A teacher gives his student a side hug

How to Become a Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers shoulder a considerable amount of responsibility every day, but they also reap the personal rewards that come with helping special needs students succeed. This type of teaching goes beyond instructing in a traditional classroom, but if you have a desire to help children with disabilities and the patience to deal with the issues that will arise, here is how you can turn that passion into a career.

  1. Determine your own competency.
    Teaching special education is not for everybody. For this type of job, you need to have almost limitless patience and very strong organizational and communication skills. Each student that you will be teaching will require a customized educational plan, so you will have to be flexible with teaching methods. In order to develop these individualized plans, you also need to have the ability to gain a thorough understanding of each student’s needs and learning styles.

  2. Earn a degree (or two).
    To become any kind of teacher, you will need a degree. To become a special education teacher, you will need a degree in special education or a special education license if you have a degree in another field. Some states even require all special education teachers to hold a master’s degree, so you will need to check the specific requirements of the state you are planning on working in. In addition to learning how to teach material like English and mathematics, you will also be required to take specialized courses, such as child assessment, educational psychology, communication techniques, and behavior support.

  3. Obtain your certification.
    After you earn your degree(s), you will then need to obtain your teaching certification. This type of licensing is required by all public schools and some private schools and is offered by the state or specific school district to which you are applying. You can either obtain a general license, which allows you to teach a variety of special needs students, or you can get a license in a specific disability category. There are a few states that will let you start teaching immediately following graduation under the supervision of a veteran teacher. Then, you will be awarded full certification once you finish the teaching program.  

  4. Specialize (optional).
    You are not required to specialize because all special education teachers are certified to teach in six different subject areas. Yet, you may want to specialize to increase your salary and boost your hiring potential, because these specialized career paths are constantly growing in demand. The areas you can choose to specialize in include: Mild/Moderate Disabilities, Moderate/Severe Disabilities, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Visual Impairments, Physical and Health Impairments, and Early Childhood Special Education.

Last Updated: July 01, 2015