With a degree and certification in special education it is possible to teach special education at the preschool, elementary, middle or high school levels. With a master's degree or PhD it is possible to teach at the postsecondary level, and with a master's degree and license another career option is to work as a special education administrator.
Special education teachers work with students who require unique teaching methods and resources to help them learn and gain life skills. Graduates of degree or certificate programs in special education can qualify to teach children with learning disabilities. State teaching certification is generally required to teach special education classes, though voluntary certification could demonstrate a teacher's proficiency in the field.
|Career||Special Education Teacher (preschool - secondary)||Assistant or Associate Professor of Special Education||Special Education Administrator|
|Education||Bachelor's degree||Master's degree or PhD||Master's degree|
|Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)*||3% for all special education teachers||9% for all professors||4% for all principals|
|Median Salary (2020)*||$60,620-$62,320 for all special education teachers||$80,790 for all professors||$98,490 for all administrators|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Special Education Career Information
Special Education Teacher
Special education teachers are trained to provide individually tailored instruction to students with mental, physical or other learning disabilities. Special education teachers design individual education plans (IEP) for each student. IEPs incorporate a combination of teaching methods, classroom strategies, curricula and materials. Support services often include speech and physical therapy.
Special education teachers can specialize in specific disorders, including autism or emotional and behavioral disorders. They might also integrate the efforts of therapists, psychologists, social workers, administrators and parents into the education of their students. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates employment for special education teachers will grow 3% between 2018 and 2028, which is slower than average.
BLS statistics indicate that in 2020, special education teachers at the preschool level earned a median annual salary of $61,400. The median salary for those working with kindergarten and elementary students was $60,620 per year at that time, and special education middle and high school teachers made median yearly wages of $61,820 and $62,320, respectively.
Education and Licensure Requirements
Preparation for a career as a special education teacher generally requires a bachelor's or master's degree in special education and a state teaching license. Some states issue special education endorsements for a general teaching license, while others require licensing in the candidate's area of specialization, such as autism or behavioral disorders.
Assistant or Associate Professor of Special Education
Assistant and associate professors of special education teach undergraduate and graduate courses in special education subjects. They could teach these courses through traditional campus-based classes, online or in both formats. They might also advise students, conduct research, publish material for professional journals and write grant proposals. The BLS expects the number of postsecondary teaching jobs to increase faster than average at 9% from 2019 to 2029 and listed the median yearly salary for those who taught education at $80,790 in 2020.
To teach at the university level, special education instructors typically require a doctoral degree. To enroll in a doctoral program, applicants typically need a degree in teaching or special education and teaching experience. Licensure is not required to teach at colleges or universities.
Special Education Administrator
A special education administrator supervises the special education programs at their school. They set academic standards, establish policies and procedures for their teaching and administrative staff, ensure compliance with applicable state and federal laws and manage resources to meet legal requirements. Administrators commonly meet with staff, parents and community groups to mediate disputes and offer resolution to conflicts. The BLS predicts a 4% job growth from 2019 to 2029 in the field of education administration, which is as fast as average for all professions in the U.S. In 2020, the BLS indicated that elementary and secondary school administrators earned a median salary of $98,490 a year.
Education and Licensure Requirements
A career as a special education administrator typically requires a master's or doctoral degree in special education administration or a related field. Those who have a master's degree and experience in education might be able to pursue non-degree, post-graduate credentials. Special education administrators who work in public schools must also possess state licensure, and teaching and/or leadership experience in the field is usually required to obtain employment.
Certification Information for Special Education Teachers
Public school teachers and administrators at preschool through high school institutions must obtain a state certification or license. Additionally, special education educators at any level can earn voluntary board certification through professional organizations, such as the National Association of Special Education Teachers or the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. To earn a special education credential, candidates generally need to meet specific education or experience requirements. Certification typically indicates that special education teachers and administrators have the knowledge and skills that meet professional standards, which could improve career opportunities.
A degree and certification in special education prepares graduates to work with students who may have a disability that affects their learning process. These students are typically on an individual education plan that their teacher helps develop, and must follow. The IEP determines the academic goals for the student based on their needs, and may include appropriate rewards, schedule modifications, and methods that should be used to help the student learn. Special education administrators oversee special education teachers and special needs students.