How To Become a Special Education Teacher

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: December 1, 2021  •  8 min read  •  Education
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If you have a passion for working with students with physical, learning, or behavioral disabilities, this is the career path for you. Learning how to become a special education teacher should be high on your list. As a special education teacher, you will help many students learn, even though they may struggle.

There are specific requirements you will need to meet to become a special education teacher. Let’s look at the step-by-step plan that will help ensure you enter into this career.

How To Become a Special Education Teacher

How to Become a Special Education Teacher in 6 Steps

Step #1 – Finish High School

You cannot become a special education teacher without first finishing high school or equivalent. However, if you can volunteer to work with special education students during your high school years, this can certainly help. Not only will it give you some experience, but it will also allow you to discern if this is the right career path for you.

Make sure you maintain a high GPA. It can also be helpful to score high on the SAT or ACT. With a good prep course for the SAT or ACT, you can achieve a very high score.

Step #2 – Get your Bachelor’s Degree

The next step to becoming a special education teacher is to get your bachelor’s degree. This degree should be in special education. You will likely study many different courses, including:

All of these classes will be necessary to earn your degree. It’s common for special education teachers to go on to a graduate program after getting a bachelor’s degree. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, going back to get your master’s degree in special education can help you to become a special education teacher.

Step #3 – Getting Your Master’s Degree

While it’s not a requirement to become a special education teacher, a master’s degree can help advance your career. It can make you a better candidate for a teaching position and help you earn a higher salary. In addition, some states will require a master’s degree for this type of teaching.

Step #4 – Get Your Teaching License

Most special education teachers will first become licensed in general education. After earning this license, they will get a license for special education teaching. Some employers will require additional certifications for specific types of disabilities, as well.

You will need to complete a student teaching internship before you can become licensed. It’s also necessary to pass the state-required tests to get your license. Once you have passed the tests, you can apply for and receive your teaching license.

Step #5 – Choose a Specialty

You don’t have to specialize, but many special education teachers will. You can choose to focus on a specific area of special education. Maybe you prefer to work at a specific level of education or with a certain type of disability.

There are many specializations, such as working with visually impaired students or those with autism. Specializing can earn you a higher salary, and it can also help open up more specific job opportunities.

Step #6 – Maintain Your Teaching Certifications

You will need to maintain all your licenses and certifications. This will likely require a certain level of continuing education every few years. The actual requirements will depend on your state and the certifications you have.

Necessary Skills for Special Education Teachers

It takes the right skills and personality to become a special education teacher. This isn’t quite the same as being a general teacher. You will need to be very patient and rather creative for this position. You will also need to have great communication and people skills.

It’s also very important to be compassionate and very organized. Special education teachers tend to be very kind, and they have great listening skills. You might need to develop other skills, too, such as learning sign language or learning to read braille.

Of course, you should also have a passion for teaching. Most teachers don’t take this career path because of the salary. It’s more common for special education teachers to enter this field because they love to teach.

Common Job Duties of Special Education Teachers

While the most common part of your job will be teaching, there are many duties you might perform. For example, special education teachers will likely do some or all of the following:

These duties and many others may be a part of your job as a special education teacher.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Special Education Teacher

What is the salary for special education teachers?

Your salary will depend on the level you teach at and your location. However, if you teach kindergarten through elementary, you will likely earn around $61K per year. Those teaching high school may earn a little bit more each year.

Are special education teachers paid more than regular teachers?

In some cases, yes, and in others, no. The average salary is about the same for a general teacher and a special education teacher with the same level of education and experience. However, in some cases, you can earn more as a special education teacher.

What type of disabilities will I commonly be working with?

It will depend, as you may specialize in one area or another. However, as a special education teacher, you will likely encounter autism, dyslexia, deaf and hard of hearing students, physical disabilities, and other learning disabilities. It’s common to work with various students, but some special education teachers specialize in a specific area.

Who employs special education teachers?

Most special education teachers will work for a public or a private school. Typically, public schools pay a higher salary. However, it’s also possible to work privately with a few students. This is rather common if you specialize in a specific area of special education.

Special education teachers may also work in a residential facility, clinic, hospital, or health agency. Depending on your specialty, you might work in multiple environments.

Will I need a teaching certificate to teach special education?

The certification requirements vary from one state to another. However, if you want to work in a public school, you will likely need to be a certified special education teacher. Private schools may not require state certification, but it’s much easier to gain employment with this certification than without.

Will I still get summers off as a special education teacher?

Becoming a teacher comes with the unique benefit of getting summers off, in most cases. As a special education teacher, you will likely work a 10-month school year with two months off. It will depend on the school schedule where you work, as some areas use year-round schooling with longer breaks for the holidays, spring, summer, and fall.

Can I teach regular classes if I am a special education teacher?

It will depend on the school and the state if you can teach regular classes, too. In most cases, it will also depend on your teaching license. Public schools typically won’t use special education teachers for general education teachers. Private schools will have their own regulations on the matter.

Are special education teachers in high demand?

Yes. It’s predicted that this type of teaching position will grow, with more than 13,000 new jobs added by 2028.

How long will it take to become a special education teacher?

It will take 5 to 8 years to become a special education teacher. You will need a bachelor’s degree and, in some states, a master’s degree. Teachers usually need a fifth year to complete their teacher internship, however.

Are there any similar careers I should consider?

If you want to work specifically with people who have learning disabilities, becoming a special education teacher is a great option. However, you can also become a recreational therapist or an occupational therapist. These two jobs tend to work with people struggling with physical, cognitive, and emotional disabilities. If you decide to become an occupational therapist, the salary is quite a bit higher.

What type of positions are available for special education teachers?

While getting a degree in special education qualifies you to be a teacher, there are several types of positions you can take on. For example, you might work as an Aide, an Early Childhood Education Center Teacher, or a K-12 Special Education Teacher.

When you decide you want to become a special education teacher, you will enter into a very rewarding career. It will be challenging, at times, but working with students can be very rewarding. You can use the steps to becoming a special education teacher above to help you achieve your career goals.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.