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How to Become a Special Education Teacher: Salary, Job Description & More

What is a Special Education Teacher?

Today, the American 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, to "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.

Sound like something you'd like to do? If you'd like to help every student get the best education possible, read on to learn more about the education, methods, and jobs available for special education teachers.

Special Education Teacher Jobs

Special education teachers usually work in schools alongside other teachers. They may work in public schools, private schools, or in 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.

Many websites and job search agencies, like Soliant, can help you find special education teacher jobs that are available in your local area.

Special Education Teacher Job Description

Like all teachers, special education teachers may teach a variety of subjects, including reading, writing, math, and other subjects. Their special job duties 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.
  • The role of special education teachers is to ensure that everyone gets a great education - including those who may have disabilities or special needs, requiring a specialist teacher.

Special Education Teacher Salary

Special education teacher salaries can range from $32,000-$80,000 per year, depending on experience, education, and location.

The most common salary for special education teachers is about $49,000 per year, and most special education teachers are paid between $43,000 and $68,000 per year.

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 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 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 have to pay more for rent and other expenses as well. 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

Special education teachers need a unique set of skills. They don't just need degrees and certifications: they also need people skills, communication skills, and a demonstrated ability and desire to work with people with special needs.

Read on to learn how you can acquire all of those skills - and prove to your future employer that you have them.

Skills of a Special Education Teacher

What kind of skills are required to be an amazing special education teacher? As you might guess, it's about more than just your degree. People who are best-suited for special education jobs are those who have:

  • 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.
  • Those who want to make a difference in the lives of disabled students and who have natural patience, empathy, and the desire 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.
  • Special education teachers must 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.

This is where your degree comes in handy. So what kind of degree do you need to be a special education teacher, and where do you get it?

Educational Requirements

Just like general teachers, special education teachers generally need a bachelor's degree or a master's degree. So where and how do you get a special education teacher degree?

The good news is, a growing number of schools offer both in-person and online bachelor's and master's programs in special education. When selecting a program, look for a school that has been around for many years and has good graduation and graduate employment rates.

Special education teacher requirements include:

  • A bachelor's or master's degree in Special Education.
  • Additional certification or licensure exams may be required depending on the state you want to teach in. Public schools may require more licensures and certifications than private schools, but may also pay higher salaries and have better employee benefits for teachers.

Special Education Teacher Cover Letter

In your cover letter for a special education teacher position, it's important to make it clear to employers quickly that you have a passion for serving students with special needs.

It's often the "soft" skills - desire, people skills, and communication skills - that are most important to this job, and most difficult to find.

You can demonstrate that you have these by including in your cover letter a brief description of why you have chosen this career path. Do you have a specific story from your life that made you realize the crucial importance of this job?

Being able to tell the employer in just a few words exactly what made you realize how important this job is, and what made you want to pursue it will help the employer see you as a particularly dedicated candidate

It's also a good idea to include one or two sentences in your cover letter about experience that proves you are passionate about working in this area, such as a past job or volunteer experience.

Remember, your cover letter should only be one page, and should be easy to read! So make your points briefly, using only a sentence or two each to describe the source of your passion for special education, your interest in this specific employer and job opening, and your experience working with people with special needs.

Special Education Teacher Resume

Like your cover letter, your resume should be brief and easy to read. The goal is that a hiring manager can tell at a glance, and from the very first sentence on the page, what makes you special as a candidate for this job.

A good rule of thumb for resumes is one page for every five years of professional, educational, or volunteer experience you have in a field. If you're new to this career field you should keep your resume to one page in length. If you have five or more years of experience working, studying, or volunteering in the field you may make it two pages long.

Use easy-to-read formats such as line breaks, and bulleted lists, and short paragraphs of 3 sentences or less so that your most impressive achievements will jump out at a glance. You may wish to include sections like:

  • Objective. If you don't have much prior work experience in the field, start your resume with an "objective" of 1-2 sentences which describes your career-relevant mission in life and what you hope to achieve in the specific job opening you are applying to.
  • Education. Include any professional certifications or degrees you might have, the relevant school(s) you attended, the dates you attended, and your GPA if it was over 3.5. If not, your GPA is not required.
  • Work experience. If you don't have much work experience, remember to include any part-time or summer jobs you might have held to show your track record as a reliable worker.
  • If you have held many jobs, include only the 2-4 which are most recent or most relevant to the job you are applying for. Seeing many jobs in other fields on your resume may cause employers to question your dedication to this field!
  • Volunteer work. If you have never worked with people with special needs professionally, you will need volunteer work on your resume to prove that you have done this before and you enjoy it. Consider volunteering with any local schools, charities, or other organizations that work with children, disabled people, and children with special needs in your area.
  • Hobbies. If you can fit this all on one page, some employers like to see a little bit about your hobbies.

This section of your resume has a professional purpose: choose the 2-4 hobbies that most show your achievements (such as awards or tournament placings), titles (such as "founder," "organizer," or "president" of clubs and events), and duties which show that you are energetic, passionate in pursuit of perfection, capable of leadership, and enjoy working with people.

You can see more resume advice, and an example template for a special education teacher resume here.

Special Education Teacher Interview Questions

Being a special education teacher requires a special sort of person. Special education teachers must be driven, energetic, and passionate - but also patient, understanding, and able to work with other people who have diverse expectations and skill levels.

Interview questions are likely to ask about your education, work, and volunteer experience. They may also ask how you have coped with certain types of situations in the past. Practice answering questions like:

  1. Tell us about a time you have failed. Here employers will look to see if you take responsibility for your mistakes, and if you have learned from them.
  2. What did you enjoy most about that job or volunteer experience?
  3. What was the biggest challenge you faced in that job or volunteer experience?
  4. What are you looking for in a professional team or work environment?
  5. Can you tell us a little bit about your strategies for working with coworkers and colleagues?
  6. What theories, systems, or approaches do you use when constructing lesson plans for children?
  7. What experience do you have working with students with behavior problems?
  8. What experience do you have working with frustrated parents?
  9. What questions do you have for us? It's always good to be prepared to ask employers what they expect of you, and what their favorite and least favorite parts of working for the organization are.

This shows that you are thinking ahead about what it will be like to work there, and will be making an informed decision if you accept the job.

Be aware that some types of questions such as questions about your family, whether you are married or have children, and whether you have any health conditions are discriminatory and illegal for employers to ask.

Some may ask these questions to determine if you will have "distractions" from your work such as family or health problems, but you are not required to answer them, and this may indicate an employer that does not have a healthy work-life culture.

Summary

In summary, 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.

Special education teachers are paid on average slightly more than general teachers. This is because they have special training, and very special character traits. Special education teachers must be patient, understanding, and able to adjust to changing expectations, but must also be prepared to fight for what is right and achieve a high level of excellence in their performance.

If you think this career path is for you, we've done our best to include helpful tips to help you begin your special education career!

The right connection can make all the difference.