Special Education teachers

Are Special Education Teachers in Demand?

Special education teachers provide expert help for students with learning and/or emotional differences in public and private school settings. Some of these students have serious cognitive or physical challenges; others may be classified as gifted or exceptional. Teachers with expertise in special education are in demand in the job market. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that demand for special education teachers will grow by approximately six percent over the next eight years to add more than 28,000 jobs between 2014 and 2024. Equally important, many schools integrate students with special needs into regular classes, making the need for teachers with special education training even more essential.

A bachelor's degree in education is generally required to obtain a position as a special education teacher. Some educators also go on to earn a master’s degree to advance their teaching careers, including pursuing administrative and lead teaching jobs in both private and public school settings.

Demand for Special Education Teachers 

Are special ed teachers in demand? Today, advanced diagnostic methods can identify physical and cognitive issues earlier in a child’s development. This, coupled with a move from a “wait and see” approach to evidence-based early intervention, is steadily increasing the demand for special education professionals in early childhood centers and enrichment programs. In many cases, a special education degree may be required in combination with other credentials to qualify for certain administrative and lead teaching positions. The continuing need for professional educators who can accommodate students with a variety of special education needs will generate added employment opportunities in upcoming years. 

What Does a Special Education Teacher Do?

Special education teachers create and implement individualized learning plans known as IEPs or ISFPs for students with autism spectrum disorder, emotional disturbances, specific learning disabilities, physical barriers, and other conditions that may make academic and/or social success more challenging. IEPs outline both the services a school will facilitate as well as student goals for the given year. IEPs must be reviewed at least annually to document progress and provide opportunities for revision and consultation between parents and teachers.  

Special educators are dedicated professionals who use evidence-based practices that may translate into a set curriculum, or an adaptation of learning materials designed for students in inclusive classrooms to maximize a student’s learning potential and increase the student’s independence. 

Some special ed teachers focus their efforts on a specific area:

  • Communication (Speech and language)—Instructors work with students with language delays or other challenges to facilitate communication.
  • Autism spectrum disorders—Teachers specializing in the autism spectrum disorders utilize their training to help students adjust to classroom requirements and the challenges of everyday activities.  Many of these professionals work within Applied Behavior Analysis, the most validated research-based practice for children significantly affected by autism.
  • Other special education needs—Some teachers seek out additional training in reading disorders, emotional disturbances and other issues frequently seen in elementary and secondary school environments.  Several areas of specialization face critical shortages, especially in specific geographical regions.

Special education teachers may work in a variety of settings – hospitals, residential treatment centers, as well as in a single school or within an entire school district to assist students in achieving their full potential. In the classroom, special education teachers offer instruction to large or small groups of students, as well as deliver one-on-one direct instruction to a single student. They often collaborate with other teachers to help students make the transition to general education classes. Increasingly, today’s classrooms include students with a wide array of learning styles, abilities and needs, requiring traditional classroom teachers to effectively educate all of their students, including those with special education needs.  

Special education professionals must have: 

  • Plenty of patience to deal with atypical emotional reactions and sometimes idiosyncratic behaviors of the students in their care
  • Strong communication skills to ensure students and parents understand the issues to be addressed and the concepts taught in the classroom
  • Analytical thinking skills and creativity, which are assets that can provide teachers with added avenues for assisting students more effectively 
  • The ability to work well with others, which can help build a rapport with students, parents and other educators to provide the best possible support for special education students  

Special Ed Teacher Salaries

Demand for special education teachers is highest in the pre-kindergarten through elementary school environment. Salaries, however, are highest at the secondary school level. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median salaries according to grade level are as follows:

  • Preschool teachers—$53,990 per year
  • Kindergarten and elementary school teachers—$55,810 per year
  • Middle school teachers—$57,280 per year
  • Secondary school teachers—$58,500 per year

Annual mean wages for elementary and secondary school teachers in Pennsylvania are among the highest in the nation, according to data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Depending on the work environment, teachers may work a full 12-month schedule; however, many teachers have a 10-month schedule and can enjoy summers off.

How to Become a Special Education Teacher

The pathway to a career in the special education field usually takes at least four years. For students seeking a master’s degree or doctorate, the process can require several more years to complete. Practical experience, via student teaching and field experiences, is required for most programs and provides aspiring teachers a way to hone their skills before entering the teaching field full time.

Steps to Becoming a Special Ed Teacher

Becoming a special education teacher is relatively straightforward and involves the following steps:

Step 1: Obtain a four-year bachelor's degree. This degree is generally in education, special education or a closely related field. In some cases, it may be helpful to combine two or more degrees to ensure the widest possible employability. For example, students who earn a dual degree in early/elementary education and special education will likely be qualified for additional career opportunities in the teaching field.

Step 2: Achieve certification or licensure as a teacher. Background checks are performed by most states prior to the issuance of a license to teach.

Step 3: Gain direct experience. Practical knowledge and skills will help ensure success once you are in real-world educational situations. This firsthand experience can prepare aspiring special education teachers for the challenges you will face in the classroom and other working environments.

Step 4: Check your state requirements.  A master's degree in special education is required in some states. These degree programs typically focus on the practical skills and theoretical knowledge needed to inspire and educate special needs students from early childhood through secondary school and beyond.

Your Path to Becoming a Special Education Teacher

To learn more about the opportunities available and to begin your journey toward a rewarding career in the field of special education, contact Gwynedd Mercy University at 800-342-5462 or admissions@gmercyu.edu. GMercyU offers five different undergraduate education options, including dual degrees in Early Education and Special Education, and Middle Level Math/Science and Special Education. GMercyU also offers several online Master of Education degree programs and certification options. GMercyU’s programs prepare teachers in accordance with Pennsylvania standards. Through the NASDTEC Interstate Agreement, Pennsylvania-certified teachers have reciprocity with 47 other states.