Master’s in Special Education Jobs: Opportunities to Make a Difference
The U.S. Department of Education reports that 14% of all students between the ages of 3-21 received special education services during the 2019-2020 school year.* Many of the teachers and administrators who provided those services held master’s degrees in special education. However, so did many of the textbook writers, program developers, and other professionals working behind the scenes. If you’re wondering what jobs you can pursue with a master’s degree in special education, read on to learn more about this career field and the careers available with a special education master’s degree.
- What Is a Master’s in Special Education?
- Special Education Teacher Job Description and Responsibilities
- Career Paths for Master’s in Special Education
- Non-Traditional Career Paths
A master’s degree in special education is a graduate degree designed to offer experienced teachers additional skills and knowledge for reaching students with different educational needs. Some of the reasons students may need special education can include:
- A neurological difference, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- A learning disability, such as dyslexia
- A developmental disability which affects learning
- Learning English as a second language
- Having missed significant time in school for any reason (such as serious or chronic illness)
- Exceptional academic advancement for their age (gifted and talented)
A master’s degree program in special education will provide teachers with an understanding of the theory behind teaching and learning students with different needs, plus practical strategies for helping these students succeed in their lessons.
The vast majority of people who earn a master’s degree in special education will become special education teachers in preschools, elementary schools, and secondary schools. Their duties may include:
- Assessing students’ educational attainment and determining their needs
- Developing individual education plans (IEPs) for each student
- Conferring with school psychologists, behavioral health professionals, parents, and other classroom teachers to learn more about each student
- Delivering lessons to students one-on-one, in small groups, or in class groups
- Helping prepare students to transition to the next grade or to post-secondary training or work
- Reporting on students’ progress to parents and other members of the special education team
Special education teachers may also act as a point of contact for families and students seeking other resources, such as job training or extracurricular organizations designed for students with special needs.
To become a special education teacher, you will need to:
- Graduate from a bachelor’s degree program in education and gain experience teaching
- Earn a master’s degree in special education or special education certification in your state
The BLS reports that the median annual salary for special education teachers nationwide was $61,420 in May 2020.
As mentioned above, many special education master’s degree graduates will pursue classroom teaching in PreK-12 settings as a career. However, other options are available.
Job Description: Special education instructional coordinators help develop curriculum to meet the needs of special education students. They may also provide teachers with mentorship and advice on working with special education students who are in mainstream classrooms.
Education Requirements: Most instructional coordinators need a master’s degree in education or special education. Some states may also require certification.
Median Annual Salary: $66,970*
Educational Administrator (Titles Vary)
Job Description: Special education professionals can work in school or district administration to direct special education programs. They may have control of a budget, hire and train staff, and approve curriculum, as well as play a role in assessing students and determining their needs.
Education Requirements: Master’s degree in special education, education, or educational administration. Some states may also require certification, such as a supervisory certificate in special education.
Median Annual Salary: $87,580
Adult Basic, Literacy, and Secondary Education Teachers
Job Description: Adult education instructors help older students catch up on skills or knowledge they may have missed as children. This can include preparing for the General Education Development tests (GED) or learning English as a foreign language.
Education Requirements: Bachelor’s or master’s degree in special education. Some states may also require certification.
Median Annual Salary: $55,350
Career and Technical Education (CTE) Teachers
Job Description: CTE teachers may work in secondary vocational-technical programs or in community colleges, helping students to develop job skills for specific careers.
Education Requirements: Bachelor’s or master’s degree in education or special education, plus work experience in the field they teach. Some states may also require certification.
Median Annual Salary: $59,140
Job Description: Post-secondary teachers deliver course content to students at community colleges, colleges, or universities. Post-secondary special education teachers may work with students who have learning disabilities, helping them to develop effective study habits in the college environment.
Education Requirements: Master’s degree in education or special education. Some colleges may also require a doctoral degree, such as an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership with a focus on special education.
Median Annual Salary: $80,790
Job Description: Post-secondary administrators lead programs and departments at colleges, universities, and community colleges.
Education Requirements: Master’s degree in education or special education. Some colleges may also require a doctoral degree, such as an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, for certain roles.
Median Annual Salary: $97,500
Social and Community Service Managers
Job Description: Social and community service managers direct service programs offered by private or public organizations. Special education-focused managers might lead programs that provide job training, mentorship, or social skills development for people with disabilities.
Education Requirements: Bachelor’s degree or master’s degree.
Median Annual Salary: $69,600
Graduates of a master’s in special education can also qualify for jobs outside the classroom, depending on their other skills and experience. Some potential opportunities may include:
- Policy analysis
- Corporate training
- Textbook writer
- Educational software development
- Charity/non-profit organization management
- Local, state, or federal education department work