Special education teachers play an integral role in the education system. They work with students who may have a wide range of different mental, learning, emotional and physical disabilities. This may involve adapting general lesson plans for subjects like reading, math and writing for students with mild to moderate disabilities—and teaching basic skills such as communication techniques and literacy to students who are severely disabled.
Exact job responsibilities will vary depending on where you work, who you are teaching and your specialty. Some special education teachers work in classrooms that only include students with disabilities and plan their lessons accordingly. However, students with disabilities may also attend class with general education students in inclusive classrooms. In this case, special education teachers may adjust lessons to present them in a way that students with disabilities can more easily comprehend—and help general education teachers customize their lesson plans to consider the needs of disabled students.
Special education teachers may pursue careers in a wide variety of different learning environments. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most special education teachers work for public schools. However, some teachers work in magnet, charter and private schools—or in residential facilities, hospitals or in student homes. The setting you pursue your career in will likely depend on the level of disability of your students.[i] For example, students at public or magnet school may be more likely to have mild to moderate disabilities. Whereas students in hospitals—or in their own homes—may require more care and be more severely disabled.
The work schedule for special education schools really varies depending on your employer. If you choose to pursue a career in environments outside of the school system, it’s more likely that it may involve more travel—and a more flexible schedule. However, special education teachers typically work during regular school hours (and they may also work at night to grade work and prepare lessons). Special education teachers that are employed by public schools typically work the traditional 10-month school year with a two-month break in the summer. But with less traditional schools—such as charter schools—you may have year-round schedule wherein you work for eight weeks straight, then have a one-week break and a five-week midwinter break.[ii]
If you’re considering a career in special education, you’re likely wondering about the special education teacher salary potential and what the job prospects will look like in the future. To give you a sense of the earning potential of special ed teachers, we’ll take a look at the 2012 median salary—and compare that to elementary, middle, and high school teachers. We’ll also take a look at the job outlook to see if the BLS predicts growth in the field.
Special Education Teacher Salary:
Median annual salary: $55,060[iii]
Job outlook, 2012-22: 6% growth[iii]
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teacher Salary:
Median annual salary: $50,120[iv]
Job outlook, 2012-22: 12% growth[iv]
Middle School Teacher Salary:
Median annual salary: $53,430[v]
Job outlook, 2012-22: 12% growth[v]
High School Teacher Salary:
Median annual salary: $55,050[vi]
Job outlook, 2012-22: 6% growth[vi]
Wondering what the earning potential is for special education students in your area? Consult the table below to see special education teacher salaries in selected states—maybe you’ll decide that moving elsewhere makes sense for you!
Special Education Teacher Salaries and Employment in Select States 2014[vii]
Mean Annual Wage of Lowest 10% of Earners
Mean Annual Wage
Special Education Teacher Salary in New York (NY)
Special Education Teacher Salary in New Jersey (NJ)
Special Education Teacher Salary in Connecticut (CT)
Special Education Teacher Salary in Florida (FL)
Special Education Teacher Salary in California (CA)
Special Education Teacher Salary in Kansas (KS)
Special Education Teacher Salary in Texas (TX)
Special Education Teacher Salary in Illinois (IL)
[i] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm#tab-3 | [ii] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm#tab-3| [iii]bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm#tab-1 | [iv] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm#tab-1 | [v] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-teachers.htm#tab-1 | [vi] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm#tab-1 | [vii] bls.gov/oes/current/oes252059.htm