How to Become a Special Education Teacher
Special Education Teacher Careers & Degrees

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Special Education Teachers work with students who have a difficult time learning or getting their work done in the typical classroom.

Students on their caseload can have either a mental, physical or emotional obstacle that prevents them from learning and can be enrolled in grades pre-kindergarten to the 12th grade.

Special Education Teachers have to follow state mandated protocol called Individualized Education Program (IEPs) and are required to provide alternative instructions, modified schoolwork and in class support to their students.

Special Education Teachers play an important role in a school because they typically work with kids who require extra time to do work.

If a student is having a hard time learning a certain subject, a Special Education Teacher will use a different approach to help their students succeed in school.

Although Special Education Teachers work with a smaller group of students it doesn’t mean they have a lighter workload.

They are required work with students, teachers, parents and school administration in order to help students achieve and learn the same material the other students are learning.

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Education Requirements to Become a Special Education Teacher

In addition to following the University or college track, candidates who want to become a Special Education Teacher need to seek licensure in the state they want to teach in.

The minimum education requirement includes holding at least a Bachelor or Master’s degree, depending on the state they are seeking licensure in.

Candidates who are getting a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education can focus on a track to work with students who are diagnosed with either moderate or severe disabilities.

They can also choose what grade level they wish to specialize in: High School, Middle School or Elementary aged students.

After receiving a Bachelor’s degree, the candidate then needs to complete a teacher training program and pass a license test in order to teach.

In states that require a Master’s, candidates need to take required specialized curriculum focused on Special Education.

Some typical classes in a Special Education graduate program include teaching methods, legal issues possible in special education and educational psychology.

The last year of a Special Education program is spent working in the classroom as a student teacher.

Student teaching is required in most states; candidates will spend their time working under the supervision of a licensed teacher or administrator.

The final step in becoming a Special Education Teacher is taking a state mandated test in order to become licensed.

Most states accept the PRAXIS license test although the exact test an individual needs to take depends on the state they are trying to work in.

Special Education Teacher Job Description

Candidates who want to become a Special Education Teacher should expect to be busy throughout the day helping students on their caseload, participating in meetings with other teachers, administration, parents and students and creating lesson plans.

Some other common responsibilities include:

  • Work with other teachers and administration to modify curriculum
  • Work with students individually, in small groups or in a larger classroom setting
  • Provide in class support in subject areas students are struggling in: Math, English, Science or other areas
  • Perform classroom management when needed
  • Follow state mandated IEP
  • Hold IEP meetings with parents or legal guardian, other teachers and when needed, translators

Special Educations Teachers are busy throughout the work day working one on one with their students, helping other teachers in the classroom, creating individualized lesson plans, managing small groups of students and going to required meetings.

Special Education Teacher Salary and Career Path

Wages and earnings for Special Education Teachers depend on the school district and state they find a job in.

The entry pay for this position typically begins in the low $30,000s with the highest earners making approximately $79,000.

The median income for this profession was about $50,000 in 2008.

People who are making steps to become a Special Education Teacher can choose to work in either the public school system or a private school.

The number of Special Education candidates is expected to grow throughout the next decade even though the number of students in such programs is expected to grow at a slower pace.

However, because some Special Education Teachers retire or change track to become General Education Teachers, the job outlook for future Special Education Teachers continues to look promising.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$64,420
$40K
$48K
$64K
$77K
$97K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$50,520
Alaska$73,380
Arizona$46,230
Arkansas$49,880
California$78,440
Colorado$55,960
Connecticut$77,440
Delaware$59,780
District of Columbia$77,720
Florida$62,950
Georgia$61,190
Hawaii$55,310
Idaho$48,560
Illinois$65,060
Indiana$53,120
Iowa$57,180
Kansas$54,330
Kentucky$52,660
Louisiana$50,120
Maine$52,750
Maryland$71,420
Massachusetts$75,480
Michigan$66,890
Minnesota$60,430
Mississippi$48,610
Missouri$58,910
Montana$51,520
Nebraska$59,380
Nevada$53,670
New Hampshire$60,050
New Jersey$71,410
New Mexico$52,920
New York$81,660
North Carolina$50,610
North Dakota$60,660
Ohio$57,590
Oklahoma$49,970
Oregon$78,910
Pennsylvania$65,770
Rhode Island$75,040
South Carolina$59,830
South Dakota$44,830
Tennessee$53,880
Texas$57,360
Utah$47,630
Vermont$63,120
Virginia$68,080
Washington$68,700
West Virginia$41,820
Wisconsin$56,820
Wyoming$61,070
Puerto Rico$34,710

The top earning state in the field is New York, where the average salary is $81,660.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

New York - $81,660
Oregon - $78,910
California - $78,440
District of Columbia - $77,720
Connecticut - $77,440
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Special Education Teachers, OCC Code 25-2052, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat does a special education teacher do?

Special education teachers work with children with various disabilities.

The main aim of these professionals is to help the students strive to progress and achieve their highest potential.

There are special education teachers that work with children with severe disabilities; however, the majority of specialists work with individuals with mild and moderate disabilities.

The typical responsibilities of a special education teacher usually include creating and applying appropriate curricula and activities; developing individual goals for the students; communicating and coordinating with parents, other teachers, school administrators, and so on.

In most cases, special education teachers work with students at the preschool, elementary, middle, and secondary school levels.

QuestionHow much do special education teachers make?

On average, a special education teacher can make a little more than $53.000 per year in the United States.

In case you decide to follow this career path, you can expect to earn anywhere between $35.500 and $79.500 annually.

The salary would certainly depend on a variety of factors – your education and experience level, the facility you work for, the location and so on.

Teachers that work in California, Oregon, and New York, for example, have the highest average salaries.

An entry-level special education teacher can earn around $17 per hour, while a top-level specialist with plenty of experience can make $38 and more per hour.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become a special education teacher?

You would certainly need a bachelor’s degree in education, in order to become a special education teacher.

A year in a university can cost you anywhere between $8.000 and $45.000 (and more); the cost depends on a variety of factors (the books, supplies, and accommodation expenses are not included).

You should then go to school for a credential in special education.

To improve job perspectives, you can go for a master’s degree (over $30.000).

You must be certified to be able to teach in schools; the cost of teacher certification can vary from state to state, so be prepared to pay anywhere between $40 and $200.

QuestionWhat is the demand for special education teachers?

Between 2016 and 2026, the special education teacher job market is expected to grow by 7.4%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That is pretty much the same as the national average for all occupations in the United States.

Those who possess a master’s or a doctorate degree will have better job prospects.

The industry is mainly concentrated in New York, California, and Texas.

QuestionHow long does it take to become a special education teacher?

It will take you 4 years to obtain a bachelor’s degree; 1-2 years to earn a master’s degree, in case you decide to go for one.

To become a certified teacher, you would need to have at least a bachelor’s degree, complete an approved teacher education program, pass a background check and knowledge and skills tests.

The initial certificate is valid for 5 years; you would have to complete a certain number of professional development hours every five years to maintain the certification.

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