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

Today we are going to tell you all about how to become a special education teacher and a lot of other other career facts that should help you get started in the field. Teaching is a hard profession and made even harder still when it comes to teaching little ones with disabilities. However, it is just as awesome and rewarding as it is hard. So, we want you to stick with us for a bit while we tell you how to become a special education teacher and some other helpful career tips that will help push you through the tough times of this job.

How to Become a Special Education Teacher

The standard requirements for becoming a special education teacher begins with earning a bachelor’s degree in education or similar field from a four year university. There aren’t any specific areas of study that are required to earn a teaching certification, but it is a good idea to load up on classes that will specifically help you with teaching students that have disabilities. We do want to mention that some private schools prefer teachers to have graduate degrees in order to teach, so if you’re thinking of going in that direction you will need to hang out in school for 2 to 3 more years.

How to Become a Special Education TeacherYou are able to work on your obtaining your teaching license upon completion of your bachelor’s degree. You’ll need to complete an allotted amount of supervised teacher training time, achieved a high GPA during your bachelor’s degree and pass a background check. You’ll likely have to go through a certain amount of continuing education in order to maintain your state teaching license, but what those specific requirements are can only be determined on a state by state basis.

Some states offer teachers endorsements in certain areas that may pertain to your job as a special education teacher. Check with your state agency to determine if there are any endorsements offered in teaching disabled students.

That’s really all it takes to become a special education teacher. With the right amount of hard work, dedication and determination you can definitely become a great teacher and in turn help out a lot of really great kids in the process.

Should I Become a Special Education Teacher?

The decision to become a special education teacher is a big one that shouldn’t be made lightly. It’s time to ask yourself “Should I become a special education teacher?” along with other hard hitting questions that will prompt a bit of self reflection. So, here they are, the questions that you should ask yourself before you become a special education teacher!

  • Do I want to work with disabled children and do I enjoy it? Am I completely on board with helping them meet all of their potential no matter how hard it is at times?: We know that these are more like two questions but they go hand in hand so we just lumped them together. As a special education teacher you’ll be working with a wide range of children that have disabilities to varying degrees all across the board. It’s important to be fully aware of the challenges you will face and embrace them head on. If you’re wishy washy about your inclination or ability to get the job done, you may want to take a pause and reassess.
  • Do I have the right educational background and certifications or licenses necessary to teach? Each state has different regulations and requirements for teachers, so make sure that your credentials are up to snuff. If they aren’t fill in any gaps so that you can get to work and help some of these awesome kiddos out.
  • How patient am I, really? Progress can be very slow going when working with disabled children and it can take months to accomplish one simple task. Every bit of progress is a major moment though and should be celebrated, no matter how long it took or how small it seems to others.
  • What are your my thoughts on paperwork that doesn’t seem to have an end insight…ever? There is an intense amount of paperwork that comes in the forms of IEP’s, referrals, progress reports, notes and changes to curriculum.
  • Am I comfortable with switching up my teaching style and environment frequently? Different children with individualized disabilities will require you to always think on your toes and switch up your teaching techniques and sometimes even where you are teaching. Being able to adapt quickly and still teach effectively is a big element of successfully teaching special education.
  • Am I able to manage my stress levels in an effective manner? There’s really no way to avoid stress in this profession. It can be tough to manage the workload, the students and their very specific individualized needs.
  • Am I able to reach out to colleagues and other professionals in my field if it helps my students? There will be times when you hit a wall and need to reach out to others that know the struggles of being a special education teacher. You’ll have to tap into other sources from time to time, but try to look at it as a way to improve upon your skills and educational approach. Don’t look at asking for help as a bad thing though. Shelf that pride for another day because the special education field isn’t the place for it.

Special Education Teacher Salary

Can you believe that you actually get paid in real money to hang out with awesome kids all day long and play, do crafts and watch them grow and develop as people? We’d totally do that for free, but getting a paycheck for it sounds even better. We are back to poking around on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website and found the most recent salary reporting to tell you about.

So, according to the guys and gals of the BLS and as of May 2013, special education teachers are reported to earn a median annual salary of $49,970. It’s possible for new teachers to earn a yearly annual salary of $30,110, but remember that this for the early days of teaching with plenty of room to grow. Special education teachers that have been through the paces already are said to earn $87,180 a year. It’s possible that the teachers earning a higher salary may even be in positions that have added responsibilities, which is a pretty good reason to make a bit more in our opinion.

Special Education Teacher Salary

Areas of Special Education to Teach

As a special education teacher, you will have students in your class that have a variety of different disabilities that require the specialized attention and guidance that you are trained to provide. It can be a little bit overwhelming to think of the many different needs that each of your students can have, but it will seem less daunting as you learn more about their disabilities.

There are currently 13 specific disabilities that have been defined and recognized by the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities. We want to talk a little bit about the 13 defined disabilities now so that you know what to expect if you decide on a future as a special education teacher.


This developmental disorder impacts the way that a child is able to communicate, interact socially and receive things on a sensory level. Children with autism are prone to repeating behaviors uncontrollably, repetitive movement is common and struggles with changes in routine and surroundings are difficult. It is no secret that children with autism are very intelligent and are capable of learning as long as the educational setting suits the emotional and sensory needs.


Visually and hearing impaired students will need specialized guidance that will aid them in compensating hearing and vision loss experienced. Children that are deaf and blind can sometimes experience communication issues that negatively effect the child’s development and ability to functional in a regular educational environment. Special education teachers are able to develop learning plans to aid these children in a classroom setting despite any disabilities present.

Hearing Impairment

Hearing impaired children are not spared from the experiences difficulties in school simply by learning how to sign at an early age. The loss of the ability to receive information through auditory processing can definitely have an impact on the educational performance of the child.

Emotional Disturbances

Children that are prone to experiencing emotional disturbances are often the victims of poor educational performances as a result of their condition. Emotionally disturbed children may experience mood swings, episodes of inappropriate behavior, physical outbursts of an intense nature and a real difficulty developing interpersonal relationships with teachers and classmates.

Mental Handicaps

Children that mentally handicapped are prone to experiencing difficulties in a classroom setting due to the intellectual capacity that they are able to function at. Special education teachers work closely with mentally handicapped students to increase their educational performances with special learning plans and tools.

Speech or Language Impairment

Children that experience language and speech impairment are definitely ones to be impacted negatively in an educational setting without the proper guidance from a special education teacher. Some children speak with a stutter, some have voice impairment hold them back and some have significantly diminished verbal abilities.

Special Education Schools

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Great Resources for Special Education Teachers

Every special education teacher can use a great set of tools that will make their job easier and help their students to be the best little learners possible. We found some pretty awesome resources that every special education teacher should know about and use if they are able to.

We know that you’re not a special education teacher yet, but this is something that will help you once you are, so make a list and check it twice! Keep an eye out for these educational tools once you are ready to teach your first class:

Advanced Classroom and Curriculum Techniques

Teacher Vision is a very valuable resource for special education teachers. It is a free website that has a ton of really helpful information that aid in the approaches that special education teachers take toward effectively teaching children with various disabilities. Teachers are able to retrieve classroom materials, activity ideas, charts and materials suggestions that will help with the development of lessons plans.

Games and Activities

Special education teachers are now able to reach children with disabilities in a whole new way with the aid of Do2Learn. This website helps children with special behavioral, social, developmental, cognitive, emotional and physical disabilities. Kiddos will be able to participate in age and developmentally appropriate activities like games, songs, crafts and much more. Do2Learn is said to significantly improve the performance of children will all disabilities, but especially those with attention deficit disorder, autism and other disabilities that are responsible for inhibiting the self-regulatory, communicative, socialization and learning abilities of children.

IEP and 504 Plan

It’s no surprise that special education teacher greatly benefit by having the right tools at their disposal. It is also widely known that the more interested children with disabilities are in their lessons, the bette they do. Well, the National Center for Learning Disabilities has provided these tools to special education teachers that should foster better relationships with students as well as keep them engaged in a new way. IEP’s and the 504 Plan are also available on the NCLD site and both are worthy of more than just a cursory glance from teachers.

Qualities of a Great Special Education Teacher

We want you to be the best special education teacher that you can be. We found a sampling of some of the top qualities that other professionals in the special education field feel are needed. These traits are said to help you handle disabled children, the challenges of teaching and will help you to become an exceptional teacher. You’ve still got some time to work on this stuff, so don’t fret if you need to fine tune a couple of things before you hit the ground running as a special education teacher. Here are the traits to keep in mind:


It’s super important to remain as organized as possible throughout the day when you are a special education teacher. Organization will help you remain on point in your lesson plan and it will allow you to remain confident in your teaching abilities. Your students will also gain confidence when they spend time in an organized classroom, especially those students that thrive on order, repetition and consistency.

A good place to start with on your mission to get organized will be to label whatever can be labeled in a logical way, utilize buckets, baskets and bins. Next you can venture over to a simple plan to keep your paperwork in order. You’ll be right on top of things if you lock in your organizational skills.


Every student in your class is going to be different and will have different needs when it comes to learning styles. Use your creativity to develop interesting, engaging and different means of getting through to the kiddos that you are teaching. You’re students will benefit from your ability to think on the fly and use new teaching techniques and you will benefit from utilizing those same skills in new ways that can spark other creative ideas as a chain reaction.


You’re going to have children in your class that are not able to accurately express how they feel about something in the same ways that you or I would. It will be on you to pay close attention to the signals that they are giving off whether they are exhibiting signs of frustration, confusion or if they seem to have withdrawn unexpectedly. Figuring out what the cause of these actions will be where you will really have to use your intuition so that you can calm your student and reel them back in before he/she shuts down completely. This will get easier as you learn more about each of your students though, so there’s no need to stress about it just yet.

Calm and Balanced Disposition

Special education classrooms can be intense places at times, especially when you throw in students that may have behavioral and learning problems that can be disruptive to everyone around. As hard as it may be at times, try to remain calm and balanced in your approach to bringing everything and everyone back down to a manageable level. Think of your classroom like a safe place for your students and use that to hang onto your calm composure even when it’s easier to hide under your desk.

Detail and Deadline Oriented

during at inIt’s very important to stay on top of the details and deadlines of this job. You’ll evaluations to perform, score, submit and come up with personalized plans for each student based upon the results. Something like this can easily become a monster if little details and due dates are forgotten. Make a calendar, set an alarm or notification on your phone or any other alert that will serve as an annoying, yet effective means of getting your booty in gear.


As a special education teacher, it’s important be able and willing to change things up on the fly. Being adaptable will likely save you a lot of frustration. Things in your classroom will probably go off a bit more smoothly when there is the an unavoidable hiccup along the way.

Even Keeled Temperament

We’ve already alluded to the classroom environment and how it can be a tad on the stressful side at times. Teachers are the class barometer and will be able to influence the behavior of students much more effectively from a calm, cool and collected stand point. If you are flying off the handle and over the slightest bit of upset, well then you can bet your booty that your students are going to react in the same way.

Final Grade

Soon you will be the one dishing out the final grades, but in the mean time we’ll take over this task until you’re ready. While we wait, take a look at the final grades we feel are best for the important areas to consider before jumping into a career.

Degree vs. Debt: B

You may have to get a loan or two to pay for your tuition and class materials, but it’s not too bad when you consider that you will be bringing in a pretty solid paycheck once you nab a teaching position. It could be better, sure. It could also be much worse, so we think that the degree to debt ratio is perfectly middle of the road and a happy medium if there is such a thing when talking about debt.

Difficulty of Degree: B+

We personally find the degree study to be super interesting and really not too difficult at all. The worst part is going to be the insane amount of reading, writing and remembering that is required, but at least it’s not a math degree!

Happiness Quotient: B

The cute little kids that you teach are without a doubt the best thing about this job. You get to help these awesome little rock stars to become the best version of themselves possible and that is pretty amazing. The downside to this job is definitely coming from a lack of support by the right people to make special education classrooms work. The red tape that all teachers face is alive and well in the special education field too.

Job Outlook: C-

The projected job growth as it is reported from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is pretty lousy. The special education field is only expected to grow about 6% from 2012 to 2022, which is way slower than the average for other professions in the teaching niche. Don’t lose faith in the job potential just yet though. There is expected to be a bit more growth in the near future as more means of testing and confirming disabilities is on the rise and as a by product of that, so will the need for special education teachers. Yay!

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Sources and Recommended Reading

We want you to take a look at some of the websites that we have linked below. There is a ton of really great information at your finger tips, so take advantage of it and get ready!

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