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Become A Special ED Teacher

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Working As A Special ED Teacher

  • Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships
  • Scheduling Work and Activities
  • Developing Objectives and Strategies
  • Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates
  • Documenting/Recording Information
  • Deal with People

  • $66,160

    Average Salary

What Does A Special ED Teacher Do

Special education teachers work with students who have a wide range of learning, mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. They adapt general education lessons and teach various subjects, such as reading, writing, and math, to students with mild and moderate disabilities. They also teach basic skills, such as literacy and communication techniques, to students with severe disabilities.


Special education teachers typically do the following:

  • Assess students’ skills to determine their needs and to develop appropriate teaching plans
  • Adapt general lessons to meet the needs of students
  • Develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each student
  • Plan, organize, and assign activities that are specific to each student’s abilities
  • Teach and mentor students as a class, in small groups, and one-on-one
  • Implement IEPs, assess students’ performance, and track their progress
  • Update IEPs throughout the school year to reflect students’ progress and goals
  • Discuss student’s progress with parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators
  • Supervise and mentor teacher assistants who work with students with disabilities
  • Prepare and help students transition from grade to grade and for life after graduation

Special education teachers work with general education teachers, counselors, school superintendents, administrators, and parents. As a team, they develop IEPs specific to each student’s needs. IEPs outline the goals and services for each student, such as sessions with the school psychologists, counselors, and special education teachers. Teachers also meet with parents, school administrators, and counselors to discuss updates and changes to the IEPs.

Special education teachers’ duties vary by the type of setting they work in, student disabilities, and teacher specialty.

Some special education teachers work in classrooms or resource centers that only include students with disabilities. In these settings, teachers plan, adapt, and present lessons to meet each student’s needs. They teach students in small groups or on a one-on-one basis.

In inclusive classrooms, special education teachers teach students with disabilities who are in general education classrooms. They work with general education teachers to present the information in a manner that students with disabilities can more easily understand. They also assist general education teachers to adapt lessons that will meet the needs of the students with disabilities in their classes.

Special education teachers also collaborate with teacher assistants, psychologists, and social workers to accommodate requirements of students with disabilities. For example, they may have a teacher assistant work with them to provide support for a student who needs particular attention.

Special education teachers work with students who have a wide variety of mental, emotional, physical, and learning disabilities. For example, some work with students who need assistance in subject areas, such as reading and math. Others help students develop study skills, such as by using flashcards and text highlighting.

Some special education teachers work with students who have physical and sensory disabilities, such as blindness and deafness, and with students who are wheelchair-bound. They also may work with those who have autism spectrum disorders and emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

Special education teachers work with students from preschool to high school. Some teachers work with students who have severe disabilities until the students are 21 years old.

Special education teachers help students with severe disabilities develop basic life skills, such as how to respond to questions and how to follow directions. Some teach the skills necessary for students with moderate disabilities to live independently, find a job, and manage money and their time. For more information about other workers who help individuals with disabilities develop skills necessary to live independently, see the profiles on occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants and aides.

Most special education teachers use computers to keep records of their students’ performance, prepare lesson plans, and update IEPs. Some teachers also use various assistive technology aids, such as Braille writers and computer software that help them communicate with students.

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How To Become A Special ED Teacher

Special education teachers in public schools are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree and a state-issued certification or license. Private schools typically require teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, but teachers are not required to be licensed or certified. For information about teacher preparation programs and certification requirements, visit or contact your state’s board of education.


All states require special education teachers in public schools to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Some earn a degree specifically in special education. Others major in elementary education or a content area, such as math or science, with a minor in special education.

In a program leading to a bachelor’s degree in special education, prospective teachers learn about the different types of disabilities and how to present information so that students will understand. These programs typically include fieldwork, such as student teaching. To become fully certified, some states require special education teachers to complete a master’s degree in special education.

Teachers in private schools do not need to meet state requirements. However, private schools may prefer to hire teachers who have at least a bachelor’s degree in special education.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require teachers in public schools to be licensed. A license is frequently referred to as a certification. Those who teach in private schools are not required to be licensed. Most states require teachers to pass a background check.

Requirements for certification vary by state. In addition to a bachelor’s degree, states also require teachers to complete a teacher preparation program and supervised experience in teaching. Some states require a minimum grade point average. Teachers may be required to complete annual professional development classes or a master’s degree program to maintain their license.

Many states offer general licenses in special education that allow teachers to work with students with a variety of disabilities. Others offer licenses or endorsements based on a disability-specific category, such as autism or behavior disorders.

Some states allow special education teachers to transfer their licenses from another state. Other states require even an experienced teacher to pass their state’s licensing requirements.

All states offer an alternative route to certification for people who already have a bachelor’s degree. Some alternative certification programs allow candidates to begin teaching immediately, under the close supervision of an experienced teacher. These alternative programs cover teaching methods and child development. Candidates are awarded full certification after they complete the program. Other programs require prospective teachers to take classes in education before they can start to teach. They may be awarded a master’s degree after completing either type of program.


Some special education teachers need to complete a period of fieldwork, commonly referred to as student teaching, before they can work as a teacher. In some states, this program is a prerequisite for a license to teach in public schools. During student teaching, they gain experience in preparing lesson plans and teaching students in a classroom setting, under the supervision and guidance of a mentor teacher. The amount of time required for these programs varies by state, but may last from 1 to 2 years. Many universities offer student teaching programs as part of a degree in special education.


Experienced teachers can advance to become mentor or lead teachers who help less experienced teachers improve their teaching skills.

Teachers may become school counselors, instructional coordinators, assistant principals, or principals. These positions generally require additional education, an advanced degree, or certification. An advanced degree in education administration or leadership may be helpful.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Special education teachers discuss students’ needs and performances with general education teachers, parents, and administrators. They also explain difficult concepts in terms that students with learning disabilities can understand.

Critical-thinking skills. Special education teachers assess students’ progress and use that information to adapt lessons to help them learn.

Interpersonal skills. Special education teachers regularly work with general education teachers, school counselors, administrators, and parents to develop Individualized Education Programs. As a result, they need to be able to build positive working relationships.

Patience. Working with students with special needs and different abilities can be difficult. Special education teachers should be patient with each student, as some may need the instruction given aloud, at a slower pace, or in writing.  

Resourcefulness. Special education teachers must develop different ways to present information in a manner that meets the needs of their students. They also help general education teachers adapt their lessons to the needs of students with disabilities.

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Special ED Teacher jobs


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Special ED Teacher Career Paths

Special ED Teacher
Special Educator Case Manager Special Education Teacher
Assistant Principal
10 Yearsyrs
Special Educator Lead Teacher Assistant Director
Center Director
7 Yearsyrs
Pre-K Teacher Assistant Director Adjunct Professor
Curriculum Director
9 Yearsyrs
Counselor Program Coordinator Adjunct Instructor
Department Chairperson
7 Yearsyrs
Lead Teacher Office Manager Marketing Director
Development Director
9 Yearsyrs
Aide Preschool Teacher
Director Of Preschool
7 Yearsyrs
Aide Case Manager Special Education Teacher
Director Of Special Education
12 Yearsyrs
Pre-K Teacher Kindergarten Teacher Special Educator
Director Of Special Services
9 Yearsyrs
First Grade Teacher Preschool Teacher Pre-K Teacher
Director Of Teacher Education
5 Yearsyrs
First Grade Teacher Lead Teacher Head Start Teacher
Early Head Start Director
8 Yearsyrs
Kindergarten Teacher 2nd Grade Teacher Special Education Teacher
Education Director
7 Yearsyrs
Kindergarten Teacher Special Education Teacher Assistant Principal
Elementary School Principal
12 Yearsyrs
Math Teacher Assistant Principal
High School Principal
12 Yearsyrs
Lead Teacher Assistant Director Program Manager
Project Director
8 Yearsyrs
Assistant Principal Education Director
School Director
7 Yearsyrs
Counselor Special Education Teacher Assistant Principal
School Principal
10 Yearsyrs
Assistant Principal High School Principal Assistant Superintendent
School Superintendent
14 Yearsyrs
Math Teacher Science Teacher Assistant Principal
Vice Principal
9 Yearsyrs
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Average Length of Employment
Special ED Teacher 4.0 years
Teacher 3.8 years
Special Educator 3.4 years
Head Teacher 3.3 years
Para Educator 2.9 years
Para Professional 2.7 years
Inclusion Teacher 2.6 years
Mentor Teacher 2.6 years
Autistic Teacher 2.5 years
Teacher Associate 2.4 years
Class Teacher 2.4 years
Instructional Aide 2.4 years
Substitute Teacher 2.3 years
Teacher Internship 0.8 years
Top Employers Before
Teacher 19.4%
Internship 5.5%
Cashier 4.1%
Tutor 2.8%
Volunteer 2.5%
Secretary 2.3%
Counselor 2.3%
Instructor 2.2%
Top Employers After
Teacher 18.5%
Tutor 4.3%
Volunteer 3.2%
Internship 3.2%
Manager 2.4%
Supervisor 2.2%
Cashier 2.1%
Instructor 2.1%

Special ED Teacher Demographics










Hispanic or Latino






Black or African American

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Languages Spoken


























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Special ED Teacher Education


University of Phoenix


Liberty University


Grand Canyon University


Walden University


Capella University


Northern Arizona University


Utah State University


University of Houston


Kaplan University


Southern Connecticut State University


New York University


Brigham Young University


Ashford University


Texas State University


National Louis University


California State University - Fullerton


National University


Minnesota State University - Mankato


George Washington University


West Texas A&M University

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Special Education




Elementary Education






Educational Leadership


School Counseling


Early Childhood Education


General Education, Specific Areas


Liberal Arts


Human Development


Social Work


Criminal Justice






Human Services


Counseling Psychology


Health Care Administration





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Real Special ED Teacher Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Teacher, Special ED District of Columbia Public Schools Washington, DC Oct 02, 2012 $92,613
Teacher, Special ED District of Columbia Public Schools Washington, DC Jul 20, 2012 $89,887
Special ED Teacher/Early Intervention Functional Life Achievement, Inc. NY Feb 26, 2016 $81,460
Teacher, Special ED District of Columbia Public Schools Washington, DC Oct 27, 2012 $78,273
Special ED Teachers, Preschool, Kindergarten, & Elementary School Cupertino Union School District Cupertino, CA Oct 26, 2007 $75,464
Special ED Teacher/Early Intervention Functional Life Achievement, Inc. New York, NY Jun 28, 2014 $70,683
Special ED Teacher/Early Intervention Functional Life Achievement, Inc. New York, NY Aug 04, 2015 $70,683
Teacher On Special Assignment-Director of ED OPS Lake Wales Charter Schools, Inc. Lake Wales, FL Jul 28, 2011 $69,420 -
Special ED Teacher Orange Board of Education East Orange, NJ Nov 14, 2007 $69,030
Special ED Teacher Orange Board of Education East Orange, NJ Oct 25, 2007 $69,030
Teacher, Special ED District of Columbia Public Schools Washington, DC Oct 01, 2012 $68,537
Special ED. Teacher, Severely Handicapped-Autism West Contra Costa Unified School District Hercules, CA Oct 07, 2014 $63,482
Special ED. Teacher, Severely Handicapped-Autism West Contra Costa Unified School District Hercules, CA Oct 07, 2014 $59,801
Early Childhood Special ED Teacher Educare D.C. Washington, DC Jul 30, 2012 $56,000
Middle School Special ED Teacher Richland County School District One Columbia, SC Aug 08, 2014 $55,664
Special ED. Teacher/Early Intervention Functional Life Achievement, Inc. New York, NY Nov 01, 2016 $55,000
Special ED Teacher Bellevue School District Bellevue, WA Sep 26, 2010 $53,642
Elementary School-Special ED Teacher Clayton County School System Jonesboro, GA Aug 08, 2008 $51,920
Special ED. Teachers, Elem. Schools Memphis City Schools Memphis, TN Oct 01, 2009 $50,285
Teacher for Special ED Students Twin Rivers Unified School District Rio Linda, CA Sep 01, 2009 $49,934
Special ED. Teachers, Middle School John F Font PHD & Assoc. DBA Beacon School San Jose, CA Sep 14, 2009 $45,683 -
Special ED Teacher Los Angeles Unified School District Los Angeles, CA Oct 25, 2007 $45,637
Special ED Teacher Los Angeles Unified School District Los Angeles, CA Jul 22, 2010 $45,637
Elementary & Middle School Special ED Teacher Behavioral Healthcare, Inc. Washington, DC Jul 12, 2009 $45,000 -
Elementary & Middle School Special ED Teacher Behavioral Healthcare, Inc. Washington, DC Aug 19, 2009 $45,000 -
Elementary & Middle School Special ED Teacher Behavioral Healthcare, Inc. Washington, DC Aug 31, 2009 $45,000 -
Special ED. Teacher To Spanish-Speaking Students Provo School District Provo, UT Feb 01, 2010 $43,820
Special ED (Math) Teacher Prince George's County Public Schools Lanham, MD Jun 02, 2009 $43,481 -

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Top Skills for A Special ED Teacher


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Top Special ED Teacher Skills

  1. Classroom Management
  2. IEP
  3. Special Education Department
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Maintained excellent classroom management skills and an ability to keep students on task.
  • Conducted Individualized Educational Program Meetings (IEPs) for each student in a given format.
  • Lead and taught summer programs for The Special Education Department.
  • Integrate research based instructional strategies to deliver specialized instruction to students with emotional and behavioral disorders.
  • Worked with special needs children from preschool to fifth grade, ranging from Autistic to learning behaviors.

Top Special ED Teacher Employers

Special ED Teacher Videos

A Day in the Life - Special Education Teacher

Early Childhood Special Education Teacher - Career Conversation

A day in the life of a Special Education teacher