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How to Become a Special Education Teacher in the US

Special Education Teacher

If you have a deep desire to help children with disabilities pursue a good education and achieve their life and career goals, you should consider becoming a special education teacher. Unlike other classroom educators, you will instruct students with a range of developmental, learning, physical and emotional disabilities. A great deal of maturity and emotional stability is a must-have if you want to be an effective special educator.

What Do Special Education Teachers Do?

Their duties include:

  • Developing teaching strategies that focus on the strengths of the special needs children
  • Designing an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student – This is a legal requirement if you work in a public school
  • Implementing and updating IEPs regularly
  • Assessing the academic progress of each student and adjusting your instruction methods as appropriate
  • Creating a classroom environment that supports inclusive learning
  • Informing your students’ parents about the progress of their children
  • Collaborating with school counselors, general education teachers and school administrators to provide the best services to these children
  • Supervising special education teaching assistants.

Work Environment

Special education teachers work school hours, from 8am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. When schools are on a break – such as the two-month summer break -, they also go on holiday.

While at work, special education teachers conduct lessons in a classroom environment and perform other duties in staffrooms or offices.

The work involves some travel, since special educators may need to visit students in their homes and assess their progress.


Special education teachers earn as follows:


Average Annual Wage

Lowest earning special educators

$28,809 -- $39,168

Middle earning special educators

$39,168 -- $61,932

Highest earning special educators

$61932 -- $72,299


Entry Requirements

To become a special education teacher, you must earn at least a bachelor’s degree in special education. Here are some of the institutions offering the degree:

By the end of your course, you should be able to identify mild, moderate and severe disabilities. Some programs, such as the one offered at Boston University, offer students the opportunity to specialize in teaching students in specific age groups. You will also complete a practicum, which you can use to obtain hands-on teaching experience.

The next step is to earn a teaching license from your state’s department of education. Although licensing requirements vary, you generally need to:

  • Complete a teacher preparation program
  • Complete a period of supervised teaching
  • Pass a licensing examination

You don’t need a license to work in a private school.

Important Qualities

To be a special education teacher who can provide effective services to students, you need:

  • Empathy and emotional resilience
  • The ability to build strong relationships with students and their parents
  • Clear communication skills
  • Strong analytical skills
  • An understanding of special education laws
  • Patience and resourcefulness
  • Strong instructional skills
  • Critical-thinking and problem solving skills
  • A desire to help special needs children

Career Development

After finding employment, undertake the following professional development activities:

  • Secure membership in the National Association of Special Education Teachers – NASET offers professional development courses that can improve your competence
  • Pursue a master’s degree in special education, or another related field such as curriculum design

Job Opportunities

The employers of special education teachers include:

  • Preschools
  • Elementary schools
  • Primary schools
  • Secondary schools

After gaining vast teaching experience, you could advance to become a lead teacher – a position that involves mentoring beginner educators. With a master’s degree, you could become an instructional coordinator, where you will help the school develop an appropriate special education curriculum.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of special education teachers varies by specialization. For example, the employment of special educators for elementary school children will grow by 16 percent between 2012 and 2022. Within the same period, the employment of preschool, middle school, and secondary schools teachers will grow by between 5 to 6 percent. The increasing school enrollment of children with special needs is also likely to increase the demand for special education services.

So if you have an interest in the welfare of these children, then this could be the right career for you.

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