Job Universe: Teachers—Special Ed

Special education teachers work with children and youths who have a variety of disabilities.

  • The job: Special education teachers work with children and youths who have a variety of disabilities. A small number of special education teachers work with students with severe cases of mental retardation or autism, primarily teaching them life skills and basic literacy. However, the majority work with children with mild to moderate disabilities, using or modifying the general education curriculum to meet the child's individual needs. They help to develop an individualized education program for each student. The program sets personalized goals for the student and is tailored to that student's individual needs and ability. Special education teachers design and teach appropriate curricula, assign work geared toward each student's needs and abilities, and grade papers and homework assignments.
  • Outlook: Employment of special education teachers is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations. Job prospects should be excellent as many districts report problems finding adequate numbers of certified special education teachers.
  • Experience: All 50 states and the District of Columbia require special education teachers to be licensed. For traditional licensing, all states require a bachelor's degree and the completion of an approved teacher preparation program with a prescribed number of subject and education credits and supervised practice teaching. However, many states also require a master's degree in special education, involving at least one year of additional coursework, including a specialization, beyond the bachelor's degree. Most states have alternative methods for entry for bachelor's degree holders who do not have training in education.
  • The not-so-good: Although helping these students can be highly rewarding, the work also can be emotionally and physically draining. Many special education teachers are under considerable stress because of heavy workloads and administrative tasks. The physical and emotional demands of the job cause some special education teachers to leave the occupation.
  • Pay: Median annual wage and salary earnings of special education teachers who worked primarily in preschools, kindergartens, and elementary schools were $46,360 in May 2006. The median earnings of middle school special education teachers were $47,650. For special education teachers who worked primarily in secondary schools, the median earnings were $48,330.

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This information is from the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.