Bureau of Labor Statistics

Special Education Teachers

special education teachers image
Special education teachers work with students who have a wide range of learning disabilities.
Quick Facts: Special Education Teachers
2018 Median Pay $59,780 per year
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2016 439,300
Job Outlook, 2016-26 8% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 33,300

Summary

What Special Education Teachers Do

Special education teachers work with students who have learning, mental, emotional, or physical disabilities. They adapt general education lessons and teach various subjects to students with mild to moderate disabilities. They also teach basic skills to students with severe disabilities.

Work Environment

Most special education teachers work in public schools, teaching students from preschool to high school. Many work the traditional 10-month school year, but some work year round.

How to Become a Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers in public schools are required to have a bachelor’s degree and a state-issued certification or license. Teachers in private schools typically need a bachelor’s degree but may not be required to have a state license or certification.

Pay

The median annual wage for special education teachers was $59,780 in May 2018.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of special education teachers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. School enrollment and the demand for special education services should drive employment growth.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for special education teachers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of special education teachers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about special education teachers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Special Education Teachers Do

Special education teachers
Special education teachers may teach students in small groups or on a one-on-one basis.

Special education teachers work with students who have learning, mental, emotional, or physical disabilities. They adapt general education lessons and teach various subjects to students with mild to moderate disabilities. They also teach basic skills to students with severe disabilities.

Duties

Special education teachers typically do the following:

  • Assess students’ skills and determine their educational needs
  • Adapt general lessons to meet students’ needs
  • Develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each student
  • Plan activities that are specific to each student’s abilities
  • Teach and mentor students as a class, in small groups, and one-on-one
  • Implement IEPs, assess students’ performance, and track their progress
  • Update IEPs throughout the school year to reflect students’ progress and goals
  • Discuss students’ progress with parents, other teachers, counselors, and administrators
  • Supervise and mentor teacher assistants who work with students with disabilities
  • Prepare and help students transition from grade to grade and from school to life outside of school

Special education teachers work with students from preschool to high school. They instruct students who have mental, emotional, physical, or learning disabilities. For example, some help students develop study skills, such as highlighting text and using flashcards. Others work with students who have physical disabilities and may use a wheelchair or other adaptive devices. Still others work with students who have sensory disabilities, such as visual or hearing impairments. They also may work with those who have autism spectrum disorders or emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

Special education teachers work with general education teachers, specialists, administrators, and parents to develop IEPs. Students’ IEPs outline their goals, including academic or behavioral milestones, and services they are to receive, such as speech therapy. Educators and parents also meet to discuss updates and changes to IEPs.

Special education teachers must be comfortable using and learning new technology. Most use computers to keep records of their students’ performance, prepare lesson plans, and update IEPs. Some teachers also use assistive technology aids, such as Braille writers and computer software, that help them communicate with their students.

Special education teachers’ duties vary by their work setting, students’ disabilities, and specialties.

Some special education teachers work in classrooms or resource centers that include only students with disabilities. In these settings, teachers plan, adapt, and present lessons to meet each student’s needs. They teach students individually or in small groups.

In inclusive classrooms, special education teachers instruct students with disabilities who are in general education classrooms. They work with general education teachers to adapt lessons so that students with disabilities can more easily understand them.

Some special education teachers work with students who have moderate to severe disabilities. These teachers help students, who may be eligible for services until age 21, develop basic life skills. Some teach the skills necessary for students with moderate disabilities to live independently, find a job, and manage money and their time. For more information about other workers who help individuals with disabilities develop skills necessary to live independently, see the profiles on occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants and aides.

Work Environment

Special education teachers
Special education teachers work with students from preschool to high school.

Special education teachers held about 439,300 jobs in 2016. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up special education teachers was distributed as follows:

Special education teachers, kindergarten and elementary school 188,900
Special education teachers, secondary school 131,900
Special education teachers, middle school 89,300
Special education teachers, preschool 29,200

The largest employers of special education teachers were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local 86%
Elementary and secondary schools; private 7

A small number of special education teachers work with students in residential facilities, hospitals, and the students’ homes. They may travel to these locations. Some teachers work with infants and toddlers at the child’s home. They teach the child’s parents ways to help the child develop skills.

Helping students with disabilities may be rewarding. It also can be stressful, emotionally demanding, and physically draining.

Work Schedules

Special education teachers typically work during school hours. In addition to providing instruction during this time, they grade papers, update students’ records, and prepare lessons. They may meet with parents, students, and other teachers or specialists before and after classes.

Many work the traditional 10-month school year and have a 2-month break during the summer. They also have a short midwinter break. Some teachers work in summer programs.

Teachers in districts with a year-round schedule typically work 9 weeks in a row and then are on break for 3 weeks.

How to Become a Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers
Special education teachers need to be able to explain concepts in terms students with learning disabilities can understand.

Special education teachers in public schools are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree and a state-issued certification or license. Private schools typically require teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, but the teachers are not required to be licensed or certified.

Education

All states require special education teachers in public schools to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Some require teachers to earn a degree specifically in special education. Others allow them to major in elementary education or a content area, such as math or science, and pursue a minor in special education.

In a program leading to a bachelor’s degree in special education, prospective teachers learn about the different types of disabilities and how to present information so that students will understand. Programs typically include a student-teaching program, in which prospective teachers work with a mentor and get experience instructing students in a classroom setting. To become fully certified, states may require special education teachers to complete a master’s degree in special education after obtaining a job.

Private schools typically require teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree in special education.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require teachers in public schools to be licensed in the specific grade level that they teach. A license frequently is referred to as a certification. Those who teach in private schools typically do not need to be licensed.

Requirements for certification or licensure can vary by state but generally involve the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree with a minimum grade point average
  • Completion of a student-teaching program
  • Passing a background check
  • Passing a general teaching certification test, as well as a test that demonstrates knowledge of the subject the candidate will teach

For information about teacher preparation programs and certification requirements, visit Teach.org or contact your state’s board of education.

All states offer an alternative route to certification or licensure for people who already have a bachelor’s degree. These alternative programs cover teaching methods and child development. Candidates are awarded full certification after they complete the program. Other alternative programs require prospective teachers to take classes in education before they can start to teach. Teachers may be awarded a master’s degree after completing either type of program.

Advancement

Experienced teachers may advance to become mentors who help less experienced teachers improve their instructional skills. They also may become lead teachers.

Teachers may become school counselors, instructional coordinators, and elementary, middle, and high school principals. These positions generally require additional education, an advanced degree, or certification. An advanced degree in education administration or leadership may be helpful.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Special education teachers need to explain concepts in terms that students with learning disabilities can understand. They also must write Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and share students’ progress with general education teachers, counselors and other specialists, administrators, and parents.

Critical-thinking skills. Special education teachers must be able to assess students’ progress and use the information to adapt lessons.

Interpersonal skills. Special education teachers work regularly with a team of educators and the student’s parents to develop IEPs. As a result, they need to be able to build positive working relationships.

Patience. Special education teachers must be able to stay calm instructing students with disabilities, who may lack basic skills, present behavioral or other challenges, or require repeated efforts to understand material.

Resourcefulness. Special education teachers must develop different ways to present information that meet their students’ needs. They also help general education teachers adapt their lessons to the needs of students with disabilities.

Pay

Special Education Teachers

Median annual wages, May 2018

Special education teachers

$59,780

Preschool, primary, secondary, and special education school teachers

$56,790

Total, all occupations

$38,640

 

The median annual wage for special education teachers was $59,780 in May 2018. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,680, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $97,070.

Median annual wages for special education teachers in May 2018 were as follows:

Special education teachers, secondary school $60,600
Special education teachers, middle school 60,250
Special education teachers, kindergarten and elementary school 59,390
Special education teachers, preschool 55,840

In May 2018, the median annual wages for special education teachers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local $60,430
Elementary and secondary schools; private 52,390

Special education teachers typically work during school hours. In addition to providing instruction during this time, they grade papers, update students’ records, and prepare lessons. They may meet with parents, students, and other teachers or specialists before and after classes.

Many work the traditional 10-month school year and have a 2-month break during the summer. They also have a short midwinter break. Some teachers work in summer programs.

Teachers in districts with a year-round schedule typically work 9 weeks in a row and then are on break for 3 weeks.

Union Membership

Most special education teachers belong to a union.

Job Outlook

Special Education Teachers

Percent change in employment, projected 2016-26

Special education teachers

8%

Preschool, primary, secondary, and special education school teachers

8%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Overall employment of special education teachers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The employment growth of special education teachers will vary by type of institution. (See table below.) However, overall demand will be driven by school enrollment and the need for special education services.

Demand for special education services and teachers should rise as disabilities are being identified earlier and as children with disabilities are enrolled into special education programs. 

Federal laws require that every state must maintain the same level of financial support for special education every year. This reduces the threat of employment layoffs due to state or federal budget constraints. However, employment growth may depend on increases in funding.

Job Prospects

Teaching students with disabilities may be stressful, emotionally demanding, and physically draining. As a result, many school districts have difficulty recruiting and retaining special education teachers. Accordingly, special education teachers are expected to have good job opportunities, which will stem from the need to replace teachers who leave the occupation each year.

Employment projections data for special education teachers, 2016-26

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Occupational Title

Special education teachers

SOC Code
Employment, 2016439,300
Projected Employment, 2026472,600
Percent Change, 2016-268
Numeric Change, 2016-2633,300
Employment by Industry
Occupational Title

Special education teachers, preschool

SOC Code25-2051
Employment, 201629,200
Projected Employment, 202632,500
Percent Change, 2016-2611
Numeric Change, 2016-263,300
Employment by Industryemployment projections excel document xlsx
Occupational Title

Special education teachers, kindergarten and elementary school

SOC Code25-2052
Employment, 2016188,900
Projected Employment, 2026202,800
Percent Change, 2016-267
Numeric Change, 2016-2613,900
Employment by Industryemployment projections excel document xlsx
Occupational Title

Special education teachers, middle school

SOC Code25-2053
Employment, 201689,300
Projected Employment, 202695,700
Percent Change, 2016-267
Numeric Change, 2016-266,300
Employment by Industryemployment projections excel document xlsx
Occupational Title

Special education teachers, secondary school

SOC Code25-2054
Employment, 2016131,900
Projected Employment, 2026141,600
Percent Change, 2016-267
Numeric Change, 2016-269,700
Employment by Industryemployment projections excel document xlsx

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of special education teachers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2018 MEDIAN PAY
Career and technical education teachers

Career and Technical Education Teachers

Career and technical education teachers instruct students in various technical and vocational subjects, such as auto repair, healthcare, and culinary arts. They teach academic and technical content to provide students with the skills and knowledge necessary to enter an occupation.

Bachelor's degree $56,750
Child care workers

Childcare Workers

Childcare workers attend to the basic needs of children, such as dressing, bathing, feeding, and overseeing play. They may help younger children prepare for kindergarten or assist older children with homework.

High school diploma or equivalent $23,240
Elementary, middle, and high school principals

Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

Elementary, middle, and high school principals oversee all school operations, including daily school activities. They coordinate curriculums, manage staff, and provide a safe and productive learning environment for students.

Master's degree $95,310
High school teachers

High School Teachers

High school teachers help prepare students for life after graduation. They teach academic lessons and various skills that students will need to attend college and to enter the job market.

Bachelor's degree $60,320
Instructional coordinators

Instructional Coordinators

Instructional coordinators oversee school curriculums and teaching standards. They develop instructional material, coordinate its implementation with teachers and principals, and assess its effectiveness.

Master's degree $64,450
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers instruct young students in basic subjects, such as math and reading, in order to prepare them for middle school.

Bachelor's degree $57,980
Middle school teachers

Middle School Teachers

Middle school teachers educate students, typically in sixth through eighth grades. They help students build on the fundamentals learned in elementary school and prepare them for high school.

Bachelor's degree $58,600
Occupational therapists

Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, improve, as well as maintain the skills needed for daily living and working.

Master's degree $84,270
Preschool teachers

Preschool Teachers

Preschool teachers educate and care for children younger than age 5 who have not yet entered kindergarten. They teach language, motor, and social skills to young children.

Associate's degree $29,780
Recreational therapists

Recreational Therapists

Recreational therapists plan, direct, and coordinate recreation-based treatment programs for people with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses. These therapists use a variety of modalities, including arts and crafts; drama, music, and dance; sports and games; aquatics; and community outings to help maintain or improve a patient’s physical, social, and emotional well-being.

Bachelor's degree $47,860
Social workers

Social Workers

Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Clinical social workers also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.

See How to Become One $49,470
Teacher assistants

Teacher Assistants

Teacher assistants work under a teacher’s supervision to give students additional attention and instruction.

Some college, no degree $26,970

Contacts for More Info

For more information about special education teachers, visit

Council for Exceptional Children

Personnel Improvement Center

National Association of Special Education Teachers

For more information about teaching and becoming a teacher, visit

Teach.org

American Federation of Teachers

National Education Association

Related BLS articles

Career Outlook: Interview with a… Teacher of the deaf

O*NET

Special Education Teachers, Kindergarten and Elementary School

Special Education Teachers, Middle School

Special Education Teachers, Preschool

Special Education Teachers, Secondary School

Last Modified Date: Monday, May 20, 2019

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Special Education Teachers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm (visited August 01, 2019).

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