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Special Education Teacher

Being a special education teacher is an opportunity to have a positive, lasting impact on the lives of children and youth with special needs.  Special Education is specially designed instruction, that often incorporates related services, to meet the educational, social, emotional, and vocational needs of students with disabilities.

Who are Special Education students?

Students with disabilities who receive special education instruction and related services vary greatly in their needs. Like all children, they differ from one another in ability, age, learning style, and personality. Students with disabilities come from all cultural backgrounds and may even speak languages other than English. They all have unique learning needs based on their disabilities that require a number of special education and related services, such as specially designed instruction, adapted materials, speech-language therapy, and adaptive physical education.

Some students with disabilities have cognitive impairments, such as mental retardation, which can range from mild to profound. Others have specific learning disabilities that require specific teaching strategies, including accommodations and modifications to the general education curriculum. Still other students have physical disabilities that require the use of wheelchairs or other Assistive devices. Some students' impairments are sensory, such as hearing loss and vision impairments. Others have emotional conditions. In Addition, Chronic health problems and multiple disabilities can complicate learning for some.

What do Special Education Teachers do?

Special education teachers provide specially designed instruction to individuals with disabilities. They adapt and develop materials to match the special needs of each student. They work to ensure that students with disabilities reach their learning potential. There are specialty areas within special education.

As students with disabilities are more routinely included in general education classrooms and in their neighborhood schools, special education teachers often work in teams with general education teachers. Special education teachers also provide consulting services to general education teachers.

Special education teachers work in many settings. Settings in public schools include general education classrooms, resource rooms, and self-contained classrooms. Other public or private school settings include hospitals, medical centers, private practice environments, correctional facilities, and the child's own home.

What kind of preparation will I need to become a Special Education Teacher?

Becoming a special education teacher requires specialized professional education and skills. At least a bachelor's degree is required to become a special education teacher. In some states, a graduate (master's) degree may be required. Professional preparation includes specialized course work, field experiences with children with disabilities, and student teaching. The types of professional preparation programs offered in colleges and universities can vary widely but generally lead to eligibility for special education teacher licensure in the state where the program is offered. Only special education programs accredited by the National council for accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) in conjunction with the Council for Exceptional Children have met national professional standards.  You should also contact the Department of Special Education at the college or university of your choice to discuss course and career options open to you.

What employment opportunities are there for me as a Special Education Teacher?

There is an increasing demand for special education teachers across the nation. In every state the demand for highly qualified special education teachers exceed the available supply. Vacancies vary by state, according to the type of special educator needed and the regions within the state. Generally, rural and urban areas have the greatest need for professionals across all areas of special education. There is a need in all areas for culturally and ethnically diverse professionals, particularly in urban areas; there is also a high need for professionals who are bilingual.

How can I find out more about Special Education Teaching as a career choice?

The best way to learn more about teaching in special education is to talk to professionals already practicing in the field. Contact special education teachers in your local school system as well as faculty at nearby colleges and universities. Ask professionals in the field questions about what they do, why they chose their professions, and what they find challenging and rewarding about their work. The more you know about careers focused on children and youth with disabilities, the better able you will be to make an informed career choice.

Professionals who teach and provide services to students with disabilities have challenging yet rewarding careers.

A career in special education teaching offers an opportunity to work in partnership with students, parents, professional colleagues, and the community.


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The National Center to Improve the Recruitment and Retention of Qualified Personnel for Children with Disabilities (Personnel Improvement Center). A Cooperative Agreement, H325C080001, between the US Department of Education and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. Project Officer: Maryann McDermott
NASDSE | 225 Reinekers Lane, Suite 420, Alexandria, VA 22314

Phone 703.519.3800 | Fax 703.519.3808