Government Job Profile: Special Education Teacher

Special education teacher reading to students
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It takes a special person to teach special education. The highs and lows a school teacher experiences are exacerbated by the challenges that face a special education student and the resulting challenges that a special education teacher must address. The work can be emotionally and physically draining.

Special education teachers instruct students with one or more disabilities which can include speech or language impairments, intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbance, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, autism, combined deafness and blindness and traumatic brain injury.

The Selection Process

Each school district posts special education job opportunities on the district’s website. Candidates funnel their applications to the district’s human resources office. Typically, HR staff screen the applications for minimum requirements and forward acceptable applications to the principal of the school where the job vacancy exists.

The principal or a panel of administrators and teachers conduct interviews with a small number of finalists. Once a finalist is selected, HR staff perform any necessary background checks and may administer a drug test if district policy requires.

The principal makes an offer of employment to the selected finalist. If the finalist accepts, he or she signs a contract similar to or exactly the same as the ones other teachers in the district operate under.

The Education You'll Need

All US states require a bachelor’s degree to apply for a license to teach special education. For students who did not study special education in college, many states offer alternative certification programs. These programs are designed for new graduates with little or no teaching coursework under their belts.

Those seeking a career change can pursue an alternative certification as well, but the program is geared toward those entering the workforce. After a battery of accelerated training, those seeking alternative certification complete an examination administered by the state.

The Experience You Need

Beyond the education requirements outlined above, there are no specific experience requirements for special education teachers. As long as new college graduates have met their state licensing requirements, they are free to work in the field.

What You'll Do

Special education teachers are used in a variety of settings within a public school. They may teach an entire classroom of special education students with varying disabilities and age levels. These classes almost always have fewer students than non-special education classes.

A special education teacher may also team up with a general education teacher when a class has a mixture of special education and non-special education students. The special education teacher adapts the curriculum for the special education students and presents the material in ways that are most effective with their students.

Special education teachers may also see students for a few hours per day to provide some support for students who require accommodations such as extra time to complete an exam or having exam questions read aloud to them.

Districts may also deploy special education teachers in one-on-one situations where a student needs that level of supervision.

As educators try to include special education students in more and ​more settings, special education teachers must coordinate more frequently with teachers, counselors, therapists and social workers. Special education teachers must complete paperwork to inform these partners about how students are performing and behaving in class. This requires special education teachers to be highly organized in what can often be a disorganized and even chaotic environment.

What You'll Earn

According to information from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2012, special education teachers earn roughly $35,000 to $80,000 with the average teacher earning $55,060. A special education teacher’s tenure is generally the determining factor as to where he or she lands on this continuum. Those just beginning their careers fall on the low side, and those near or beyond retirement age are on the high side.