How To Become a Special Education Teacher [INFOGRAPHIC]

Special Education Teacher Infographic

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Are you interested in becoming a Special Education teacher? Want to find out more about the Special Ed career path? Read on to find out answers to all your questions!

Successful Special Education Teachers Possess These Qualities:

  • Patience
  • A big heart
  • Organized
  • Great communication skills
  • Great collaboration skills (to collaborate with parents and fellow teachers)
  • Appreciates everyone despite their differences

You’ll love being a Special Education teacher because you’ll have the opportunity to:

  • Help every child reach his or her potential
  • Develop meaningful relationships with your students
  • Use creativity to personalize the learning experience to suit each child’s unique needs and preferences
  • Enjoy working in small groups and one-on-one
  • Watch kids’ smiles and excitement when they achieve academic milestones

Special Education Teacher Salary:

The median annual salary of special education teachers in May 2013 was $54,900. (That means that 50% of special ed teachers earned more, and 50% earned less.) The lowest 10% of special ed teachers earned less than $36,160, and the top 10% earned more than $87,310.

Comparison of Special Ed Teacher Average Annual Salary to Those of Similar Occupations:

Postsecondary Teachers: $74,620
Speech-Language Pathologists: $73,970
Secondary School Teachers*: $58,260
Special Education Teachers: $58,050
Middle School Teachers*: $56,630
Elementary School Teachers*: $56,320
Kindergarten Teachers*: $52,840
Social Workers: $48,370
Preschool Teachers*: $31,420
Substitute Teachers: $29,350
Teacher Assistants: $25,570
Childcare Workers: $21,490

Note: All careers marked with an asterisk (*) do not include special education teachers in that category. Data is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2013.

Job Outlook

Special Education is considered a high need field by the TEACH Grant Program.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 497,780 special education teachers were employed in the US in May 2013.
98% of school districts nationwide are reporting a shortage of special ed teachers… and it’s expected to get worse. By 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that gap will have increased by 17%.

The demand for special education teachers is expected to rise in the next several years, due to these factors:

  • Better screening and identification of children with disabilities
  • Special needs children are identified earlier and enrolled in special ed programs at a younger age
  • Laws require free public education for students with disabilities
  • School districts continue to offer include classrooms, and need special
    education teachers to assist special needs kids in those classrooms
  • High turnover rate of special education teachers

History of Special Ed

In 1990, the United States government enacted the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, aka. IDEA. IDEA is a U.S. federal law that ensures services to children with disabilities throughout the nation.

In 2011-12, there were over 6.4 million special needs kids (ages 3-21) served by IDEA. Of those 6.4 million students, here is the breakdown of disabilities by type:

  • Learning Disability 36.7%
  • Speech or Language Impairments 21.7%
  • Other Health impairments 11.1%
  • Intellectual disability 7%
  • Autism 6.5%
  • Emotional Disturbance 6.1%
  • Developmental delay 5.9%
  • Multiple Disabilities 2%
  • Hearing impairments 1.2%
  • Orthopedic impairments 1%
  • Visual impairments 0.4%
  • Traumatic Brain injury 0.4%

In the 2011-12 Academic year, 13% of all public school students were special-needs.

Stats by State:

  • California had the greatest number of students (ages 3-21) served by IDEA in the 2011-12 academic year: 679,265 students.
  • Utah had the greatest increase in IDEA enrollments over the 2000-2011 decrease: a 32% increase.
  • Massachusetts had the highest percentage of students (ages 3-21) served by IDEA, (as compared to total public school enrollments) in the 2011-12 academic year: 17.5% of public school students were special needs.

How to become a Special Education Teacher in New York:

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree, including certain essential liberal arts and sciences coursework.
  2. Earn a master’s degree in Education & Special Education that leads to NYS Initial Teacher Certification in General Education & Special Education.

    (Note: After completing half of the Initial Certification program, it is possible to earn a temporary 2-year certification, during which you can begin teaching while completing your Initial Certification.)

  3. Meet NYSED Requirements for NYS Initial Teacher Certification. Requirements include: Pass state exams, attend required seminars and workshops, and have fingerprints on file with the NYSED.
  4. Apply for NYS Initial Teacher Certification.
  5. Get 3 years of teaching experience within 5 years of earning NYS Initial Teacher Certification. Experience must include 1 year of mentored teaching.
  6. Apply for NYS Professional Teacher Certification.

Congratulations! You are now professionally certified as a special education teacher! Continue to earn 175 hours of professional development coursework every 5 years, to renew your certification.

What are you waiting for?

Touro’s Graduate School of Education offers master’s degrees in Education and Special education which may (optionally) be completed fully online. Find out more today!


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