Special Education Teacher Career Facts and Working Environment

Special Education Teacher Career Facts

These teachers must have a bachelor's degree, complete an approved teacher education program and be licensed; some states require a master's degree. Many states offer alternative licensing programs to attract people into teaching.

Special Education Teacher Career Description

Special education teachers work with children and young people with a variety of disabilities. Some work with severely mentally retarded or autistic children, but the majority of special education teachers work with children with mild to moderate disabilities.

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Special Education Teacher Career Details

Most special education teachers use or modify the general education curriculum to meet a child's individual needs. Most of these teachers instruct students at the elementary, middle and secondary school level, though some work with infants and toddlers. Among the types of disabilities that qualify for special education programs are the following: specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairment, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, multiple disabilities, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, autism, deaf-blindness and traumatic brain injury. Students are classified under one of these categories, and special education teachers work with specific groups. Early identification of children with special needs is an important part of a special education teacher's job. 

Special education teachers use various techniques to promote learning, depending on the disability. These teachers help to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student. The IEP sets personalized goals for each student, and is tailored to a student's individual learning style and ability. Teachers work closely with parents and school administrators to keep everyone apprised of the child's progress and to come up with new learning techniques. Special education teachers design and teach appropriate curricula, assign work geared toward each student's ability and grade papers and homework assignments. They are involved in their students' behavioral as well as academic development. Part of their responsibilities include helping students develop emotionally, be comfortable in social situations and be aware of socially acceptable behavior. An important aspect of this job is preparing students for daily life after graduation. 

A large part of a special education teacher's job involves interaction with others; they communicate frequently with parents, social workers, school psychologists, occupational and physical therapists, school administrators and other teachers. These teachers work in a variety of settings; some have their own classrooms and teach only special ed students, others work as resource teachers and offer individualized help to students in general education classrooms, and others work in classes composed of both general and special education students.

Special Education Teacher Career Specializations

A small proportion of special education teachers work in residential facilities or tutor students in homebound or hospital environments. Those who work with infants usually travel to the child's home to work with the child and his or her parents.

Special Education Teacher Career Working Environment

Although helping students with disabilities can be highly rewarding, the work can also be emotionally and physically draining. May special education teachers are under considerable stress due to heavy workloads and administrative tasks. They must produce large amounts of paperwork that documents each student's progress and work under the threat of litigation by students' parents if correct procedures are not followed or if parents feel their child is not receiving an adequate education. These demands cause some special education teachers to leave the occupation.

Special Education Teacher Career Required Training

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require special education teachers to be licensed, although licensure is not required for private school teachers. Typically licensure is granted by the State board of education or an advisory committee. In many states, special education teachers receive a general education credential to teach kindergarten though grade 12. These teachers train in a specialty such as learning disabilities or behavioral disorders.

Special Education Teacher Career Coursework

All states require a bachelor's degree and completion of an approved teacher preparation program with a prescribed number of subject and education credits and supervised practice teaching. Many states require special education teachers to obtain a master's degree in special education involving at least one year of additional coursework - including a specialization - beyond the bachelor's degree. Many colleges and universities across the U.S. offer programs in special education, including undergraduate, masters and doctoral programs. Special education teachers usually undergo longer periods of training than general education teachers. Beyond the four-year degree, an increasing number of institutions require a fifth year or other post baccalaureate preparation. Courses include educational psychology, legal issues of special education and child growth and development.

Alternative and emergency licenses are available in many states, due to the need to fill special education teaching positions. Alternative licenses are meant to bring college graduates and those changing careers into teaching more quickly. Requirements for an alternative license may be less stringent than for a regular license. In some programs, individuals begin teaching quickly under a provisional license, and can obtain a regular license by teaching under the supervision of licensed teachers for a period of one to two years while taking education courses.

Special Education Teacher Career Future Job Outlook

Employment for special education teachers is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations through 2010. The need to replace special education teachers who switch to general education, change careers altogether or retire will lead to additional job openings. Consequently, special education teachers should have excellent job prospects, although the outlook varies by geographic area and specialty. Positions in inner cities and rural areas are usually more plentiful than job openings in suburban or wealthy urban areas.

Special Education Teacher Salary

Median Salary--$53,220 in 2010

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