Today’s inclusive classrooms are filled with youth diagnosed with a wide variety of disabilities, such as autism, dyslexia, blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and mental retardation. Special education teachers play a pivotal role in helping optimize the overall development of these diverse children and adolescents. Special education teachers work alongside general education teachers to adapt content and teaching methodologies based on their students’ unique needs. From kindergarten through age 21, special education teachers will customize the student’s learning using an Individualized Education Program (IEP). In our digital world, special education teachers are often using cutting-edge assistive technologies to aid in improved learning and communication for disabled students.
According to the BLS, the 220,220 special education teachers working at the preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school level earn a mean annual wage of $56,460. The 135,520 secondary special education teachers teaching in America make an average yearly salary of $61,350. The highest paid special education teachers are employed by local government agencies and health practitioner offices at $63,990 and $63,040 respectively on average.
When just starting a special education career, teachers can expect to land in the bottom tenth percentile of earnings with yearly income around $35,170. However, it’s important to note that senior special education teachers with years of experience can eventually bring home over $84,320. Those who become special education directors could even make $91,780 annually.
Special education teachers hold significant responsibility in educating youth with learning, mental, emotional, behavioral, and physical disabilities either one-on-one or in small groups. In most cases, special education teachers will collaborate with teacher assistants, social workers, school psychologists, and school therapists to deliver well-rounded education. Typical daily classroom duties can include evaluating student’s learning needs, developing adapted lesson plans, updating IEPs, assessing student performance, supervising teacher aides, and discussing progress with parents. Special education teachers instruct toddlers, K-12 students, and college learners based on their individual abilities to help them achieve their full potential.
Working in special education requires excellent teaching skills to make smart curricular changes that suit students’ different abilities. Special education teachers need patience to break down course materials into small manageable parts students can understand. Being a skilled communicator with good interpersonal skills is essential for special educators to build positive relationships with students, parents, administrators, counselors, and other teachers. Special education teachers must have critical thinking and problem-solving skills when monitoring each student’s development progress. Special educators should have the leadership abilities to manage a functional classroom environment, especially with children with behavioral problems. Technical skills for implementing assistive technology into lesson plans are also required.
Degree and Education Requirements
Public school districts typically require special education teachers possess at least a four-year bachelor’s degree from a college or university. Most complete an undergraduate major specifically in special education, elementary education, or early childhood education. For those wishing to teach secondary school, majoring in a content area like mathematics or English and minoring in special education is common. Make certain that you’re taking classes related to child development, mild to moderate disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and IEP planning. Some states will require special education teachers receive a master’s degree for full certification. Attending graduate school can also unlock special education jobs in teacher leadership.
Pros and Cons of the Position
Special education comes with its fair share of rewards and challenges. On the plus side, special education teachers are given the chance to positively impact the development of children and make learning simpler for those who struggle. Special education teachers receive a decent yearly salary and excellent benefits while enjoying a two-month summer vacation. Job options are diverse at the elementary, middle, or high school level. Special education teachers can work in an inclusive classroom, work in a resource room, or lead their own pull-out class. On the other hand, special education teachers have a physically and emotionally demanding job educating students who may be frustrated with their disability. Employment growth is slow due to government budget cuts, so job competition can be heated. This may also give special education teachers heavier workloads in teaching more children at once. Some states also require special educators invest in a master’s degree.
Gaining work experience while earning your special education degree is crucial. If you’re attending a CAEP-accredited program, you’ll have built-in field practicum and a student teaching internship included. Make certain that your placement is within a special education or inclusive classroom setting. You could also spend your summers tutoring special needs students, running a summer camp, or babysitting a disabled child. After graduation, take the steps to receive initial teaching licensure by passing your state’s required Praxis exams. You’ll then have the qualifications to begin applying for special education teaching jobs. Passing a criminal background check and getting fingerprinted will be mandatory. During your first job, you’ll likely be under the guidance of a more experienced mentor teacher for smooth transition. For advancement, you may want to consider pursuing Board Certification in Special Education (BCSE) through the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) too.
Under the IDEA Act, there are currently 67,529,830 students aged five to 21 in the United States who qualify for receiving special education services. It’s estimated that 14 percent of American children have a developmental disability and eight percent have a learning disability. Demand will continue to rise for special education teachers to identify these exceptional children and tailor curriculum according to their needs. However, government funding will likely tighten hiring efforts of public school systems. That’s why the BLS predicts that the employment of special education teachers will be slower than average at six percent through 2022. This will create around 26,600 new jobs nationwide. Special education job opportunities are most favorable in the South, rural areas, and inner city schools.
Overall, special education teachers are licensed educators trained to teach various subjects to student suffering from minor to severe disabilities. Special education teachers accommodate each student’s IEP needs to maximize their curricular learning. Secondary special education teachers will also provide life skills and vocational training to foster an independent, successful life beyond graduation. If you choose to become a special education teacher, you’ll be granted the rewarding chance to help students turn their disabilities into abilities.
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