Congratulations on your degree in Special Education
, the selfless and determined calling to provide students who have special needs with an enriching and stimulating environment to learn and grow.
Or in simpler words, special education.
You've toughed it out, the days spent student teaching
(indentured servitude), those long nights huddled over textbooks in the library, the exam marathon that is Praxis, and -- let's be honest -- wondering if it was worth it all.
And now that you've got your diploma in hand you realize that this was all the easy part.
Well, sort of.
But now the job of getting a job starts and you find yourself asking what now?
Well, that's where we come in. We literally created a career map just for Special Special Education Majors
-- such as yourself -- to aid your navigation of the uncertain waters of recent graduation.
Feel free to focus on the map alone -- it's pretty cool, if we do say so ourselves. But for those of you who can't put a good book down, keep reading.
We'll give you the rundown on:
- What skills you'll need
- How to begin
- What jobs you can expect to find as Special Education Major
- Some quick interview tips
- Consider graduate school
- External resources
And now to begin where many of the greatest journeys do -- at the beginning.
1. Skills for Special Education Majors
You've chosen a degree that focuses more on the of skills you learn standing at the front of the classroom, not the ones you picked up sitting in a desk.
Beyond personal development and simply learning how to learn, principals want to see that you have the ability to reflect, realize, and grow based off of your experiences.
We've got this list of common skills found on teacher resumes
, with examples from experienced resumes as well as general skills.
Common skills on teacher resumes
These are some of the most common skills -- if you want to make a solid impression on principals or see what the competition is listing, here you go:
- Classroom Management
- Curriculum Development
- Behavior Management
As for how to make those work for your resume, here are some examples of how other teachers have used the most in demand skills on their resumes:
- Reduced student discipline rate by 7 percent, implementing effective classroom management policies
- Prepare IEP's and service students receiving special education services within a high school setting
- Raised percentage of students reading at grade level by 25 percent with adaptive weekly lesson plans and home reading program
- Implemented expectations and consequences as appropriate foreach student as outlined in behavior management plan
- Developed and chaired the school's curriculum development board
Soft Skills and Abilities
A Special Education degree develops new perspectives for approaching the world, and equally important is the ability to articulate values and ideas in a way that students with special needs will understand.
Applying these skills to real world learning opportunities yields a more robust and balanced teaching career, allowing you to develop yourself professionally as you guide
Here are some of the common skills that you should have when trying to get a job with a Special Education degree -- be sure to explain how you have them in your interviews.
Critical thinking and analysis. Everything about the Special Education Major revolves around transferring ideas -- and even if you don't go into teaching, your training gave you the ability to portray yourself and your ideas in a way that others will be receptive to, tailored specifically to their needs.
skills. You've learned how to discuss students' needs with parents and coworkers, explaining difficult concepts in terms that young students of varying special needs can understand. Also, you have the ability to engage students and your lessons to meet students' needs.
Resourcefulness. Your Special Education background teaches you how to plan lessons that engage young students, adapting the lessons to different learning styles -- and a cornerstone of modern Special Education training is doing less with more.
Physical stamina and patience. Working with students of different abilities and backgrounds can be difficult. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers must respond with patience when students struggle with material. For that reason, you're able to physically, mentally, and emotionally keep up with students.
2. Where to Begin Your Career After Getting Special Education Degree
Don't wait until you graduate to start your search: a lot of schools hand out their contracts beginning in the spring, and principals don't always know when they'll have openings.
Your specialization is usually in demand, but still keep these tips in mind when embarking on a teaching career -- or even before you do.
Get familiar with your desired states' requirements
First and foremost, know the requirements of the state you are looking into. Remember, each state sets its own standards for teachers and you need to make sure you have the proper teaching credentials. Contact the state's board of education for specifics.
The majority of states use Praxis II in some form if not entirely -- but a number don't, so be sure to check individual state requirements
Many states use the Praxis II tests as a way to determine "highly qualified teachers" status, which typically has financial incentives behind it. Check to see if you're required to pass the Special Education
Understand and be creative with how you approach the job market
There are plenty of teaching positions out there, but you're basically searching on a sliding scale of desirability and demand -- it's like a funky supply/demand curve where the desirable schools get to be choosy and the less desirable ones need you more.
Some academic subjects and disabilities yield positions that are in higher demand -- as are specific areas.
The National Center for Education Statistics
has a list of areas that have critical teaching shortages, so if you're deadset on teaching a specific subject matter or to a critical-need student group and are willing to move, this will help guide
And if you have a target area, check out our special education teacher positions
for a comprehensive list, then look at that specific area's board of education. They'll have updated vacancies and hiring practices, application requirements and any educator
job fairs in the area.
Take a short-term or contract job if you have to
These might not be ideal, but they're a solid way to get your foot in the door. They frequently serve as contract-to-hire and give you a time to determine whether the school is a good match before you commit to a long-term position.
Consider substitute teaching
No one's too good to substitute teach
, and if you're working on other opportunities or holding out for the dream job this keeps you financially afloat.
Substitute teaching lets you network with administrators and fellow
teachers, and offers a preview of your teaching skills. You wouldn't be the first substitute teacher
who's made a strong connection with students and faculty
to get a full-time offer when the opportunity arises.
Be flexible, and remember that even if you have bad experiences, there's no such thing as bad experience.
3. Types of Jobs for Special Education Majors
The bulk of this resource focus on classroom teaching, but remember that college isn't necessarily job training.
You understand the concept of constant improvement. You're used to working independently, but collaborate well with others. You have managerial experience -- guiding students of any level is no joke.
Types of Special Education areas
These are the general fields of special education, though will certainly encounter more specialized areas in practice and education.
Pre-K through High School
Most special education teachers instruct students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, although some work with infants and toddlers.
A small number of special education teachers work with students with more significant disabilities, primarily teaching life skills and basic communication and literacy in connection with general education curriculum.
However, most of the time you'll work with children with mild to moderate disabilities by modifying the general education curriculum to meet the child's individual needs.
Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
If you specialize in emotional or behavioral disorders you'll be working work with students who exhibit a wide range of characteristics, including but not limited to aggressive behaviors, ADHD, anxiety of conduct disorders.
Being familiar with intervention and behavioral strategies is a must, and you may choose to pursue a Behavioral Specialist
degree for this field.
Some school districts may have a separate school for students who are unable to effectively function in a regular school environment -- but typically, you'll teach in the inclusive classroom, in a resource model, or in a self-contained classroom environment depending on the behavioral characteristics.
High-incidence disabilities -- Resource and Inclusion
Special education teachers who work with students in high-incidence disability areas -- behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, and speech-language disorders -- may work in either an inclusive or resource environment.
In an inclusive environment they co-teach with a general education teacher
, allowing students with disabilities to stay in the general education classroom throughout the school day.
Low-incidence disabilities -- Sensory, Developmental, and Severe Disabilities
If you focus on students with cognitive or physical needs, you'll often work in a self-contained classroom with the support
of a teaching assistant
Low-incidence classrooms typically serve students who are working on communication, basic literacy, and functional skills for daily life.
While the general course study is used to guide curriculum, the curriculum is often subject to modifications -- as opposed to adaptations -- to merge objectives with functional skills.
Beyond the Classroom
You've learned to read, write, and analyze information more deeply than other students -- but more importantly, you've learned how to do this and then convey it to others with special needs. Your abilities are applicable to most positions, and you need to narrow the focus.
Employ those skills to analyze employer needs and present an argument why you are the best person for the job -- as a Special Education major, it is your responsibility to sell yourself to a potential employer.
With our career map
, you can click the Job Titles and learn more specific information for each position (what their responsibilities are, how much they get paid, etc.).
But here, we wanted to call out some of the common jobs for recent Special Education major grads that aren't your traditional, in-the-classroom positions. Here are some of the most common entry-level jobs for recent Special Education grads:
Speech Language Pathologist
Speech-language pathologists (sometimes called speech therapists) assess, diagnose, treat, and help to prevent communication and swallowing disorders in patients. Speech, language, and swallowing disorders result from a variety of causes, such as a stroke, brain injury, hearing loss, developmental delay, Parkinson's disease, a cleft palate, or autism.
Almost all states require speech-language pathologists to be licensed. A license requires at least a master's degree and supervised clinical experience. Many states require graduation from an accredited master's program to get a license.
For specific requirements, contact your state's medical or health licensure board.
Speech-language pathologists can earn the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP), offered by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
coordinators can have many different responsibilities, from maintaining marketing calendars or customer databases to developing ideas and engaging in research themselves.
In general, though, marketing coordinators tend to in some way be responsible for interpreting information or data for the benefit of other employees, so a firm grasp of the principles of communication as they apply to large groups are a must for this position.
4. Some Quick Job Search Tips for Special Education Majors
These are the most important words you're going to hear: never stop hustling.
Chase opportunities to certain students and in schools that excite you; keep learning and have your dream job in focus.
And know your state's requirements -- for information about teacher
preparation programs and certification requirements, visit Teach.org or contact your state's board of education.
Write a teaching statement or teaching philosophy
Your potential employer might require a teaching statement or teaching philosophy -- either way, you should prepare this statement that essentially describes how you teach and why you teach that way..
It's just a few short paragraphs detailing your pedagogy, methodology, goals, standards and reasons for teaching. Make your statement as concise as possible, being specific and avoiding too many extraneous details -- like a supplement to a cover letter
Also, while you should talk about your goals as a whole, try emphasizing the goals you have for that specific position. Discuss the importance of Special Education, the rewards of teaching and how you hope to impact the lives of your students.
A teaching statement is an opportunity to make yourself stand out, so make sure you present yourself as a truly passionate and ambitious teacher
Prepare a teaching portfolio
Though historically for graduate students, consider putting together a teaching portfolio. It's a collection of documents that should generally summarize you as a teacher -- this is not a CV, so don't include appendices and addendums.
You can start it with your teaching statement or teaching philosophy, then use the rest of the space to prove that you can prepare lesson plans and teach them. Use a few visuals, so you don't have to actually teach your audience for them to "get it".
For this section of the portfolio, include a thematic unit along with curriculum standards for each activity, and have examples of lesson plans and other planning materials.
If you've gotten far enough in the interview process for this to matter, you're already a strong candidate, so include any letter of recommendation or awards you've gotten to give you an edge on competition -- remember this serves as icing on the cake to show how exceedingly qualified you are.
Network, network, and network
The best thing you can do to get a job in Special Education is, plain and simple, to know somebody at your desired school -- this can be from student teaching, college classes, or a professional organization on campus.
Talk to everyone you know in the Special Education world. If enough time has passed, that classmate you friended on Facebook for one group project three years ago might be your in for a job that just opened.
Job fairs allow you to find open positions, learn about hiring practices and refine your application documents. You should always bring copies of your resume and spend as much time as possible at the event.
Join a good professional organization like some of those listed at the end of this page
and take advantage of every resource at their disposal. And wherever possible, just talk to people, and be friendly. You'd be surprised at how far a little communication goes.
5. Continuing Special Education and Certifications in Special Education
Keep building your credentials.
You probably entered your Special Education in college with a dream job in mind -- but you probably exited college with the awareness that your first job might not be that dream job.
To break into that ideal school district, you might have to continue your professional development -- The NEA Academy offers free or discounted courses for professional development or, in some cases, graduate credit that you can apply toward dual certification.
Your current area of certification might not be in high demand. Science and math are often shortage areas, so consider making yourself more marketable.
Additional requirements for Special Education
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 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.
Which type of master's you go for depends upon your career focus: furthering your skills as an educator
or going into administration.
Master's in Special Education
A master's degree has a few notable perks for educators beyond developing a broader understanding of the field. First off, it makes you more marketable as an employee -- it's one of the first things to separate you from the pack.
A Masters in Special Education degree is intended for individuals with previous degrees who wish to work with students with special needs. The degree provides instruction on the description and nature of disabilities in children of various ages and the psychological factors that affect these students.
Students learn about effective teaching strategies and ways to create meaningful learning experiences for these children. They also learn how to develop lesson plans that are modified toward a child's specific disability.
You also make more money with a master's degree -- the Center for American Progress shows that you'll make anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 more a year, in fact, depending one where you teach. Be careful, though, if money is the only reason you'd get the degree -- perform an income analysis to make sure it'll pay off over time.
Master's of Science in Educational Administration
This also holds the same advantages of the above degree, but with the added benefit of typically being a requirement for advancement to principal
Public schools generally require principals to hold a Master of Science degree in Educational Administration or a Master's in Leadership. Often, principals go on to earn doctoral degrees.
Most states require principals to be licensed school administrators. Licensing requirements vary by state, but most require a master's degree or other graduate-level training, and some require candidates to pass a test.
There are several levels of doctoral education available for you, with varying functions.
PhD and EdD in Special Education.
This doctorate-level education prepares civically-committed scholars -- through rigorous and relevant research and transformational intervention -- to address social policy and educational problems in ways that advance education, research, caregiving and public service to enhance the quality of life of persons of all ages with disabilities and their families.
For the EdD in Special Education, programs often emphasize teaching, legal or administrative aspects of the discipline. Other programs may award the customary PhD in Special Education, which benefits those working in research or technical areas within the field.
Jobs may be found in public or private facilities, government
agencies, all levels of education, and within community organizations.
PhD in Education.
If you work towards your PhD in Education, you will usually look to seek employment as a college professor
, so you should want to teach and conduct research at the collegiate level. This degree is appropriate for individuals who seek careers as university professors, teacher educators or educational theorists.
However, if you work towards your EdD you will likely seek a position in administration, or as a community or district wide leader
, implementing goals to improve schools or curriculum in your area. It's kind of like the furthering of a Masters of Science in Educational Administration.
6. External Resources
If you're still not sure what to do with your degree here are some external sites, to help you with your decision:
The Council for Exceptional Children
The Council for Exceptional Children is a professional association of educators dedicated to advancing the success of children with exceptionalities.
BLS Handbook for Special Educators
The NEA Academy
The NEA Academy offers free or discounted courses for professional development or, in some cases, graduate credit that you can apply toward dual certification.
National Center for Special Education Statistics
The NCES has a list of areas that have critical teaching shortages.
Enter "Education" into the search bar and you can get a sense of what kind of government jobs are available to Special Education majors. Find a job title you like and come back here to learn more about it.
Bureau of Labor Statistics
The BLS offers detailed data on pay, location, and availability of different kinds of jobs across the country. In fact, we draw a lot of our research on the best places for jobs from the information provided on the site.
And if this all seems like a lot - don't worry - the hard part (getting your degree!) is already over.