Career Development

What Does a Special Education Teacher Do?

Find out what a special education teacher does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a special education teacher.

Special education teachers work with students who have disabilities. They help these students learn new skills and develop the abilities they still have despite their disabilities. Special education teachers may also be responsible for planning lessons, grading assignments, and other duties related to teaching regular classes.

Special Education Teacher Job Duties

Special education teachers have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Meeting with parents to discuss their child’s progress and any concerns they may have regarding their child’s development
  • Communicating with other teachers, administrators, and therapists about students’ progress
  • Preparing lesson plans that are aligned with state standards and align with student needs, interests, and abilities
  • Providing special education classroom instruction to students who require additional support in order to learn effectively
  • Working with other staff members to develop individualized education programs (IEPs) for each student based on his or her needs
  • Providing individualized instruction to students with disabilities in order to help them reach their full potential in all areas of development
  • Conducting evaluations to determine if a student has a disability, as well as monitoring academic progress and behavior
  • Designing and implementing effective teaching strategies that meet students’ individual needs and help them learn effectively
  • Implementing classroom management strategies that support positive behavior and encourage learning in an effective and productive manner

Special Education Teacher Salary & Outlook

Special education teachers’ salaries vary depending on their level of education, years of experience, and the type of special needs students they are teaching.

  • Median Annual Salary: $58,000 ($27.88/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $122,000 ($58.65/hour)

The employment of special education teachers is expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade.

The need to provide services to a growing population of students with disabilities is expected to drive employment growth. Special education teachers will be needed to educate these students and help them learn in regular classrooms with their nondisabled peers.

Related: In-Depth Special Education Teacher Salary Guide

Special Education Teacher Job Requirements

A special education teacher typically needs to have the following qualifications:

Education: Special education teachers are typically required to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in special education or a related field, such as teaching or psychology. Many special education teachers choose to pursue a master’s degree in education to increase their earning potential and qualify for higher-level teaching positions.

Training & Experience: Special education teachers receive most of their training through their education and experience. They may also receive additional training through internships or practicums.

During an internship, a special education teacher will work under the supervision of a special education teacher. They will assist in the classroom and learn how to teach students with special needs. They will also learn how to handle the paperwork and other responsibilities of a special education teacher.

During a practicum, a special education teacher will work in a school setting with students who have special needs. They will assist the special education teacher and may also teach students. They will learn how to handle the paperwork and other responsibilities of a special education teacher.

Certifications & Licenses: All public school special education teachers are required to be certified by their state to be eligible to teach. Each state has varying requirements for earning a teaching certification.

Special Education Teacher Skills

Special education teachers need the following skills in order to be successful:

Communication skills: Special education teachers often communicate with parents, administrators and other teachers. They must be able to communicate effectively in writing and verbally to convey information and answer questions. They also need to be able to communicate with students and their parents to understand their needs and develop individualized learning plans.

Empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Special education teachers often work with students who have unique learning needs. Empathy can help these teachers connect with their students and understand their needs. This can help them create more effective lesson plans and provide more individualized attention to their students.

Organization: Special education teachers often have several different lesson plans and assignments for each of their students. Having strong organizational skills can help you keep track of all of your materials and assignments. Organization can also help you keep track of your students’ progress and make adjustments as needed.

Patience: Special education teachers often work with students who have unique learning needs. These students may require more time to complete tasks, require more guidance and feedback or require more frequent breaks throughout the day. Patience is an important skill for special education teachers to have, as it can help them work more effectively with their students.

Adaptability: Special education teachers often work with students who have a variety of learning needs and abilities. Adaptability can help you adjust to the needs of each student you work with. For example, you may have one student who needs to learn how to read and another who needs to learn how to write. You can use your adaptability to help both students learn in a way that works best for them.

Special Education Teacher Work Environment

Special education teachers typically work in public schools, teaching students with disabilities in classrooms, resource rooms, or self-contained classrooms. They also may work in private schools, residential facilities, or hospitals. They typically work the traditional 10-month school year, but some teachers work year-round in special education programs. They also may work part time. Many special education teachers have a heavy workload and often work more than the traditional 40-hour workweek. They may work evenings and weekends to attend meetings, develop lesson plans, and grade papers. They also may spend time outside of school meeting with parents, guardians, and other professionals to discuss students’ progress.

Special Education Teacher Trends

Here are three trends influencing how special education teachers work. Special education teachers will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

More Attention to Social and Emotional Learning

As the focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) in schools grows, special education teachers will need to develop skills in this area.

Special education teachers are already responsible for helping students with disabilities learn how to interact with others and manage their emotions. However, as SEL becomes more important, they will need to be even more focused on these areas. This includes developing curriculum that focuses on social and emotional development, as well as providing support and counseling for students.

More Focus on STEM Education

The trend of increasing focus on STEM education is having a major impact on the field of special education. As more and more schools place an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math, special education teachers will need to be prepared to teach these subjects.

This trend means that special education teachers will need to be familiar with the latest developments in STEM education. They will also need to be able to create lesson plans that incorporate these subjects into the classroom. In addition, they will need to be able to help students who may struggle with these subjects find ways to succeed.

Greater Collaboration Between Special Education and General Education Teachers

There has been a growing trend towards greater collaboration between special education and general education teachers. This is due to the realization that both groups have much to offer each other in terms of knowledge and experience.

As special education teachers become more involved in general education classrooms, they will need to learn how to work effectively with general education teachers. This requires a willingness to collaborate and share ideas, as well as a commitment to the success of all students in the school.

How to Become a Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers have a unique and important role in the lives of students with disabilities. They are responsible for helping these students reach their full potential, both academically and socially. This can be a very rewarding career, but it is also challenging and demanding.

Before becoming a special education teacher, you should have a strong background in teaching and working with children. You should also be familiar with the laws and policies related to special education. Additionally, you should be able to work effectively with parents and other professionals who are involved in the care of students with disabilities.

Related: How to Write a Special Education Teacher Resume

Advancement Prospects

Many special education teachers advance by becoming lead teachers or resource teachers. In larger school districts, special education teachers may advance to positions such as coordinator of special education or director of special education. Some special education teachers become principals, and others become administrators in state or federal education agencies. Some leave teaching to become consultants to school districts or to work for companies that produce educational materials or products.

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