What Kinds of Jobs are Available for a Special Education Teacher?

Special education teacher jobs exist in a wide variety of settings from preschool through high school, providing empathetic professionals with many different employment options. Preparation for this challenging field is increasingly available through online degree programs as well as from conventional colleges and universities. Special education teachers are trained in methods of supporting students who have mental, emotional, developmental and/or physical disabilities.

Education Requirements

Special education teachers must meet the same basic requirements as any teacher: Public school positions require a bachelor degree and a teaching certification for that particular state. Private school teaching does not have the same statewide requirements, but private schools generally expect their teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, the special education teacher must have extra training in working with disabled students, and this training is offered in a variety of forms:

Undergraduate training

Some colleges offer undergraduate majors in special education. Such programs often give a choice of various subcategories of special education, such as developmental disabilities, hearing impairment, visual impairment,mild behavioral disabilities, severe behavioral disabilities, autism, and more. After completing the undergraduate degree, the student continues on in either a teaching credential program or a master’s degree program.

Teaching certification with specialized second certificate

Many online colleges offer a short graduate program (often one-year long) for holders of a bachelor degree, which satisfies state requirements for an initial teaching certification. In some instances, an undergraduate teaching-centered major alone can satisfy the educational requirements for this certification. If a teacher holds a general teaching certificate, they will need to take extra coursework and earn a second certificate in Special Education in order to be qualified to teach in the public school system.

Master Degree in Special Education

If an aspiring teacher has the energy and resources to study for a Master Degree in Special Education, they will have the best foundation for professional advancement. Master’s degree candidates focus on the type of disability which is most interesting to them, and gain an authoritative level of knowledge in their field. They are able to conduct research, publish scholarly articles, write textbooks and educational materials, train other teachers, and run special programs.

Career Options: What you can do with a Special Education Degree

Working Environment

Most special education teachers work in a school setting. The school may be public or private, with students of any age level from kindergarten through high school. In a few instances, special education teachers work with preschoolers in early childhood development centers, or with young people who are living in a residential treatment facility or hospital.

Special education teachers’ duties depend on their students’ level of disability:

  • Mildly disabled students

With students who have mild learning difficulties, the job consists of modifying regular academic curriculum according to each student’s unique needs, and assessing whether the student is able to absorb the material. Alternatively, the special education teacher may meet at intervals with the student in order to assist with classroom coping strategies and basic study skills. In some situations, the special education teacher is part of a team along with the regular classroom teacher, the counselor and the parent. The special education teacher takes primary responsibility for developing an individualized education program (IEP) for each student with special needs, and for assessing the student’s progress.

  • Severely disabled students

In the case of students with more significant disabilities, the special education teacher is responsible for developing curriculum which centers around basic life skills. Students with significant developmental delays, autism, or serious mental illness may need one-on-one assistance to gain basic communication ability and self-care routines. The special education teacher may have such students in a segregated classroom all day long, and will work in conjunction with medical providers and parents in order to provide an appropriate school experience for these students.

What to consider if you pursue a special education degree

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected job growth for special education teachers is expected to be robust in the next decade. Between 2010 and 2020, there will be about 77,000 new jobs created in this field, while a large number of current special education teachers will retire. The average annual wage for a special education teacher is $53,220, with very slightly higher wages for teachers who work at the high school level. Early detection of disabilities will lead to a significant increase in job openings at the preschool and primary levels. Additionally, government pressure on school districts to improve high school graduation rates will likely result in an increased need for special education staff at the secondary level.

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