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Special Education Teacher Career Guide

Are you brave enough to want to work with children? Are you compassionate, kind, caring and resourceful? Do you want to make a huge difference to the lives of those who really need your help?

If the answer is yes then look no further, you may have just stumbled across your perfect career!

A special education teacher works with children of different ages who have a range of learning and/or cognitive difficulties. They are crucial members of the education system because they work to promote the growth and development of children so they can live happy and satisfied lives. Generally speaking, special education teachers achieve a bachelors degree in special education. Alternatively, they can achieve a bachelors degree that has a minor in special education and then complete additional steps to become licensed.

Being a special education teacher is a privilege. I am happy to say I get to be part of an amazing group of professionals that are dedicated to learning and growing as teachers. I am part of a unique group of people that tackle challenges with grace and style, and know how to hustle when we need to.

Trisha Katkin

Special Education Teacher Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Job Profiles

Real-Life Special Education Teacher Job Profiles

Below is a list of links to anonymous job profiles of REAL PEOPLE who have filled out our survey and offered to share their insights with our users about their job in the Special Education Teacher field.
ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
33969 Special Education Resource Teacher Female 52 $46,000 Mt. Prospect, IL 01/01/2010
33855 Paraprofessional For Special Education Female 49 $29,000 Pine Lake, GA 01/01/2010
33617 Special Education Teacher Female 30 $56,000 Montville, NJ 01/01/2010
33452 Special Education Teacher Female 46 $48,000 Midlothian, IL 01/01/2010
33011 Teacher Male 52 $80,000 West Chester, PA 01/01/2010

Overview

What does a special education teacher actually do?

A special education teacher works with children of different ages who have a range of learning or cognitive difficulties. A special education teacher may work with or assist general education teachers to help identify children who have disabilities and need additional support. Special education teachers will then modify the curriculum to make sure each student’s special education needs are met. Alternatively, special education teachers may be responsible for teaching a whole class of children with special needs. The typical duties and responsibilities of a special education teacher include:

  • Assessing students to determine their educational needs
  • Adapting lessons to meet a students’ special needs
  • Developing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each student
  • Teaching and mentoring students as a class, in small groups and one-on-one
  • Implementing IEPs, assessing students’ performance, and tracking their progress
  • Discussing the students’ progress with their parents, other teachers, counselors, and administrators
  • Supervising and mentoring teacher assistants who work with students with disabilities
  • Preparing and helping students transition from grade to grade and from school to life outside of school

Why they are needed

Around 9.5 million children in the United States have special needs and will therefore struggle in mainstream education. Special education teachers are crucial members of the education system because they work to promote the growth and development of these children, in conjunction with their special needs, so that they can live happy and satisfied lives. Without these caring, compassionate and patient teachers, many children in the United States (and across the world) would not receive the help they need to progress and live a fulfilling life.

The pros and cons of a career as a special education teacher

Pros:

  • Being a special education teacher is an exceptionally satisfying job
  • You will gain the trust of your pupils and will help these children to feel like they are understood and developing
  • You will help children gain the skills they need to live a functioning and fulfilling life, which is incredibly rewarding
  • You will work closely with the families of special education children, which means you will form relationships and bonds with them.
  • No two days are the same when working as a special education teacher, which makes the job interesting and engaging

Cons:

  • It can be very stressful at times (remember that saying: “never work with children or animals”!)
  • There is a lot of responsibility, which can be challenging and draining
  • You may work with difficult children or difficult parents, which can make the job very draining
  • Depending on the type of special need, there may be a risk of violence from difficult children
  • It is emotionally exhausting occasionally, as many of the children cannot communicate in a traditional way
  • A student might not improve in the way that was hoped, which can be difficult

Employability

Job market

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of special education teachers is projected to grow 3% from 2019 to 2029, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. It is worth noting that preschool special education teachers have the fasted projected employment growth, at 8% from 2019 to 2029. The rise in employment is expected as disabilities in children are being identified earlier, and therefore more children are being enrolled into special education programs.

Federal laws require that every state must maintain the same level of financial support for special education every year. This reduces the threat of employment layoffs due to state or federal budget constraints. However, employment growth is dependent on increases in funding.

Career paths

Special education teachers can either begin their career path with a bachelor’s degree, that has a major in education or a content area (e.g., math or science) and a minor in special education. Or, they may start their career by earning a bachelor’s degree in special education. Many schools are preferring to hire teachers with degrees in special education because during this degree, aspiring special education teachers learn about different types of disabilities and how to present information to them. These special education degrees also normally include a student-teaching program, where aspiring prospective teachers work with a mentor and get experience instructing students in a classroom.

To become fully certified, some states may require special education teachers to complete a master’s degree in special education after obtaining a job. In private schools, teachers do not need to be certified.

Example Job Titles for Special Education Teacher

Below is a list of common job titles in the Special Education Teacher field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for special education teachers in the United States was in 2019 was $61,030. The lowest 10% earned less than $40,730 and the highest 10% earned more than $98,530 per year.

Secondary school special education teachers received the highest median annual salary ($61,710), followed by middle school ($61,440), kindergarten and elementary school ($60,460) and preschool ($60,000). Also, special education teachers at local schools received a higher salary ($61,620) than those at private schools ($53,560).

Autonomy and flexibility

The level of autonomy and flexibility depends on the teacher. If they work to assist a teacher, they may feel less control and flexibility over how they plan their lessons and work with children. Whereas, if they are responsible for their own cohort of children (or provide one-to-one care), they will have far more control over what information they present, how to present it, what pace to take the learning at and many other decision surrounding the child’s eduction.

Locations and commute

Job opportunities are not affected by local budgets, as federal law expresses that all states must put the same amount of money into special education. According to Zippia, the best states to be a special education teacher, based on average annual salary and number of job available, are:

  1. New Hampshire, where the average annual salary is $60,452
  2. California, where the average annual salary is $61,022
  3. Maine, where the average annual salary is $59,523
  4. Massachusetts, where the average annual salary is $59,936
  5. Connecticut, where the average annual salary is $57,826

The worst states, according to Zippia, are Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Utah and North Carolina.

Work environment

86% of special education teachers were employed by local elementary and secondary schools, whereas only 7% were employed by private schools. A small number of special education teachers 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 teach the child’s parents ways to help the child develop skills.

Helping students with disabilities may be rewarding. It also can be stressful, emotionally demanding, and physically draining. However, special education teachers are often work as part of cohesive work teams with other like-minded teachers, which can lessen the stress.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Special Education Teacher careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Special Education Teacher career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Special Education Teacher.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

  • None

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DiSC

  • None

Enneagram

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

  • None

Personality types

Successful special education teachers are likely to be ENFJ personality types. ENFJ’s, or ‘the mentor’ are forward-thinking and enjoy serving the community. Therefore, they will thrive from helping special needs children. On top of this, they have the ability to see the potential in other people. They want to focus on the possibilities of growth for others, which is a necessity to becoming a successful special education teacher.

Accomplishment and mastery

As you can imagine, special education teachers will feel a huge sense of accomplishment and mastery every time they help a difficult child prosper. Although special education teachers will, undoubtably, have bad days, the good days will make the whole job worth it. Imagine how good it must feel to finally get through to a child who was impossible to communicate with before?

Meaning and contribution

As mentioned previously, special education teachers play a crucial role in the education system. They make a hugely meaningful contribution to children with learning or cognitive disabilities and to their families. They provide these children with a chance, and that is invaluable work.

Life fit

Overall, being a special education teacher can provide an excellent life fit. Typically, special education teachers will work during school hours. Many work the traditional 10-month school year and have a 2-month break during the summer. They also have a short midwinter break, which are perfect for spending with your family!

Who will thrive?

There are a few really crucial qualities that a special education teacher must have in order to thrive. The first is patience. All children are hard to work with and children with special needs may be even more challenging. Therefore, special education teachers must be patient and understanding. Special education teachers must also be able to remain calm in stressful situations, such as when a child is miss-behaving or disobeying the rules. Finally, in order to thrive as a special education teacher, you must have excellent communication skills, as you will need to communicate with other school staff, the child’s parents and other professionals (e.g., psychologists, social workers)

Who will struggle?

Rather obviously, you will struggle as a special education teacher if you don’t like children. Similarly, if you lack empathy and patience, then you will struggle to work with challenging children. On top of all this, those who do not thrive and enjoy interacting with others will ultimately feel drained and uninspired by the amount of social interaction that occurs when working as a special education teacher.

Requirements

Skills and talents

  • Communication skills are essential as special education teachers will have to establish relationships with the children, with their parents and with other education professionals
  • Problem solving and decision making skills are essential as special education teachers will have to make difficult decisions regarding their students treatment and progress
  • Patience, as special education teachers need to remain calm when instructing students with disabilities who may be challenging
  • Observational skills, as special education teachers will need to observe and notice the progress of the children they care for
  • Interpersonal skills, as special education teachers work regularly with a team of educators and the students parents. Therefore, the must be able to build positive relationships
  • Resourcefulness and creativity, as special education teachers must develop different and exciting ways to present information to children so that it meets their needs

Education

Special education teachers will either need a bachelor’s degree, that has a major in education or a content area (e.g., math or science) and a minor in special education. However, some schools will seek teachers who have earned a bachelor’s degree in special education. These special education degrees normally include a student-teaching program, where aspiring prospective teachers work with a mentor and get experience instructing students in a classroom.

Certificates

All states require teachers in public schools to be licensed in the specific grade level that they teach. To achieve licensure special education teachers must have a bachelor’s degree with a minimum grade point average, completed a student-teaching program, passed a background check and passed a general teaching certification test. Those who teach in private schools typically do not need to be licensed.

For information about teacher preparation programs and certification requirements, visit Teach.org or contact your state’s board of education.

However, if you didn’t complete a bachelors degree in special education, and therefore haven’t completed a student-teaching program, all states offer an alternative route to licensure. 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.

How to Become

Summary

A special education teacher works with children of different ages who have a range of learning or cognitive difficulties. A special education teacher may work with, or assist, general education teachers to help identify children who have disabilities or special needs and therefore need additional support.

Special education teachers are crucial members of the education system because they work to promote the growth and development of children, in conjunction with their special needs, so that they can live happy and satisfied lives.

Immediate action

Sounds like something you’re interested in doing? Great!

Well, like many careers, it is always advisable to get your foot in the door. To do this, we recommend seeking relevant work experience. Work experience includes things such as working in a school, working in a kindergarten or nannying children.

Education and learning

Special education teachers can either achieve a bachelors degree in special education, which makes the steps to becoming fully licensed easier. However, if special education teachers want to work in private schools, they can achieve just a bachelors degree that has a minor in special education. If, after doing this bachelors degree, you decide you want to become licensed, it is possible (but it is the more lenghty option!).

Skill development

Special education teachers learn their skills through academic study and through their supervised training on-the-job. They will always be learning and adapting their skills, as they will always be working with new and more complexed children!

FAQs

Ask a Question

Have a question about Special Education Teacher careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
33969 Special Education Resource Teacher Female 52 $46,000 Mt. Prospect, IL 01/01/2010
33855 Paraprofessional For Special Education Female 49 $29,000 Pine Lake, GA 01/01/2010
33617 Special Education Teacher Female 30 $56,000 Montville, NJ 01/01/2010
33452 Special Education Teacher Female 46 $48,000 Midlothian, IL 01/01/2010
33011 Teacher Male 52 $80,000 West Chester, PA 01/01/2010

Resources