool teachers educate and care for children younger than age 5 who have not yet entered kindergarten. They teach language, motor, and social skills to young children.

School and Career Counselors

School counselors help students develop the academic and social skills needed to succeed in school. Career counselors help people choose careers and follow a path to employment.

Social Workers

Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Clinical social workers also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.

Special Education Teachers

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.

Teacher Assistants

Teacher assistants work under a teacher’s supervision to give students additional attention and instruction.

OccupationENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2017 MEDIAN PAY
Career and Technical Education TeachersBachelor's degree$55,240
Childcare WorkersHigh school diploma or equivalent$22,290
Elementary, Middle, and High School PrincipalsMaster's degree$94,390
High School TeachersBachelor's degree$59,170
Instructional CoordinatorsMaster's degree$63,750
Kindergarten and Elementary School TeachersBachelor's degree$56,900
Middle School TeachersBachelor's degree$57,720
Occupational TherapistsMaster's degree$83,200
Preschool TeachersAssociate's degree$28,990
Recreational TherapistsBachelor's degree$47,680
Social Workers$47,980
Teacher AssistantsSome college, no degree$26,260

Citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Special Education Teachers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm