Why Get a Special Education Certification

Many states require teachers to earn a special education certification before they can lead special-ed classes. Those who already have a degree in education can earn the certification separately, while those without a general teaching credential can earn it as part of an associate degree in education program. It is also available via degree programs above the associate level.

The most popular special education certification is for the general K-12 field. Specialties may include autism and common learning disorders. In some geographic areas, it can be worth it to go for one of the specialized certificates.

Education Requirements

The basic requirements vary by institution. Some will require that you already have an associate degree or greater, some prefer you to have at least a Level 1 teaching certificate and some entry-level colleges will take you straight out of high school. The latter institutions may require you to enroll in their associate or bachelor programs so you also earn an educational degree.

Some colleges also require you to pass entrance exams or have a minimum high school GPA for admission. This can vary greatly by school, so be sure to check with the admissions department for specifics.

Career Options: What You Can Do with a Special Education Certification

What you can do with your certificate will depend, in part, on the underlying education credentials you also have. If you have only an associate degree in education, expect to start out as a teacher’s assistant in a special-ed classroom. If you have a bachelor, you should be able to get a full teaching position in a district that doesn’t have an abundance of competition. A master or greater will help to get you into teaching jobs in competitive markets.

Those with advanced degrees combined with special-education certification may also find work outside of the classroom. Group homes, institutions that specialize in training the mentally challenged and other such facilities often need people who can work with this special population segment.

What to Consider if You Pursue a Special Education Certification

The main requirements for a successful special-ed teacher are patience and understanding. You will need to catch and hold the attention of students who often would rather be doing something else. Running around the classroom and being loud are prime choices for that “something else,” especially when ADHD and related disorders are involved. If you dream of a quiet classroom filled with students who sit quietly with their attention riveted to your lessons, special-ed is probably not for you.

On the other hand, being a special education teacher is often more rewarding than any other teaching position. You’ll be helping children others might have given up on, and you’ll be pleasantly amazed to find that they can indeed learn and they will often show more appreciation for your efforts than “normal” students. Best of all, a good special education teacher can make the difference that allows a student to live independently with minimal help instead of needing institutionalization.

Financially, the salary can vary greatly. Teacher’s assistants in all fields make only about $24,280 and work part-time, so if you start in this position, you’ll almost surely want to work toward a promotion as fast as possible. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-fledged special education teachers who have a bachelor degree can look forward to a beefier $53,220 per year.

Job growth in the field is about 17 percent, which puts it at about average for U.S. careers, according to the BLS. Increasing school enrollment is believed to be driving the growth.

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