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Special Education Teacher Salary and Job Description

November 18, 2022

Special education teachers play an important role in their students’ lives. In addition to assessing each student’s unique needs and capabilities, they also develop a custom-tailored educational plan for each student that’s designed to create opportunities for their learning and growth. 

Professionals interested in pursuing this career path should start by gaining a deeper understanding of the job role and salary for special education teachers to see if the position is a fit for them. They can then develop the knowledge and skills needed to help children and adolescents with special needs meet their full potential. Earning an advanced degree, such as an online Master of Arts in Teaching, can prepare individuals to take a thoughtful, multidisciplinary approach to special education.

Special Education Teacher Job Description

Special education teachers work with children and adolescents who have physical, cognitive, and/or emotional disabilities. These educators also work with the students’ parents, psychologists, social workers, and school psychologists, among others, to develop individualized education programs (IEPs) for each student that address the student’s unique strengths and challenges. 

Although the specific day-to-day duties of special education teachers can vary based on where they work and their students’ ages, common daily duties include the following:

  • Assessing students’ skills and educational needs
  • Adapting lesson plans to meet each students’ individualized needs
  • Tracking students’ performance
  • Developing, modifying, and updating IEPs
  • Discussing students’ progress with their other teachers

Special education teachers should also possess certain skills and abilities to assist special education students with various needs. These include: 

  • Effective communication to maintain positive relationships with students and their parents 
  • Adaptable and able to pick up new teaching methods
  • Compassionate and patient with students 
  • Able to work with students from different backgrounds and who have different abilities 

Educational Requirements for Special Education Teachers

Individuals interested in pursuing a career in special education must hold at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as mathematics, science, English, or special education, to pursue jobs in this field; individuals wanting to work in Connecticut, Maryland, or New York must also hold a master’s degree. Additionally, public schools in all 50 states require special education teachers to be licensed, but many private schools do not have this requirement.  

To become licensed, aspiring special education teachers must earn a bachelor’s degree, complete a set number of student teaching hours, pass a background check, and pass a general teaching certification test. The minimum grade point average (GPA) and quality point average (QPA) that students must have graduated with and the number of student teaching hours they must complete before they can sit for their licensing exam varies from state to state. 

Licensing terms also vary by state. For example, some states require teachers to renew their licenses every two years, while other states have five-year licensing terms. To renew a license, teachers must complete a set number of continuing education credits. The specific requirements for each state are established by each state’s department of education.

Possible Work Environments for Special Education Teachers

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in 2020, special education teachers held more than 463,000 jobs throughout the United States. A majority of the professionals working in this field were employed in kindergartens and elementary schools (a total of 188,600), while approximately 140,900 were employed by secondary schools. 

Although 83 percent of all special education teachers were employed by public institutions, the BLS notes that a small percentage of individuals were employed elsewhere, such as in students’ homes, residential care facilities, and hospitals.  

Most special education teachers work Monday through Friday during school hours, and many work the traditional 10-month school year and have two months off during the summer. Educators also tend to have short breaks during the winter and spring. However, some educators work a year-round schedule, which often entails nine weeks of working followed by three weeks off, and some choose to work for summer programs.

Special Education Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

The BLS projects that the employment of special education teachers will increase by 8 percent between 2020 and 2030, which is about as fast as the job growth that’s projected for all occupations, and approximately 38,600 jobs are expected to be available each year during that period.

Job growth within this field will be driven by an anticipated uptick in K-12 student enrollments and by the fact that children’s disabilities are being identified earlier. 

The BLS further reports that, as of May 2021, the median annual wage for special education teachers was $61,820, with teachers in the top 10th percentile earning more than $100,040 annually. 

Special education teacher salaries can vary based on a number of factors, such as a teacher’s experience level, whether they’ve completed an advanced education, and the geographical region in which their position is located. For example, individuals employed in high cost-of-living states, such as California, often receive higher salaries than professionals employed in lower cost-of-living states, such as Kentucky.

Pursue Your Dream of Teaching the Next Generation

Professionals interested in taking their teaching career to the next level are likely to find that earning an advanced degree, such as an online Master of Arts in Teaching degree from American University, can prepare them to deliver a high-level educational experience to students of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. 

Coursework in this 100 percent online program includes classes such as Effective Teaching for Diverse Students, Theories of Educational Psychology and Human Development, and Foundations for Special Education for Exceptional Children. 

On completing the program, graduates will be prepared with the foundational knowledge and expertise needed to take a multidisciplinary approach to teaching. Discover how American University’s online Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program can prepare you to take the next step in your professional journey.