Knowledge Center: For Teachers


Opportunities Abound for Special Education Teachers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,

  • Excellent job prospects are expected due to rising enrollments of special education students and reported shortages of qualified teachers.
  • A bachelor's degree, completion of an approved teacher preparation program, and a license are required to qualify; many States require a master's degree.
  • Many States offer alternative licensure programs to attract people into special education jobs.

Job Outlook:

The job outlook for special education teachers is strong. It is estimated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that more than 77,000 new jobs in special education will be added over the next decade. In addition, there are nearly half a million existing jobs in the field of special education currently and a high rate of turnover, due to the continual influx and outflow of teachers who are retiring, going back to school for additional training and certification, moving up into administration and other career transitions. Because there are more new jobs being created in the field of special education than there are currently trained professionals to fill them, you will find that you have a wide range of options when it comes to the type of special needs students you may take on

Nature of the work:

Special education teachers work with children and youths who have a variety of disabilities. A small number of special education teachers work with students with mental retardation or autism, primarily teaching them life skills and basic literacy. However, the majority of special education teachers work with children with mild to moderate disabilities, using the general education curriculum, or modifying it, to meet the child's individual needs. Most special education teachers instruct students at the elementary, middle, and secondary school level, although some teachers work with infants and toddlers.

The various types of disabilities that qualify individuals for special education programs include specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, multiple disabilities, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, autism, combined deafness and blindness, traumatic brain injury, and other health impairments. Students are classified under one of the categories, and special education teachers are prepared to work with specific groups. Early identification of a child with special needs is an important part of a special education teacher's job. Early intervention is essential in educating children with disabilities.

Special education teachers help to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each special education student. The IEP sets personalized goals for each student and is tailored to the student's individual learning style and ability. The program includes a transition plan outlining specific steps to prepare special education students for middle school or high school or, in the case of older students, a job or postsecondary study. Teachers review the IEP with the student's parents, school administrators, and, often, the student's general education teacher. Special education teachers work closely with parents to inform them of their child's progress and suggest techniques to promote learning at home.

Source: "Teachers - Special Education." U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, , 2011.