How to Become a Special Education Teacher

Special Education Teacher Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $53,630
Education 4+ Years
Job Outlook 7.4%

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.

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.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$81,050
New Hampshire$61,780
New Jersey$72,140
New Mexico$59,840
New York$83,250
North Carolina$51,670
North Dakota$60,430
Rhode Island$73,360
South Carolina$55,170
South Dakota$48,620
West Virginia$47,960
Puerto Rico$33,130

The top earning state in the field is New York, where the average salary is $83,250.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

New York - $83,250
Oregon - $82,070
Massachusetts - $81,940
District of Columbia - $81,050
California - $80,520
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Special Education Teachers, OCC Code 25-2052, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What 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.

How 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.

How 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.

What 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.

How 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.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

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