Special education teachers are trained to work with children who have a wide range of disabilities. Special education teachers typically have at least a bachelor's degree and some may also have a master's degree in education or child psychology. All special education teachers who teach in public schools must also have a teaching certificate issued by their state.
One of the primary responsibilities of a special education teacher is to assess her students' cognitive abilities. Most special ed students have been evaluated by psychologists and other professionals before coming to school, so special ed teachers often have a good bit of diagnostic information as well as observational data to work with in assessing their students' needs. The teachers' experiences working hands-on with their students also plays a major role in developing the curriculum and instruction plan for the students.
Individualized Education Program
An individualized education program is designed to improve special education students' educational, physical, and social development needs. A special ed teacher analyzes the students' abilities and modifies the standard age-appropriate curriculum to create a custom plan for the student. An IEP often includes a number of social and emotional development goals as well as specific academic areas to be taught.
Special education teachers spend a great deal of time working hands-on with students. Special needs students often require full-time, one-on-one supervision, especially in school, and special ed teachers are the best qualified to carry out the IEPs they developed. Special education classrooms tend to have fewer students than traditional classrooms so that the teachers and teachers aides can focus more individual attention on students.
School Administration and Parents
Many parents of special needs kids are involved in their children's education, and work closely with their teachers in designing IEPs and in monitoring developmental and educational progress during the school year. Special education teachers also coordinate with school administration officials regarding compliance with federal and state laws on disabilities as well as develop plans for students who are transferring to other schools.
Special education teachers earned a median annual salary of $53,220 as of May 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. High school special education teachers earned a median annual salary of $54,810, middle school special education teachers earned a median salary of $53,440, and preschool and elementary school special education teachers earned a median salary of $52,250.
2016 Salary Information for Special Education Teachers
Special education teachers earned a median annual salary of $57,840 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, special education teachers earned a 25th percentile salary of $46,080, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $73,740, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 439,300 people were employed in the U.S. as special education teachers.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Special Education Teachers
- Virginia Beach Public Schools: Special Education Teacher
- University of Pittsburgh: The Roles and Responsibilities of Special Education Teachers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Special Education Teachers
- Career Trend: Special Education Teachers
Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.