Becoming a special education teacher is a high and honorable calling. Teaching children with physical, mental or emotional impairments can be difficult but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Many special education teachers find a great deal of fulfillment helping students learn and grow.
However, it’s not just emotionally gratifying. There is currently a huge shortage of special education teachers across the United States. As more children are diagnosed with disabilities and older teachers leave the workforce, the national demand for jobs in special education is only expected to grow, offering more career opportunities.
As expected for such an important endeavor, the requirements for special education jobs are high. As such, determining a clear career path can be complex. For those drawn to special education, this article discusses the training, tools, qualifications and credentials to begin or further develop your career.
Career Path Varies by State
In most cases in the U.S., finding a job in special education requires a bachelor’s degree, state-specific certification and a master’s degree. In most states, a bachelor’s degree is the lowest bar for employment. Having a master’s degree or other specialized certification is particularly important, as working with disabilities such as autism, hearing impairment, vision impairment or any emotional disturbances requires specific training. To become a fully qualified special education teacher, further education as well as state certification are often needed get the necessary skills to help students succeed.
Some colleges and universities, such as Saint Joseph’s University, offer an online master’s degree in special education as well as certification programs, with concentrations in autism spectrum disorder, hearing impairment and the Wilson Reading System. Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota offers an online master’s degree in special education with state licensure options. George Washington University also offers both online master’s degrees and certificate programs in special education, focusing on culturally and linguistically diverse learners and those looking to help special needs students transition into post-secondary education.
Alongside these educational skills, many states have additional requirements. These usually include fingerprinting, background checks, registering with state officials and passing state exams. In California, for example, having a bachelor’s degree and completing a number of assessments will only provide a preliminary credential for special education. For a Level I or Level II Professional Clear Credential to teach special education, completing a fifth year of study is required, as well as approved courses in special education. To get a certificate and license to teach special education in New York state, a number of state-registered programs for students with disabilities are required, along with teaching certification exams, a variety of tests and three years of classroom experience. For specific special education jobs, the requirements are listed on each state’s education department website.
Demand for Skills May Drive up Salaries
Regarding salary expectations, even with the increased demand for highly trained educators, the level of financial compensation for special education jobs varies widely by state, depending on the school of employment and the level of education that an instructor teaches. For example, a special education teacher would earn more at a secondary school than they would teaching at an elementary school.
The 2015 median pay for a special education teacher in the United States was $56,800. In California, the average salary for a special education teacher is $65,370 – $12,000 more than the national average of $53,220, and the need for special education teachers in California is expected to grow by 20 percent over the next two years. In Texas, the salary of $52,283 is slightly lower than the national average, but demand is expected to grow as much as 41 percent by 2018. In Florida, the average salary of $41,741 is quite a bit below the national average, but the demand for special education teachers is expected to grow 19 percent by 2018. Other states that can expect an increased demand for special education teachers are Georgia, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Arkansas.
If you have the right temperament and drive for such a career, investing in a special education path is likely to pay off in terms of both personal gratification and professional opportunities. Having extra training and knowledge will also allow you to better serve your students, guiding them towards their full potential while also meeting the growing demand for special education teachers nationwide.