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Special Education Teacher

As a special education teacher, you will teach students with a wide range of learning disabilities. You should be organized, creative, patient and highly intuitive. Your love of teaching should inspire and encourage your students to face and overcome challenges and strive for their personal best.

Your duties will depend on the type of setting you work in, the disabilities of the students you teach, the many different subjects the students are taking and your specialty. Special education teachers are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree and a state-issued certification or license. Teachers are often required to complete a teacher preparation program and have supervised experience in teaching. Some states require a minimum grade point average in the completion of preparation programs, and most states require teachers to pass a background check. Teachers may be required to complete annual professional development classes or a master’s degree to maintain their license.

You can find the licensing requirements for your current or future location by using the CareerOneStop License Finder tool. Also, view the Spouse Licensure Map to see if your state is now supporting licensure portability for military spouses to eliminate reemployment delays as you move between states.

The median pay for special education teachers is $58,980 per year with an average growth rate of 8 percent.

Discovering your passion

Discovering what you can do for your students with special needs and learning how to guide them to advocate for themselves is one of the main goals of special education teachers. Some of your duties may include the following:

  • Assessing the academic, social, emotional and functional skills of students
  • Planning instruction and developing Individual Education Plans, or IEPs
  • Implementing the instructions on students’ IEPs
  • Monitoring student progress toward meeting IEP goals and objectives, and local and state curriculum standards
  • Learning strategies for working with other providers, such as speech and language clinicians, occupational and physical therapists and school psychologists
  • Planning co-teaching experiences working with a math, science, English or other teaching partners
  • Learning to use assistive technology and tools

To sustain your passion for teaching, you must continue to expand your knowledge and skills by learning from your students, other educators, articles, research, training and seminars.

Suggestions for avoiding burnout include:

  • Being flexible and managing expectations
  • Tracking student progress without comparing to other students
  • Evaluating each assessment, realizing they may not be valid indicators of student growth
  • Learning to work as part of a team, listening to and supporting your team members
  • Embracing the paperwork
  • Taking breaks and reenergizing
  • Enjoying the satisfaction of helping students learn 

Education and training

Once you have made the decision to pursue a career as a special education teacher, you can explore the many tools and resources on MySECO to assist you in achieving the education requirements necessary to practice in your profession. College Scorecard is a great starting point for researching and selecting an education institution. When you visit College Scorecard, search by program/degree, location, size and more to find a program of study near you. You can also use the Scholarship Finder on MySECO to assist with finding funding relevant to the military community to help pay for classes. Check to see if you are eligible for My Career Advancement Account Scholarship assistance to help with education or licensure costs. Teaching Certifications and Licenses can also assist you in planning your training and job search.

Finding employment

Search for positions with your local school system and on the job boards of professional associations related to education and special education. Build a teaching portfolio to highlight your ideas, talents and successes in the field to increase your opportunities for finding employment. Consider volunteering, if possible, or doing an internship, and proactively networking to build contacts and experience in this field.

Professional organizations and networking

You may wish to consider joining a professional organization in your career field to gain a better understanding of current industry trends in teaching. Joining professional organizations like the National Education Association is a great way to continue your education through workshops and conferences, which will add to your transferable skill set as you move. Networking with other professionals in the teaching field will give you an edge in meeting the right people who may have the connections you need to obtain an interview or restart your career at your new location. They may provide important information about the teaching field, such as new technology, continuing education, teaching ideas, lesson plans and more. Read The Value of Professional Associations for more information on how becoming a member can help enhance your career.

Next steps

To learn more about teaching careers, review the Research Occupations tool on MySECO and investigate your options. Take self-assessments to make sure your skills and interests align with your career choice. Talk to others in the field and get their feedback. Call 800-342-9647 and speak with a career coach to discuss career or education choices, searching for a job or overcoming challenges. Coaches are available to review your resume, practice interviewing, discuss networking or assist you in understanding employer requirements for this field.

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