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Special Education Teacher Career Outlook & Job Description

A special education teacher works with children of different ages in developing and managing their growth in conjunction with their special needs. The type of children a special education teacher works with will generally have cognitive, emotional, or physical disabilities. Often, a teacher will modify the general education curriculum to make sure a student’s special individual needs are met. Special education jobs require a teacher to be patient, accepting and understanding.

How to Become a Special Educator

Traditional and online bachelor’s degree programs in special education require coursework in methods, foundations of education, assessment, assistive technology, special education law, as well as planning and curriculum. Most special education programs require a certain amount of coursework in a specialty area, such as math, history, English, or science. Many online schools offer special education programs. These online schools offer accredited programs which provide a great deal of flexibility for students.

Most states require several hours of practicum placement to be completed in local schools each semester. For example, New York State requires 20 hours of practicum placement every semester, up to a total of 100 hours of that must be completed by graduation. Special education programs require this kind of coursework to prepare a student for state certification. Typically certification also requires tests in general content and special education, federal fingerprinting, and a child abuse workshop. This may vary depending on the certifying state. Once certified, a teacher may then begin looking for special education jobs in their respective state.

Special Education Teacher Requirements and Common Tasks

Special education requirements in all states call for a teacher to be licensed. Some states require a master’s degree, though others only require a bachelor’s degree. Special education teachers are also required to complete a special education teacher’s training program. Some states offer alternative licensure programs for college graduates, when they would otherwise require a master’s degree, just for special education teachers.

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Special education teachers need to be patient, calm, organized, inspiring and accepting. The job requires interactions with special needs children who are very different and come from all types of backgrounds. Special education students have various needs that require special attention and understanding to fulfill. Good communication skills are critical in a special education career, since many special needs children may lack the ability to understand or communicate themselves.

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Special Education Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

Most public elementary, middle and high schools hire special education teachers for their special needs children enrolled in the district. While the exact number of special education jobs varies by geography, the general trend is that special needs children enrollment is increasing and the number of special education teachers with the right requirements are in short supply. A special education teacher salary can range between $33,000 and $40,000 at the start of a special education career, and grow to upwards of $75,000. Special education teachers may supplement that income by coaching or participating in running extracurricular activities in the school. Furthermore, teachers may become supervisors or administrators, especially if they go on to earn advanced degrees. Experience in this field may also qualify one to become instructors in college to prepare others who want to work in the special education field.

Special Education Degrees and Programs

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  • M.A. in Education/Special Education
  • Master of Arts in Education/Curriculum and Instruction
  • A.A. in Education
  • And more...


  • M.Ed. - Program Specialist in Gifted Specialist
  • MA in Teaching - Special Education
  • M.Ed. Teaching and Learning - Special Education
  • And more...


  • M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction: The Inclusive Classroom (SPED)
  • M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction: Social Studies
  • M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction: Common Core State Standards Instructional Leader
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  • Doctor of Education - Special Education
  • Ed.S. in Special Education - General
  • M.S.Ed - Special Education (non-licensure) (Grades K-12)
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  • Special Education - PhD in Education
  • Special Education - Master of Education
  • Special Education - Doctor of Education
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