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Special Education Teacher Careers

Special education teachers offer academic and personal support for students with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities to help them overcome difficulties in their learning.

They facilitate lessons by working around or with the students' particular learning obstacles and preparing classes and learning activities. Sometimes working with students in the same classroom as a general education class, the top priority of a special education teacher is ensuring equal opportunities and respecting the dignity of the youngsters they assist.

The average annual salary of a special education teacher is $53,220. However, with significant experience on the job and a graduate degree in your pocket as well, your yearly income might reach as high as $98,000.

What Does a Special Education 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.

Duties

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.

How To Become a Special Education 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 Teach.org or contact your state’s board of education.

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.

Training

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.

Advancement

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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Average Salary
$47,526
Average Salary
Job Growth Rate
3%
Job Growth Rate
Job Openings
42,778
Job Openings

Special Education Teacher Career Paths

Top Careers Before Special Education Teacher

Teacher
24.2 %

Top Careers After Special Education Teacher

Teacher
27.2 %

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Tell us your goals and we'll match you with the rights job to get there.

Average Salary for a Special Education Teacher

Special Education Teachers in America make an average salary of $47,526 per year or $23 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $63,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $35,000 per year.
Average Salary
$47,526

Best Paying Cities

City
ascdesc
Average Salarydesc
Washington, DC
Salary Range54k - 79k$66k$65,596
Monterey, CA
Salary Range50k - 74k$62k$61,566
Baltimore, MD
Salary Range47k - 69k$57k$57,048
New York, NY
Salary Range45k - 68k$56k$56,041
Ashburn, VA
Salary Range43k - 63k$52k$52,257
Covington, KY
Salary Range43k - 60k$51k$51,151
$26k
$79k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyascdescCompanyascdescStart DateascdescSalaryascdesc
Teacher-Special Education Mild/Moderate
Teacher-Special Education Mild/Moderate
Greenfield Union School District
Greenfield Union School District
01/30/2021
01/30/2021
$52,05501/30/2021
$52,055
Special Education Teacher-Moderate/Severe
Special Education Teacher-Moderate/Severe
San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools (Sbcss)
San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools (Sbcss)
01/30/2021
01/30/2021
$50,89901/30/2021
$50,899
Special Education Teacher-Therapeutic Emotional Support (Reposted)
Special Education Teacher-Therapeutic Emotional Support (Reposted)
Lincoln Intermediate Unit
Lincoln Intermediate Unit
01/29/2021
01/29/2021
$44,98701/29/2021
$44,987
Special Education Teacher
Special Education Teacher
Academies of Math and Science
Academies of Math and Science
01/29/2021
01/29/2021
$25,04401/29/2021
$25,044
Special Education Teacher(S)-All Levels
Special Education Teacher(S)-All Levels
Hamilton Township School District
Hamilton Township School District
01/29/2021
01/29/2021
$51,00001/29/2021
$51,000
See More Recent Salaries

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Special Education Teacher Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming a Special Education Teacher. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write a Special Education Teacher Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Special Education Teacher resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

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Special Education Teacher Demographics

Gender

female

71.8 %

male

24.6 %

unknown

3.6 %

Ethnicity

White

73.3 %

Hispanic or Latino

11.6 %

Black or African American

9.3 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

65.4 %

French

8.3 %

Arabic

2.7 %
See More Demographics

Special Education Teacher Education

Majors

Education
15.4 %

Degrees

Masters

55.1 %

Bachelors

32.5 %

Certificate

6.5 %

Top Colleges for Special Education Teachers

1. Northwestern University

Evanston, IL • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,568
Enrollment
8,451

2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, NC • Public

In-State Tuition
$8,987
Enrollment
18,946

3. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,584
Enrollment
10,764

4. New York University

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$51,828
Enrollment
26,339

5. Columbia University in the City of New York

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$59,430
Enrollment
8,216

6. University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, CA • Public

In-State Tuition
$14,184
Enrollment
30,845

7. Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, MD • Private

In-State Tuition
$53,740
Enrollment
5,567

8. Lehigh University

Bethlehem, PA • Private

In-State Tuition
$52,930
Enrollment
5,030

9. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Champaign, IL • Public

In-State Tuition
$15,094
Enrollment
32,974

10. Harvard University

Cambridge, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$50,420
Enrollment
7,582
See More Education Info
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Full Time
Part Time
Internship
Temporary

Top Skills For a Special Education Teacher

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 17.1% of special education teachers listed classroom management on their resume, but soft skills such as communication skills and interpersonal skills are important as well.

Best States For a Special Education Teacher

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a special education teacher. The best states for people in this position are Alaska, Vermont, California, and Maryland. Special education teachers make the most in Alaska with an average salary of $65,052. Whereas in Vermont and California, they would average $58,682 and $57,939, respectively. While special education teachers would only make an average of $56,815 in Maryland, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. Vermont

Total Special Education Teacher Jobs:
127
Highest 10% Earn:
$86,000
Location Quotient:
1.31
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. District of Columbia

Total Special Education Teacher Jobs:
235
Highest 10% Earn:
$93,000
Location Quotient:
1.11
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Connecticut

Total Special Education Teacher Jobs:
580
Highest 10% Earn:
$80,000
Location Quotient:
1.39
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Top Special Education Teacher Employers

We've made finding a great employer to work for easy by doing the hard work for you. We looked into employers that employ special education teachers and discovered their number of special education teacher opportunities and average salary. Through our research, we concluded that Baltimore City Public Schools was the best, especially with an average salary of $70,303. Potomac High School follows up with an average salary of $57,242, and then comes Fairfax County Public Schools with an average of $57,065. In addition, we know most people would rather work from home. So instead of having to change careers, we identified the best employers for remote work as a special education teacher. The employers include Devereux Foundation, AMIkids, and California Academy of Sciences

1. Baltimore City Public Schools
4.6
Avg. Salary: 
$70,303
Special Education Teachers Hired: 
1,228+
2. Potomac High School
4.6
Avg. Salary: 
$57,242
Special Education Teachers Hired: 
557+
3. Fairfax County Public Schools
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$57,065
Special Education Teachers Hired: 
176+
4. Los Angeles Unified School District
4.6
Avg. Salary: 
$53,162
Special Education Teachers Hired: 
130+
5. Jefferson Parish Public School System
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$50,339
Special Education Teachers Hired: 
123+
6. Milwaukee Public Schools
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$46,075
Special Education Teachers Hired: 
111+

Special Education Teacher Videos

Updated October 2, 2020