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Special Education Teachers

Although there are special education teachers in every public school, many people - students and their parents alike - don’t have a solid understanding of what they do. This article unlocks the world of special education teachers so you can get a better idea.

What Are Special Education Teachers?

Special education teachers are instructors who are specially qualified to work with children and youth who have a range of disabilities. They may work with a student’s classroom teacher to modify or adapt a general curriculum to meet a child’s individual needs, but if they are working with a student with severe handicaps, they may deliver a more specialized curriculum, appropriate for the child’s developmental level.

Special education teachers instruct students with a variety of types of disabilities. they most often work with students who have a specific learning disability, speech or language impairments, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, or hearing impairment. Less frequently, they work with students with other conditions, such as autism and traumatic brain injury, deaf-blindness, developmental delay, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairments, other health impairments, and visual impairments.

What Do Special Education Teachers Do?

Special education teachers are just some of the professionals who deliver special education services. Working with school psychologists, speech language pathologists, behavior strategists, physical and occupational therapists, deaf educators and interpreters, vision specialists, orientation and mobility specialists, social services caseworkers, audiologists, resource room personnel, and instructional assistants, special education teachers help students with special needs, supporting them in their education.

Special education teachers work as part of a team to help fulfill the Individual Education Plan (IEP) of a child who has been identified as having one or more disabilities. The team approach is part and parcel of the attempt to deliver more special education services within the regular classroom, rather than isolate special education students and deliver much of their instruction one-to-one, whether this served them best or not. The name for the philosophy or approach that advocates keeping students in the regular classroom as much as possible is referred to as “Least Restrictive Environment.”

As you might imagine from the wide array of student conditions listed above, special education teachers are trained to employ a wide range of techniques and approaches to encourage learning. In addition, at least partly because special education is often Federally funded, there is a heavy administrative load for the special education teacher, who must document each child’s program and progress extensively.

How Special Education Teachers Become Certified

Special education teachers have course requirements beyond the regular educator’s license and may take a year longer. Special education training may take please either at the undergraduate or graduate level, and practitioners may have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or a Ph.D. Besides child development, pedagogy, and curriculum and instruction, special education candidates also focus on educational psychology and - because there are stringent laws about special education - legal issues involved with special education.

Certification as a classroom teacher does not allow one to teach special education. There is a separate certification. Licensing may be K - 12, or more specialized, designating an age range within primary and secondary schooling, depending on the state. In some states, the general education certification is given first, and after achieving that, educators then earn their special education license. Another element that varies state-to-state is whether the special education teacher is generally certified for special education or a specialty within special education.

There is also a Board Certification in Special Education (B.C.S. E.) offered by the American Academy of Special Education Professionals (AASEP). This is a voluntary certification, that the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) recommends.

Demand for Special Education Teachers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the need for special education teachers is growing at a rate that exceeds the average occupation growth rate. Their data shows that the field is expected to increase by 15% in the decade from 2006 to 2016. Numerically, this is a projected increase from 459,000 special education teachers to 530,000, with the greatest increase (20%) being among preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school special education teachers, and less of an increase in secondary school.

According to BLS, the median salary for special education teachers in 2006 was $46,360 in preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school; $47,650 in middle school; and $48,330 in secondary schools. The highest paid special education teachers in the BLS survey earned more than $80,170 a year.


Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition: Teachers - Special Education -

National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) -

U.S. Department of Education -