How To Become A Special Education Teacher | Degrees And Careers (2023)

Special education teachers work with students with learning, behavioral, and physical disabilities. In classrooms across the country, special education teachers adapt lesson plans for students with disabilities and create inclusive learning environments. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the career outlook for special education teachers remains strong, offering job growth and above-average salaries.

Most special education teachers need at least a bachelor's degree in a related field, which takes about four years of full-time study to complete. They also typically need teaching licensure. During a bachelor's in special education degree, undergraduates take courses on topics like differentiated instruction, diagnostic assessment, and positive behavior support. They also complete student teaching requirements to build classroom-ready skills.

This page provides information on how to become a special education teacher, including education and certification requirements.

What Does a Special Education Teacher Do?

Career Basics

Special education teachers adapt lessons and curricula for students with disabilities. They may teach subjects like reading and mathematics while also teaching basic life skills for students with moderate or severe disabilities. Special educators typically develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each of their students based on assessments. They use the IEP to set goals and track student progress. In addition to working in the classroom with students, special education teachers coordinate with other teachers, administrators, and counselors. They also regularly meet with parents.

Career In-Depth

Special education teachers may work in classrooms that include students with and without disabilities or in classrooms exclusively for students with disabilities. Special educators may also specialize in a particular area, such as visually impaired students. Depending on their work environment, special education teachers may use assistive technology to communicate with students.

Special education teachers work during school hours and prepare lessons and write reports outside of school hours. They may also meet with parents outside of school hours.

Special Education Teacher Salary and Job Growth

According to the BLS, special education teachers earned a median annual pay of over $61,000 in 2019, with the top 10% of earners making over $98,000 annually. The BLS projects jobs for special educators to grow 3% between 2018 and 2028.

Salaries for special education teachers vary by factors like location, education, and experience. For example, special education teachers with a master's degree typically earn more than those with just a bachelor's degree. Additionally, special education teachers at public schools often earn higher salaries than those at private schools.

Four Steps to Becoming a Special Education Teacher

The following sections cover how to become a special education teacher, including education and certification requirements.

Step 1

Earn a special education degree

One of the main special education teacher requirements is earning a bachelor's degree. During a bachelor's degree in special education, learners study evidence-based teaching practices and gain hands-on training through a student teaching experience.

(Video) How to Become a Special Education Teacher?

When researching special education programs, prospective students should check a program's accreditation status. In some states, only an accredited special education degree meets the requirements for a teaching license.

Step 2

Choose an area of specialization

Learners earning a bachelor's degree in special education often pursue a specialization to build advanced skills in a certain area, such as elementary education, gifted and talented education, or autism spectrum disorders. The specialization may require additional coursework or work experience, depending on the program.

Step 3

Obtain state certification

Graduates with a bachelor's degree in special education who are interested in teaching at public schools must apply for state certification or licensure. During the certification process, candidates must provide documentation demonstrating their bachelor's degree and student teaching experience. Most states also require candidates to pass specialized exams and a background check.

Step 4

Find a special education teaching position

Finding a teaching position represents the final step in becoming a special education teacher. Licensed special education teachers can apply for special education jobs at public elementary and secondary schools. Most special education teachers work in public schools, but a small number also work in private schools or in residential facilities.

Preparing to Become a Special Education Teacher: Schools and Programs

Depending on the school, students can earn a bachelor's degree in special education or a bachelor's degree in teaching with a concentration in special education. Several schools offer online special education degrees, including the University of Georgia and Western Governors University.

During an online bachelor's degree in special education, learners complete coursework online and student teaching requirements at an approved local site. An accredited online special education degree meets the education requirements for a teaching license in every state.

When evaluating special education programs, prospective students should consider several factors, such as admission policies, start dates, and graduation requirements. They should also consider transfer policies, program length, delivery format, and financial aid opportunities to find a good fit.

Courses in Special Education Teacher Programs

During a special education degree, students complete courses on topics like inclusive instruction, classroom management, and differentiated instruction. In addition to coursework, special education learners complete student teaching experiences under the supervision of an experienced special educator.

The following list outlines several courses commonly found in bachelor's in special education programs.

Introduction to Special Education

In introductory classes, students build foundational knowledge in special education, studying topics like the best practices in the field, special education theory, and the legal requirements for special education. Coursework may also examine individualization, differentiated instruction, the role of IEPs, and the assessment process. The course prepares students for upper-division special education classes.

(Video) What I Wish I Knew Before Becoming A Special Education Teacher| What They Didn't Tell You!

Diagnostic Assessment

In classes on diagnostic assessment, special education majors learn to conduct standardized academic assessments of students. Students learn how to select effective assessments, administer and interpret the results, and develop academic goals based on diagnostic assessments. Students also learn how to create reports after conducting assessments and convey assessment results to administrators and parents.

Positive Behavior Support

This course teaches learners how to promote desired classroom behaviors. Students explore research-backed strategies to maximize instructional time by encouraging positive behaviors. The course also covers consequence strategies and prevention methods. Students learn how to create an inclusive, effective learning environment.

Inclusive practice courses emphasize best practices to support students with diverse learning abilities in the classroom. Coursework introduces students to guidelines like the Universal Design for Learning and other methods to promote inclusivity in the classroom.

Teaching Exceptional Learners

In this course, students learn how to adapt classroom learning environments for students with different abilities, including gifted students. Students learn how to create inclusive environments, implement IEPs, and integrate evidence-based practices in the classroom.

Accreditation for a Special Education Teacher Program

Prospective special education teachers should research a school's accreditation status before applying. In many states, educators need an accredited degree to earn a teaching license. Additionally, only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid, and many schools only accept degrees and credits from accredited institutions.

Accredited colleges and universities meet the highest standards for granting degrees. To earn accreditation, schools must undergo a rigorous, third-party review of their student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, and graduation requirements. Schools may earn regional or national accreditation, with regional accreditation generally considered the more prestigious of the two.

Programs within a school may also hold accreditation. For example, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation grants accreditation to teaching programs. In some states, students must attend an accredited program to earn a teaching license. Prospective students can check the Department of Education's database to find accredited schools and programs.

Special Education Teacher Specialties

Special education students can pursue a specialization to focus their skills and prepare for specific careers after graduation. Some programs offer formal concentrations as part of a special education degree, while others let students design a custom concentration through electives.

Students can earn a specialization in elementary or secondary education. They can also pursue specializations in areas like autistic spectrum disorders or visual impairment. Many schools also offer a concentration in gifted and talented education.

(Video) How to become a Special Education Teacher Salary Jobs Degree Requirements

Special Education Teacher Certification

Special education teachers must hold state licensure or certification to work in public schools. Requirements vary by state, but most states require a bachelor's degree from a teacher preparation program. Some states require specific classes or a special education major for certification.

Candidates may also need to pass required exams. For example, candidates for American Board's special education teacher certification must pass a professional teaching knowledge exam, a special education exam, and an elementary education exam. Certified teachers must maintain their credentials by meeting continuing education requirements.

Components of a Successful Special Education Teacher Career: Skills, Credentials, Tools, and Technology

Strong communication skills help special educators differentiate education based on each student's needs. Special education teachers must also communicate effectively with other teachers, counselors, parents, and administrators.

Patience and resourcefulness also help special educators succeed. The ability to stay calm with students and develop creative ways to present information allow special educators to effectively instruct students. A successful career in special education also requires an understanding of the tools and technology commonly used in the field, such as assistive software programs.

Special education teachers must also meet certain job requirements, which may include a teaching license with a special education endorsement or certification in special education. Some states also require a master's degree for special education jobs.

Special Education Teacher Professional Organizations

Professional organizations help special education teachers advance their careers. Many organizations offer benefits such as networking, professional development, and continuing education opportunities. The following list outlines several professional organizations for special educators.

National Association of Special Education Teachers

A national professional organization for special educators, NASET promotes and advocates for special education. Members gain access to professional development programs, newsletters and journals, and continuing education courses.

International Association of Special Education

CEC brings together educators who work with children with exceptionalities. The organization develops special education professional standards and offers webinars, professional development resources, and events. The council also publishes research in the field and hosts a career center with job postings.

National Association of Special Education Teachers

IASE encourages collaboration between special educators worldwide. Founded in 1985, IASE hosts members from 50 countries, including teachers, researchers, and professors. The association hosts international conferences and works with other special education organizations to promote the interests of individuals with special needs.

Council for Learning Disabilities

An international organization, CLD advocates for high-quality education for individuals with learning disabilities. The council promotes evidence-based research on special education, hosts conferences, and offers professional development resources. The council also posts jobs in special education.

National Education Association

Founded in 1857, NEA hosts more than three million members, including special education teachers. NEA promotes public education and provides professional development support for teachers. The association also offers resources and articles for special education teachers.

FAQs on Becoming a Special Education Teacher

What does a special education teacher teach?

Special education teachers work with K-12 students on foundational skills, such as reading and math.

What is the qualification of a special education teacher?

Special education teacher requirements typically include a bachelor's degree and licensure. Special educators may also need an endorsement in special education.

How much schooling does a special education teacher need?

In most states, special education teachers need at least a bachelor's degree with a concentration or major in special education.

Resources for Special Education Teachers

National Center for Learning Disabilities

NCLD advocates for Americans with learning and attention disabilities. The center promotes high-quality special education instruction, offers scholarships for students, and provides research and resources for educators. NCLD also offers information on the legal responsibilities of special education programs.

Learning Disabilities Online

This site provides resources for teachers, principals, and other educators involved in special education. These resources include instructional strategies for particular learning disabilities, information on differentiating instruction, and strategies for using technology in the classroom. The site also provides resources on inclusion and accommodations.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The IDEA governs special education services across the country. The website offers a resource page for educators that lists department-funded projects in different states. It also provides information on the legal obligations of school districts.

Office of Special Education Programs

A division of the Department of Education, OSEP organizes programs and services for children with disabilities. The office provides grants that support research, personnel development, and parent training.

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(Video) Who should become a special education teacher?


What are your strengths as a special education teacher? ›

The Qualities of a Special Ed Teacher – What it Takes to be Great
  • Adaptability. Classrooms can be unpredictable. ...
  • Collaboration. ...
  • Communication skills. ...
  • Compassion. ...
  • Devotion to improvement. ...
  • Assessment skills. ...
  • Knowledge of theory and practice. ...
  • Listening skills.
17 Aug 2018

Why do you want to work in a special needs school? ›

Positive impact on others' lives. Engagement and teamwork. Lifelong learning. Personal and work-life rewards.

How can I become a special education teacher in the Philippines? ›

The Special Education program prepares graduates for jobs as educators in special education schools and SPED centers. Students who would like to practice as licensed SPED teachers need to take up additional 18 units of Professional Education subjects and take the Licensure examination for Teachers (LET).

What skills do you need to work with special needs? ›

Let's take a look at some of the most valuable soft job skills for adults with disabilities that employers are looking for.
  • Attention to Detail. ...
  • Communication Skills. ...
  • Conflict Management Skills. ...
  • Problem Solving Skills. ...
  • Professionalism. ...
  • Teamwork Skills. ...
  • Time Management Skills. ...
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder.
29 Oct 2020

What is the role of a teacher in special education? ›

Special education teachers serve as advocates for students with disabilities and special needs. This includes ensuring that all school officials and employees understand the importance of inclusion and how to best implement inclusion in all campus activities.

Why do I love being a special education teacher? ›

It's rewarding.

There is not much better than helping a student reach their potential. I feel great knowing my students have learned something new because I was able to teach them in a way that made sense for them. It's rewarding to know I have been able to reach them and help them on their way to future independence.

What qualities do you need to work with special needs kids? ›

Top Skills Needed to Work with Developmentally Disabled
  • Organization and Adaptability. These may seem like two separate—even opposite—personality traits. ...
  • Patience. Again, this is a skill that is needed for working with children of any ability. ...
  • Kindness and Empathy. ...
  • Optimism. ...
  • Communication Skills.
9 Dec 2021

What is your strength best answer for teacher? ›

The list of the following strengths may help you to identify what yours are and plan an effective interview answer:
  • Creativity.
  • Empathy or kindness.
  • Organization.
  • Discipline.
  • Fairness.
  • Persistence.
  • Collaboration.
  • Patience.

How do I prepare for a special education teacher interview? ›

Role-specific questions
  1. What do you enjoy most about teaching?
  2. Why did you choose to work with students with disabilities?
  3. What do you hope to contribute to the special education field?
  4. What's the biggest challenge/reward in working with students who require special education?
  5. Why do you want to work in our school?

What is the most important thing to learn in special education? ›

The key to inclusive special education programs is understanding and accepting students for who they are. This means not just helping them overcome their weaknesses but assisting them in finding and developing their talents too.

Why do I want to work with special needs children? ›

It's about preparing children who are most in need for their life, helping them to be successful, get a job - and ultimately live independently one day. It's about giving them a life without limits, opening doors and showing them that anything is possible.

How can you as a special education teacher make a difference in the lives of your special students? ›

They work individually with each student and everybody involved in the student's education to create a plan, unique to that student's needs, to help them be successful in the classroom.

What is special educator in school? ›

The job of a special educator is somewhat similar to a general teacher in schools. They provide learning assistance to students with mental, emotional, or physical disorders by evaluating each student's progress and making reports for each of them.

What mean special education? ›

Special education is a form of instruction that's designed to meet the needs of students with disabilities, so that they can learn the same skills and information as other children in school.

What skills do you need to work at a special school? ›

Our own SEN specialist, Ruth Bell, has created a list of skills and aptitudes she feels anyone working in special needs requires:
  • Be proactive and willing.
  • Be enthusiastic. ...
  • Communicate with colleagues.
  • Be patient.
  • Be prepared to get messy, particularly if working with children with PMLD.

Why are you interested in working with people with disabilities? ›

#1: A Rewarding Career

By working with individuals who are intellectually disabled, you are helping someone with special needs to conquer the daily challenges life can throw their way. You can celebrate their successes and help them through the difficult times.

What is daily living skills in special education? ›

Definition. The term “daily living skills” refers to a wide range of personal self-care activities across home, school, work, and community settings. Most daily living skills, like food preparation and personal hygiene, need to be performed on a regular basis to maintain a reasonable level of health and safety.

Why is it important to learn about special education? ›

Special education is of great importance for children with learning disabilities, because it gives them the opportunity to get quality education in line with their unique needs. Special education enables every student to gain a high level of independence and reach their full potential.

What is the main goal of special education and inclusive education? ›

The primary objective of inclusive education is to educate students who have disabilities in the regular classroom and still meet their individual needs. Inclusive education allows children with special needs to receive a free and appropriate education along with general education students in the regular classroom.

How do you deal with students with special needs? ›

Successful Strategies for Teaching and Supporting Students with Disabilities
  1. Lean on others. ...
  2. Stay organized. ...
  3. Don't reinvent the wheel. ...
  4. Know that each student is unique. ...
  5. Keep instructions simple. ...
  6. Embrace advocacy. ...
  7. Create opportunities for success. ...
  8. Don't feel pressure to be perfect.

Why do you want to work with students with autism? ›

Working with special education students is rewarding

Students with autism need people in their lives that value them, their uniqueness, and want to see them succeed. Most special education teachers are not simply “in it for the money.” They value their careers and want to see the benefits of their efforts.

What is the greatest challenge of a special education teacher? ›

The Top 10 Challenges of Special Education Teachers
  • Lack of appreciation. ...
  • Parent support. ...
  • Public support. ...
  • Paperwork. ...
  • Scheduling. ...
  • Training and supervising paraprofessionals. ...
  • Collaborating with general education teachers. ...
  • Data collection.
1 Feb 2012

What makes special education special? ›

Special education is 'special' because it has a distinct place in the education of not only individuals with disabilities but also diverse learners, including those who are at risk.

What top 3 skills do you believe you need to be successful as a special education assistant? ›

The qualities identified with top workers in the field of special education often mimic those exhibited by parents: patience, compassion, consistency, acceptance and an passion to see their children do well. Assistants need these qualities and more, as they will be called upon to advocate for their students.

What skills do you need to work with children with autism? ›

Some of them are:
  • Presentation – good hygiene, neat appearance.
  • Communication.
  • Time Management.
  • Organizational Skills.
  • Adaptability.
  • Flexibility.
  • Decision Making.
  • Ability to work independently.
1 Feb 2018

Why should we hire you answer best? ›

For starters, I have all the skills and experience listed in the job description, and I'm confident that I can make an immediate impact on your company. It's not just my background in leading successful projects for Fortune 500 companies, but also my passion for the industry that drives me to succeed.

Why should we hire you as a teacher answers examples? ›

I have a thorough understanding of the school's mission and I believe that my personality and skills put me in the right position to help create a stimulating learning environment. Since I identify with your values and mission, I am committed to inspiring students to adopt them too.

Why do you want to be a teacher best answer? ›

"I want to become a teacher so that I can make a real difference in children's lives. I take the task of developing young people into kind, thoughtful and contributing adults very seriously. I have always been so grateful to my teachers and the educational system for making me the person that I am today.

How do I ace my special education interview? ›

Special Ed Teacher Interview Questions and Tips for Success

What questions do they ask in a special education interview? ›

Special Education Teacher Interview Questions
  • In your work as a special education teacher, what conditions or disabilities did your students possess? ...
  • What grade levels have you taught as a special education teacher? ...
  • How did you manage special education services for students who were a part of inclusive classrooms?
21 Apr 2021

How do you answer tell me about yourself? ›

8 more tips for answering “Tell me about yourself”
  1. Remember this is often your first impression, and it matters. ...
  2. Tailor your answer to the role and company. ...
  3. Know your audience. ...
  4. Keep it professional. ...
  5. But speak with passion. ...
  6. Don't ramble. ...
  7. Practice, practice, practice—but stop short of memorizing. ...
  8. Keep it positive.
20 Jul 2022

What is special education in your own words essay? ›

It is an important aspect of the education system as it gives children with special needs an opportunity to learn the best they can at their own pace and makes sure that all the needs of these children are met, but is it really beneficial for the child to be isolated in these classrooms .

What is the biggest challenge do special education students face? ›

Behavior Problems

Many students with disabilities get frustrated with school. Whether it is not understanding material or dealing with emotions they have trouble controlling, these students can be a challenge for their teachers. Every student is different, and what works with one student may not work with another.

How do you teach special children? ›

General interventions
  1. Show, demonstrate and model.
  2. Utilize multisensory learning.
  3. Break information down into smaller units.
  4. Utilise peer tutoring and cooperative learning.
  5. Use a developmentally appropriate approach.
  6. Make information as concrete as possible.
  7. Provide a small group of instructions.

What is it called when you work with kids with special needs? ›

Social worker

They can work with children or adults, in a school or school system, at a hospital or at home. Social workers who specifically work with people with special needs help them improve and support their social and psychological functioning, whatever those needs may be.

How do I become a SEN teacher without a degree? ›

Get qualified

You'll need to be a qualified teacher with experience of working in a mainstream school to become an SEN Teacher. A qualification in SEN teaching is also essential (which should have been completed within the last three years).

What are the requirements of diploma in special needs education? ›

To be qualified for admission in the Diploma program, the prospective candidate must have the following minimum qualifications:
  • Mean grade of C+ (Plus) at KCSE.
  • For Visually and Hearing Impaired. Minimum Grade C (Plain) at KCSE. At least C- (Minus) in English. C (Plain) in Mathematics for Science Based Course.

Do SEN teachers earn more? ›

This is 8.2% more than the average national salary for Sen teacher jobs. The average London Sen teacher salary is 44% less than the average salary across London.
Highest Paying Areas for Sen teacher, UK.
YoY Salary Change8.4%
Average salary£26,339
9 more columns

How much do SEN teachers earn UK? ›

The average salary for SEN Teacher jobs is £44,222. Read on to find out how much SEN Teacher jobs pay across various UK locations and industries. We have 291 jobs paying higher than the average SEN Teacher salary!

Can I get a teaching certificate without a degree? ›

If you're looking for a fresh challenge, it's never too late to switch to a career in education. So, can you become a teacher without a degree in education? Yes. Good news – you don't have to go back to school and get another bachelor's degree in education to teach thanks to alternative teacher certification programs.

How long does it take to become a SEN teacher? ›

You can take either a four-year undergraduate degree in education or the one-year Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE). All courses are university-led. For full details, see Teach in Scotland - Become a teacher in Scotland. There is a special educational needs element to all teacher training courses.

Can a teaching assistant become a teacher? ›

If you have been working in a classroom for a significant amount of time, as a teaching assistant or in a similar role, you may be able to get qualified teacher status (QTS) through a 12-week 'assessment only' programme. You must also have a degree. You'll need to show that you already meet the standards for QTS.

How long is special ed course? ›

This is a three year course. The objectives of the Special needs Education is to provide the trainees with knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to meet the needs of learners with special needs. Module I takes two terms while Module II takes three terms of the full time or school based program.

How long is Diploma in special education? ›


The duration of the programme will be 6 Semesters( 5 semesters course work and one semester for teaching practice).

Which Diploma course is best? ›

  • Diploma in Civil Engineering. ...
  • Diploma in Electrical Engineering. ...
  • Diploma in Computer Engineering. ...
  • Diploma in Information Technology. ...
  • Diploma in Medical Laboratory Technology Course. ...
  • Diploma in Dental Mechanics Course. ...
  • Diploma in X-Ray Technology Course. ...
  • Diploma in Radiography Course.

Why I love working with special needs? ›

Working with special needs students gives you the opportunity to impact the lives of children who have disabilities, learning disorders, and developmental delays. Not only are you making an impact in the lives of students by giving them tools and resources to learn according to their learning style.

What qualifications do I need to work with special needs children? ›

To achieve qualified teacher status (QTS) in England and Wales you'll need an undergraduate degree in any subject and a postgraduate teaching qualification (a PGCE). There are different postgraduate training routes available including school-led and university-led courses.

What is the highest salary for a Special Education Teacher? ›

Highest paying cities for Special Education Teachers near United States
  • New York, NY. $68,075 per year. 205 salaries reported.
  • Bronx, NY. $67,985 per year. 158 salaries reported.
  • Washington, DC. $67,649 per year. 97 salaries reported.
  • Brooklyn, NY. $61,457 per year. ...
  • Chicago, IL. $60,565 per year. ...
  • Show more nearby cities.
4 days ago

What does SEN stand for? ›

What does special educational needs (SEN) mean? The term SEN covers a wide range of needs. These include behavioural, emotional and social difficulties, speech, language and communication, hearing impairment, visual impairment, multi-sensory impairment, physical disability and autism.

How much does a special teacher earn? ›

The average Special Education Teacher salary in the United States is $59,559 as of September 26, 2022, but the range typically falls between $46,950 and $77,999.

How much does a special school teacher earn? ›

Teachers Service Commission Salary FAQs

The average salary for a Special Education Teacher is KES 47,500 per month in Nairobi, Kenya Area, which is 26% lower than the average Teachers Service Commission salary of KES 65,000 per month for this job.


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