An Inside Look at the Special Education Profession


Special education professionals work to promote students’ overall behavioral, social, and academic growth—special education professionals help students develop socially appropriate behavior within their family, school, and community. Teachers of special education help students become more confident in their social interactions. Special education professionals administer activities that build students’ life skills.

What Does the Job Entail?

Are you interested in helping others? Can you handle and care for people who learn differently and have other behavioral problems? Do you want to make a difference in a young child’s life? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you might consider a career in special education. Below is a breakdown of a special education teacher’s short and long-term responsibilities.

Education Profession
An Inside Look at the Special Education Profession

First and foremost, special education teachers focus on the development and academic needs of children with disabilities. They encourage learning in disabled students by implementing educational modules and behavioral techniques. Special education teachers work alone or with general education teachers to individualize lessons, develop problem-solving techniques and integrate children into group projects with other students. Furthermore, special education teachers are responsible for ensuring that the needs of disabled children are met during assessment periods.

Did you know that special education teachers work with a team of professionals, qualified staff, and families to fulfill their job requirements? It is true. Special education teachers work with these entities to create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student. An IEP is designed in collaboration with a child’s parents, school principal, social worker, speech pathologist, and general education teacher to ensure effective implementation. An IEP targets a student’s needs and growth areas for maximum response. The specialized goals set by the IEP are woven throughout all aspects of a child’s daily activities. Special education teachers must monitor a child’s setbacks and progress and report to parents and administrators. Planned goals and tasks are outlined for family members to refer to while a student is home.

The types of disabilities a special education teacher might encounter are difficult to predict. Special education services’ qualifications vary greatly from mild disabilities to extreme cases of mental retardation or autism. Types of disabilities include but are not limited to, the following: speech impairments, hearing disabilities, emotional disturbances, orthopedic impairments, brain trauma cases, blindness, deafness, and learning disabilities.

Do You Exhibit These Qualities?

Now that you know the job’s demands let’s see if you have the right qualities to be a special education teacher.

  • Recognize the symptoms and needs of special needs students
  • Patience
  • Ability to work with one or more parties to achieve short-term and long-term goals
  • Strong communication skills
  • Ability to motivate others
  • Ability to multitask

Knowledge of the most recent education modules, medical research, and behavioral practices

Knowledge of the latest medical technology relevant to special education

Taking the Next Step toward a New Career

Once you decide to enter special education, you must follow several steps. Due to the field’s specialization, special education teachers in all 50 states must receive licensure before employment. Each state’s board approves licensures of education, and the requirements for certification differ between states. Nevertheless, the growing shortage of special education teachers has led higher education institutions to offer more special education degrees and certification programs. Special education degrees are offered at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels throughout the nation. The booming field of distance learning has made certification more accessible from any location in the United States.

In many cases, hopeful special education professionals do not meet the requirements of special education licensure due to their prior completion of degree programs outside of the field of education. Therefore, several states have begun to offer alternate forms of certification. These programs hope to attract new special education professionals and fill the growing need for teachers. The chance to positively impact children’s lives is one of the driving motivations and benefits of entering this field.

After several years, some special education teachers look for new opportunities within their field. Special education professionals transfer to administrative or supervisory positions in the most common situations. After receiving a higher degree, others become college professors and educate new students in special education. Experienced teachers of special needs students have also moved up to mentor incoming special education teachers.

As for the future of special education and employment, many changes are on the horizon. Most significantly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job market in special education is projected to “increase faster than the average of all occupations by 2014.” Special education professionals will become even more valued due to the legislature’s new emphasis on education and training.

Can I Make a Living as a Special Education Teacher?

As mentioned previously, the special education job market is on the rise. In 2004, the BLS reported 441,000 employed special education teachers nationwide. While only 6 percent worked within private schools, over 90 percent were used by public schools or districts. In rare cases, special education professionals were involved in-home or hospital care.

Several factors determine a special education teacher’s financial compensation. Such factors include experience, educational background, area of specialty, and geographical location. In May 2004, the BLS reported the following breakdown of the median annual earnings of special education teachers:

Special education teachers receive increases in salary through additional involvement in their schools’ educational activities and coaching school athletic teams. Mentoring a new special education teacher in some districts carries other monetary benefits. However, the most common way to increase earnings is to complete a higher degree, making a teacher’s instruction more credible and valuable.