Special Education Certification
Special education serves students who have a variety of unique needs that may be physical, academic or behavioral. While some special education teachers provide instruction in basic literacy and life skills to students with severe cognitive, emotional and physical impairments, the majority of teachers in this field work with children whose disabilities are in the mild to moderate range. Most special education teacher jobs are in preschools, elementary, middle and high schools, although some teachers do work with younger children.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the disabilities that are addressed by special education programs include speech, hearing and visual impairments, certain learning disabilities, autism, mental retardation, orthopedic impairments, brain injury, emotional disorders and other health impairments. Depending on the school, special education teachers may work with only special education students in their own classroom, or they may offer individualized support for students in general education classes or in dedicated resource centers.
To become a special education teacher, teachers are trained to use a variety of techniques to support learning for students with disabilities. These include individualized instruction and special case-by-case accommodations. For example, students may need to have class materials read to them or may need more time to complete an assignment or test. To accommodate each student, special education teachers develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP sets personalized education goals and may include a plan for how the student will transition to the next educational level. Teachers review each student’s IEP with parents, school administrators and other teachers. They must also communicate frequently with parents to provide progress updates and make suggestions on how learning can be promoted outside the classroom.
All U.S. states currently require special education teachers to be certified and licensed. Special education certification requirements typically include a bachelor’s or master’s degree and completion of a special education teacher training program. A portion of the training program is usually devoted to student teaching in a classroom under the supervision of a certified special education teacher. Due to the high demand for teachers in some areas, several states offer alternative licensure for college graduates who do not have a background in education. Alternative programs usually include instruction through a college or university and a one to two year period of supervised teaching followed by an assessment test.
In addition to meeting formal educational requirements, there are certain personal qualities that will help special education teachers succeed. Strong communication skills are needed since special education teachers must interact on a daily basis with students, parents, teachers and administrators. Special education teachers must be innovative and creative in their application of different types of teaching methods. They also must be understanding of students’ special needs and have the ability to motivate students who have a variety of learning issues.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job prospect will be excellent for special education teachers through the next decade. Many school districts are currently unable to find an adequate number of licensed special education teachers. Because learning disabilities can be diagnosed at younger ages, the number of qualified special education students has steadily increased in recent years. In addition to an increase in the number of special education students, the demand for more qualified teachers will be fueled by the need to replace teachers who retire or move into other fields.
Special education teacher salary figures reflect the demand for this specialized form of instruction. In 2008, the median annual wage for special education teachers in elementary schools was $50,020, with the highest 10 percent of wage earners receiving more than $78,980 per year. For special education teachers in middle schools, the median wage was $50,810 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $78,200. In secondary schools, the median was $51,340 and the highest earners receive more than $82,000. Some special education teachers also receive extra pay for working with students in after-school programs and coaching sports.