Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers are needed to teach differently-abled students in preschools, elementary schools, middle schools and secondary schools. Most special ed teachers work in the elementary and secondary school system. There are a few other industries that employ special education teachers. These include:

  • individual and family services
  • offices of health practitioners
  • child day care services
  • educational support services
  • local governments.

Related resource: Top 25 Online Master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)


Typical Starting Salary Range — According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the lowest-paid special education teachers were earning annual salaries of $38,660 or less as of 2017. This figure is probably representative of the low end of the scale for entry-level salaries in this vocation. Payscale gives us insights about the amount of the average starting salary for special education teachers; it’s in the neighborhood of $41,032 per year.

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Median Salary — Special education teachers collectively were earning median salaries of $58,980 per year as of May 2017.

While these salaries may seem low in proportion to the academic training and extensive skill set required for success at this job, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, the typical special education teacher gets to take substantial time off over the summer months and on holidays — typically 2-3 months out of the year all together. It’s possible for special ed teachers to earn additional income during the summer months by tutoring, freelance writing, blogging or working at temporary jobs. There are some special education teachers who are earning $1,200+ in bonuses and $1,500 profit-sharing dividends in addition to their annual salaries.

Maximum Salary — In 2017, the highest-paid special education teachers were earning impressive salaries of at least $95,320 per year.

Key Responsibilities of a Special Education Teacher

There are numerous cases where children need individualized education plans (IEPs) to achieve academic success. Creating and implementing these IEPs is the special education teacher’s primary responsibility. A special education teacher is typically expected to execute some other duties on the job as well, including the following:

  • Paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork.
  • Collaborate with colleagues to understand and adapt the general education curriculum in use to make it practical and understandable for special needs students.
  • Consult with parents and other colleagues to keep them updated about students’ progress.

Skills and Personality Traits Necessary for Becoming a Special Education Teacher

Interpersonal and social skills are essential for success as a special ed teacher. These skills include:

  • assertiveness
  • listening ability
  • verbal communication and nonverbal communication abilities

Patience and determination are critical, as special ed teachers must sometimes deal with students who demonstrate a discouragingly slow capacity for learning.

Degree and Education Requirements

According to the BLS, a bachelor’s degree is the entry-level academic credential necessary for becoming a special education teacher in most states. Some states have stricter requirements. A master’s degree may be a requirement for certification in some states. Some states require special ed teachers in their public school systems to have majored in special education.

Pros and Cons of Being a Special Education Teacher


It’s a thrill when a special ed teacher is able to make a breakthrough in teaching a challenging concept to a special needs student. Progress in this line of work can be extremely satisfying.

Teachers who are licensed for special education enjoy a much more expansive range of job opportunities than educators who lack the special education credentials.


We already mentioned that paperwork is a substantial part of a special ed teacher’s job description. When asked about the challenges of the job, most special ed teachers will raise the excessive amounts of paperwork as a discussion point. Each IEP is typically 10-20 pages long. Some are longer. That’s just one type of paperwork the job demands; there are numerous others. Special ed teachers inevitably end up filling out and processing thousands or even millions of pages worth of paperwork over the courses of their careers.

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Melissa Ferry at the Friendship Circle website outlines some of the other most common challenges that special education teachers must learn to deal with. Anyone who’s considering this career could get realistic insights about the career’s downsides from reading her frank assessment.

Getting Started in a Career as a Special Education Teacher:

It’s difficult to specify a complete, step-by-step list of procedures necessary for launching a career in special education. The starting requirements vary depending on the location where the candidate will teach. In the United States, it’s typical for states to require their public school teachers to complete a training program and get supervised work experience through student teaching. State governments also typically require their teachers to become licensed, registered and / or certified. Many states require special education teachers to have endorsements or licenses that are specific to their areas of expertise. Possible endorsements can include autism, mild-moderate interventions and behavioral disorders.

Future Outlook:

After careful analysis of the job market in the United States, experts at the BLS have made a prediction that 8 percent more special education teachers will be employed in the United States by the year 2026. Based on past experience, they also expect to see high turnover in this vocation. It’s typical for many special education teachers to leave their jobs. This creates opportunities for new teachers to fill their positions. BLS analysts anticipate that the greatest numbers of new opportunities will become available to special ed teachers who either have experience working with autistic students or early childhood intervention expertise.

The job outlook for special education teachers is outstanding. Despite the numerous challenges inherent in special education teaching positions, this job is a fulfilling one. There is a strong demand for patient, empathetic teachers who have the determination necessary to make a difference in their students’ lives. Ample work opportunities are expected to become available for candidates who acquire the needed credentials and skills. For those who have the right personality and mindset to meet the challenges of this type of work, it’s an excellent time to become a special education teacher.