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How to Become a Special Education Teacher

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How to Become a Special Education Teacher

How to Become a Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers play a crucial role in the educational system by providing tailored instruction and support to students with diverse learning needs. These dedicated professionals work with students who have various disabilities, including learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and emotional or behavioral disorders.

If you have a passion for ensuring that every student, regardless of their challenges, receives a quality education that meets their individual needs, then a career as a special education teacher is perfect for you.

For those wondering how to become a special education teacher, this blog covers it all! Read this special education career guide from Soliant to learn how to become a special education teacher, including the steps in the career path, role requirements, job responsibilities, and more.

What is a Special Education Teacher?

Many of us probably had friends who struggled in school growing up. They may have had dyslexia, ADHD, or another physical challenge or learning disability. You’ve probably known someone who was incredibly smart – but was limited in their ability to get good grades by a specific learning challenge or emotional difficulty.

Today, the federal government requires that all schools provide specialized teachers for students with disabilities. These include “obvious” disabilities, such as people with Down syndrome or blindness and “invisible” disabilities, such as dyslexia, anxiety, and ADHD.

Special education teachers are the superheroes for these students. Special education teachers learn how to adapt lesson plans, teaching methods, and more so that people with physical, learning, and emotional challenges can get a great education.

Special Education Teacher Duties

Special education teachers usually work in schools, which may be public schools, private schools, or schools that are specialized for people with significant disabilities. Special education teachers may work alongside other teachers, giving special attention to students with special needs, or they may work in special classrooms or “resource rooms” where students with disabilities can get help.

One of the key responsibilities of special education teachers is to develop and implement Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each student. These personalized plans outline specific goals, accommodations, and modifications to help students make progress academically, socially, and emotionally. Special education teachers also collaborate closely with parents and other support staff to create a comprehensive support system for their students.

In addition to academic instruction, special education teachers often focus on developing essential life skills, fostering social interactions, and addressing behavioral challenges. They create a positive and inclusive classroom environment where all students feel accepted and supported.

Special Education Teacher Job Description

Like all teachers, special education teachers may teach a variety of subjects, including reading, writing, math, and more. The daily responsibilities of the role, or the special education teacher job description, may include:

  • Creating lesson plans specialized to individual students, based on each student’s strengths and challenges.
  • Helping students with dyslexia and other reading challenges get extra practice reading and writing.
  • Helping students with dyscalculia and other math-related challenges develop strategies and tools for handling numbers.
  • Helping students with physical disabilities such as blindness or deafness get the same access to educational materials using different teaching tools.
  • Helping students with emotional or behavioral challenges to get through the school day, learn, and make friends by helping them manage their symptoms.

Special Education Teacher Salary

Special education teacher salaries can range from $32,000-$80,000 per year, depending on experience, education, and location. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for special education teachers was $62,950 in May 2022. The lowest 10% of earners made less than $45,780, and the highest 10% earned more than $102,450.

The salary of a special education teacher also depends on the grade level taught, the job requirements, and the job setting. For example, special education teachers who work with children with more severe disabilities in a specialized, private institution may make more than a public school special education teacher who has summers off and a less demanding job. You can learn more about the different types of special education here.

Generally, teachers with more education and experience are paid more. Teachers with special qualifications that are in high demand may also get paid more. According to recent reports from the BLS, special education teachers, on average, were paid slightly more than general teachers without special education qualifications.

Remember that cities with higher costs of living often pay higher salaries. So, if you’re getting paid more, you may be moving to an area where you must pay more for rent and other expenses as well. For example, New York and California are the top-paying states for special education teachers, where the annual mean wage is over $86,400.

When deciding whether to accept a job based on the salary, it’s a good idea to also do an online cost of living search to find out what average expenses you can expect from living in that city.

How to Become a Special Education Teacher

Becoming a special education teacher involves a series of steps, including education, certification, and gaining practical experience. Here is a general guide on how to become a special education teacher:

1. Special Education Teacher Educational Requirements

Start by earning a bachelor’s degree in special education or a related field. Some states may accept degrees in general education, but a degree specifically in special education is often preferred.

Most programs include a student teaching component, which is a hands-on experience that allows you to work directly with students under the guidance of an experienced mentor teacher.

While a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement, some special education teachers pursue a master’s degree for advanced knowledge and career advancement.

2. Obtain Special Education Teacher Certifications

Every state requires public school educators to be licensed and certified. However, the specifics of these certifications vary by state. We encourage you to check with your state’s regulatory laws to ensure you meet the most up-to-date requirements to become a special education teacher.

In addition to the state certifications, educational institutions may outline their own certification requirements. Public schools may require more licensures and certifications than private schools, but these roles may also pay higher salaries and have better employee benefits for teachers.

3. Meet State Special Education Teacher Requirements

Some states require a specific special education endorsement or additional certification to teach students with disabilities. This may involve passing additional exams or completing additional coursework. In addition, some states require background checks, ethics exams, or specific workshops on topics like child abuse prevention.

4. Apply for Special Education Teacher Roles

After receiving your certification and meeting all the requirements outlined by the state, you can apply for special education teacher roles! Look for positions that align with your skills and interests, whether in public schools, private schools, or specialized educational settings.

Special Education Teacher Requirements

Once you become a special education teacher, you will need to continue meeting ongoing requirements. The requirements to become a special education teacher and continue working in the role are similar to those of general education teachers.

First, before accepting a role, most special education teacher positions require applicants to have had practical experience, such as student teaching experience or a specific number of hours worked in a classroom setting.

Once in the role, special education teachers are expected to keep up with continuing education requirements to stay current with developments in the field, teaching methodologies, and best practices.

It’s important for aspiring special education teachers to check with their state’s Department of Education or a teacher certification board for the most accurate and up-to-date information on specific requirements in their area.

Skills of a Special Education Teacher

In addition to the technical requirements, special education teachers need to possess a unique set of skills and characteristics. While degrees and certifications are essential, educators need people skills, communication skills, and a demonstrated ability and desire to work with people with special needs.

People who are best suited to become special education teachers are those who have:

  • A desire to help: First and foremost, special education teachers must want to help those with special needs. This job can be challenging, and it may not be worth pursuing for people who are not interested in helping people with special needs.
  • A desire to make a difference in the lives of disabled students: Those who have natural patience and empathy and want to solve problems will find this job most rewarding.
  • People skills: Special education means working with students and parents who may be frustrated with the school system because of their disability.
  • Patience: Special education teachers should be patient, friendly, and warm while also having the confidence to manage conflicts and unreasonable or inappropriate expectations that might arise from students, parents, co-teachers, or school administrators.
  • Communication skills: Special education teachers sometimes act as translators between school administrators, general teachers, students with disabilities, and their parents. This means that special education teachers benefit from being able to communicate and explain concepts as simply and clearly as possible – whether it’s to a frustrated school administrator, a disabled student, or a concerned parent.
  • Knowledge of disabilities and teaching techniques: To do their job, special education teachers must know about different available teaching techniques, as well as the needs of students with different challenges and disabilities.

Become a Special Education Teacher Today

Special education teachers are superheroes to people with learning differences. Whether it’s a physical disability that makes it hard to access general classroom materials or a learning, behavioral, or emotional challenge to learning, special education teachers are there to make sure each student gets the resources and attention they need.

If you’re passionate about helping children overcome disabilities and grow into confident learners, a career as a special education teacher is perfect for you. Explore roles waiting for you today with Soliant here, and get ready to embark on a deeply rewarding and exciting career!