Special Education Degree FAQ

It’s natural that you may have questions about what’s involved in pursuing a career asa special education teacher—including what types of knowledge, duties and skills are typically required. That’s why we’ve compiled some common questions to help briefly summarize some of the many facets of this challenging—but rewarding—career path.

What is a special education teacher?

Special education teachers are responsible for adapting general lesson plans; teaching various subjects such as reading or math; and teaching basic life skills to students who may have a wide range of moderate-to-severe mental, learning, emotional or physical disabilities.

What do special education teachers need to know about pursuing a career in the field?

All states require special education teachers who work for public schools to have earned at least a bachelor’s degree—though some employers may prefer a graduate degree in special education.  Some teachers may choose to major in elementary education or a subject area such as math and minor in special education—or to complete a special education degree. Regardless of the type of degree you earn, you’ll need to gain in-depth knowledge about different types of disabilities—and how to create and present lesson plans in the most effective way possible for your students.

What do special education teachers do?

The exact duties of special education teachers will vary depending on where they work, but the responsibilities below are common in the profession:

  • Assess student skills to determine their learning needs
  • Adapt lesson plans to meet these learning needs
  • Create Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for every student
  • Implement IEPs and asses and track performance
  • Discuss student progress with parents, teachers and administrators
  • Supervise/mentor teacher assistants who work with your students

What makes a good special education teacher?

Teaching is a challenging job in general—and special education teachers often face even more demands on a daily basis.  At the heart of being a good special education teacher is having a passion for helping students reach their highest potential. There are also specific skill sets that could help to make a good special education teacher:

  • Communication: Special education teachers need to be able to effectively discuss student needs and performance with a variety of people—including parents and general education teachers—and explain difficult concepts in ways that students can understand.
  • Critical-thinking: Good special education teachers can effectively assess student progress and then figure out ways to adapt lessons to help them improve.
  • Patience: Patience is extremely important when working with students with special needs, as abilities will vary, challenges will arise—and instruction methods will have to be adapted accordingly.
  • Resourcefulness: Special education teachers need to be resourceful and creative in order to develop different ways of presenting information in their lessons so that all students can benefit.                   

Who is hiring special education teachers?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), special education teachers accounted for approximately 442,800 jobs in 20121. Special Ed teachers may pursue careers in public, magnet, charter or private schools; childcare centers; residential facilities; hospitals; or by parents to work in students’ homes.

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Sources: [i]bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm#tab-3 | bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm#tab-1 | bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm#tab-2 | bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm#tab-4

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