Learn How to Become a Special Education Teacher

Your guide to teaching special education: learn about special education careers and degrees.

Extraordinary Special Education Teachers

special-education-special-education-teacherWhen you decide to become a special education teacher, you choose a life of purpose, impact and straight-up fun.

You will spend your days enjoying the simplest joys and making a true difference in the lives of your students.

You may work one-on-one with learning disabled students or teach a classroom of intellectually disabled or developmentally delayed students.

You’ll assess students’ needs in order to determine your lessons plans. You’ll be responsible for developing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students, tracking students’ progress, supervising teacher assistants, working with students in groups and one-on-one and keeping parents and other teachers abreast of a student’s progress.

You’ll work alongside general education teachers as well as counselors, superintendents and administrators. As a student moves through the school year, it’ll be your job to update the IEP in order to reflect their progress and goals.

As an aspiring special education teacher, you’ll also need to decide which grade level you’re interested in teaching. Special education teachers work with students from preschool to high school.

Special Education Degrees

If you’ve wondered how to become a special education teacher, you’ve come to the right place. We gathered our special education information from the most reliable sources around: scholarly publications and, of course, special ed teachers themselves.

As you consider schools and degrees, learn about your different program options for becoming a special education teacher and how far advanced degrees can take you. And, before you leave, read our online special education degrees article to learn about the convenient and flexible online options available today.

A bachelor’s degree in special education is the first toward entering the classroom. In a four year degree program, you’ll learn about child development, educational psychology and special education policies. In some cases, you’ll be required to complete a fifth year of school where you’ll specialize in an area such as speech therapy or nonverbal learning disabilities.

There are two types of master’s degrees available in special education—MA and MEd. If you choose to pursue a graduate degree, you’ll typically be required to choose a specialty, or the type of special needs student you’ll work with.

Education specialist (EdS) and doctoral degrees are also available in special education. The former degree is designed for students who already hold a master’s degree and are interested in becoming a school counselor or psychologist.

Meanwhile, a PhD or EdD degree prepares students to work in leadership roles. You’ll spend much of your time conducting research and completing certain course requirements.

In many school systems, special education teachers need to complete hands-on training before they can work. Often referred to as student teaching, this experience provides an opportunity to work directly with children and experience the classroom setting. You’ll also gain experience in preparing lessons while under the supervision of a teacher. State requirements vary but student teaching often lasts between one and two years.

Professional Support

If you’re considering a career as a special education teacher, you may want to tap into valuable resources like the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET). The organization has several missions, one of which is to provide support and assistance to those preparing to become a special education teacher. Visit their site to access useful publications such as their “Classroom Management Series”, view video lectures and find information on special education and law.


Board Certification in Special Education (B.C.S.E.) is completely voluntary but displays your competency in special education. This can be a valuable credential to have when you begin your job search; many employers and administrators recognize this as a commitment to the field. Once you begin working, board certification demonstrates your knowledge and skill to parents.

In order to obtain board certification through the American Academy of Special Education Professionals (AASEP), you’ll need to have:

  • A master’s degree from an accredited college or university in a field related to students with special needs, such as special education, art therapy, nursing or social work.
  • Completion of five certificates of Advanced Professional Development
  • A passing score on a 50-question multiple choice exam

A Life-changing Career

If you’re ready to take the first steps to become a special ed teacher, you’ll want to know all kinds of career information. That’s why we put together an article on the ins and outs of special education teacher salaries and benefits. We also compiled a detailed list of job opportunities in the special ed field, from teacher’s aide to department director.

Job opportunities are expected to be good, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS predicts that teachers with experience working with students with learning disabilities and speech and language impairments will have the best prospects.

If you’re curious about the types of elementary and secondary special ed programs available today, read about the difference between teaching in immersion and self-contained classes. But for a real glimpse into teaching special ed, check out our teacher interview with veteran special education teacher, Pam Casey.

Casey shares stories from the classroom, such as using magic wands or singing loudly to keep students engaged. She also provides insight and advice to aspiring special education teachers. Having patience, a sense of humor and an understanding that every day provides new challenges and opportunities is crucial.

A career in special education isn’t restricted to one path. While some people remain teachers throughout their entire career, others go on to become school counselors, instructional coordinators, assistant principals or principals. You’ll typically need more education to be qualified for these roles.

Celebrating Special Education

  • If you have ever been curious about special education history in the United States, reading this article will give you the background to make a difference in the industry. Learn about the grassroots beginnings of special education. Read about how advocacy groups fought for quality special education as far back as 1933. More significant progress didn’t occur until the 1970s. Learn how the special education system was affected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • Approximately half of special education students in the U.S. suffer from one of five types of learning disabilities: Auditory, physical, numerical, verbal or written. As a special education teacher, you’ll work with students who may also struggle with developmental delays, health impairments or emotional disturbances. Get even more special education information by reading our comprehensive overview on the variety of learning disabilities treated in special education classrooms today.

Remember, you can make a difference in the lives of these exceptional people. With the right teacher training, you can help the challenged child in a corner become a self-assured, capable adult, ready to take on a world of exciting opportunity.


Tell us a little about yourself and we’ll connect you with schools that offer special education degree programs.