Becoming a special education teacher can be a fulfilling and rewarding career choice, but it’s not without challenges. You’ll need a combination of passion, patience, and dedication to help students with diverse needs succeed in the classroom. From developing individualized education plans to providing personalized support, special education teachers play a critical role in shaping the future of their students. But where do you even start to pursue this path? In this blog, we’ll walk you through the steps you need to take to become a special education teacher, including the required education, certification, and practical experience. Whether you’re considering a career change or just starting your educational journey, this guide will help you get on the right track to becoming a special education teacher. So, let’s dive in!
What Is a Special Education Teacher?
A special education teacher is a highly trained professional who works with students with a wide range of learning, physical, emotional, and cognitive disabilities. These students require specialized instruction and support to help them achieve their academic and personal goals. As a special education teacher, you will work closely with students, parents, and other educators to create a tailored educational plan that addresses the unique needs of each student. You’ll use various teaching strategies and technologies to ensure your students receive the highest quality education possible and collaborate with other professionals to provide additional services and support. Special education teachers play a vital role in the education system, helping to ensure that every student has the opportunity to reach their full potential, regardless of their challenges or disabilities. You may be wondering if there is a demand for this profession. You can check out this article discussing whether SPED teachers are in demand.
What Does a Special Education Teacher Do?
A special education teacher has a wide range of responsibilities that involve providing education and support to students with disabilities. Here are some of the things that a special education teacher may do:
- Develop Individualized Education Plans (IEPs): Special education teachers work with other professionals, such as parents, therapists, and administrators, to develop customized education plans that meet the specific needs of each student. Resources such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) website provide further information on these requirements.
- Provide Instruction: Special education teachers deliver instruction in various subjects, such as math, reading, writing, and social skills, using various teaching methods and materials appropriate for each student.
- Collaborate with other Professionals: They collaborate with other professionals such as general education teachers, school counselors, therapists, and psychologists to coordinate and provide specialized services and support for their students.
- Monitor and Assess Student Progress: Special education teachers continually monitor and assess their students’ progress to identify areas where students may struggle and provide additional support and accommodations.
- Manage Behavior and Classroom Environment: They implement effective behavior management strategies and create an inclusive and supportive learning environment for their students. Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS) provides frameworks for understanding and managing behaviors.
- Communicate with Parents and Guardians: Special education teachers communicate regularly with parents and guardians to update students’ progress, discuss concerns, and offer support.
- Attend Professional Development: Special education teachers attend regular professional development opportunities to stay current on the latest research, techniques, and best practices in special education.
In short, special education teachers play a critical role in helping students with disabilities reach their full potential and succeed in school and life.
How to Become a SPED Teacher?
Becoming a special education teacher requires education, certification, and practical experience. But what questions might you face in a job interview for such a role? You can find some insights in this article on special education teacher interview questions. Here are some additional details on how to become a special education teacher:
- Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree: Special education teachers must have a bachelor’s degree in special education or a related field. However, some states may allow candidates to obtain a degree in another subject and then pursue a master’s degree in special education.
- Complete a Teacher Preparation Program: Once you have obtained your bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to complete a teacher preparation program, which typically involves a combination of coursework and practical experience in the classroom. These programs will help you develop the skills and knowledge you need to become an effective special education teacher.
- Obtain a Teaching License or Certification: After completing a teacher preparation program, you must obtain a teaching license or certification in the state where you plan to work. The requirements for licensure or certification vary by state but typically involve passing a series of exams and meeting specific education and experience requirements.
- Gain Practical Experience: Special education teachers need practical experience working with students with disabilities. This experience can be obtained through student teaching, internships, or entry-level teaching positions in special education classrooms.
- Pursue Continuing Education: Special education teachers are expected to stay current on the latest research and best practices in the field. This can be done by pursuing continuing education opportunities, such as attending conferences and workshops or additional coursework.
Becoming a special education teacher requires a significant investment in education, certification, and practical experience. However, the rewards of this profession are immeasurable, as you will have the opportunity to positively impact the lives of your students and help them achieve their full potential.
Special Education Teacher Salary
The salary for a special education teacher can vary based on several factors, including location, years of experience, and level of education. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2020, the median annual wage for special education teachers was $63,420.
Factors Affecting Special Education Salary
Here are some additional factors that may affect a special education teacher’s salary:
- Location: The cost of living and demand for special education teachers can vary greatly from one state or district to another. Special education teachers in urban areas may earn a higher salary than those in rural areas.
- Level of education: Special education teachers with advanced degrees or specialized certifications may earn a higher salary than those with only a bachelor’s degree.
- Years of experience: Special education teachers with more experience may earn a higher salary than those just starting in the field.
- Type of school: Special education teachers who work in private or charter schools may earn a different salary than those who work in public schools.
It’s important to note that salary information can vary based on many factors, and the figures provided are meant to serve as a general guideline. To better understand the salary for a special education teacher in a specific location, research the pay scales in your area or check with the local school district or state education agency.
Requirements To Become A Special Education Teacher
The requirements for special education teachers may vary by state or district, but some general requirements apply in most cases. Here are some of the typical qualifications to become a sped teacher:
Requirements for Teaching Special Education
- Education: Special education teachers must have a minimum bachelor’s degree in special education or a related field. Some states may require a master’s degree for certain positions, such as those in high-needs districts or those wanting to teach at the post-secondary level.
- Teaching Certification: Special education teachers must obtain a teaching certificate or license from their state’s department. This certification or license usually requires completing a teacher preparation program, including supervised classroom teaching experience, and passing a state exam.
- Endorsement: In some states, special education teachers must obtain an endorsement in a specific area of special education, such as autism, hearing impairment, or emotional and behavioral disorders. Endorsements typically require additional coursework and a passing score on a related exam.
- Criminal Background Check: Special education teachers must undergo a criminal background check to ensure they have no history of child abuse, neglect, or other criminal activity that would make them unsuitable for working with children.
- Professional Development: Special education teachers must often participate in professional development activities to stay up-to-date on the latest teaching techniques, technology, and best practices. Some states require certain professional development hours or credits to renew a teaching license.
In addition to these requirements, special education teachers must possess strong interpersonal and communication skills, work well in a team, be patient, and adapt to each student’s needs. Special education teachers play a critical role in helping students with disabilities to achieve academic and personal success, and meeting the qualifications to become special education teachers ensures that they are prepared for this important work.
What Certifications Are Required to be a Special Education Teacher?
The certifications required to become a special education teacher can vary depending on the state or district you plan to teach. Here are some common types of certifications or licenses that may be required:
Types of Certifications
- Teaching Certification: All states require teaching certification or license to teach in public schools. To obtain a teaching certification, you must complete a teacher preparation program and pass a state exam that assesses your knowledge of teaching principles, subject matter, and teaching methods.
- Special Education Endorsement: Besides a teaching certification, many states require special education teachers to obtain an endorsement or certification in special education. The endorsement may be in a specific area of special education, such as learning disabilities or autism, and may require additional coursework and a passing score on a related exam.
- National Board Certification: The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers voluntary certification for teachers, including special education teachers, who have demonstrated exceptional teaching skills and knowledge in their subject area. This certification is recognized in many states and districts and can enhance professional development and career opportunities.
- English as a Second Language (ESL) Certification: In some states, special education teachers who work with students who are English language learners may be required to obtain an ESL certification or endorsement.
- Behavior Intervention Certification: In some states, special education teachers working with students with behavioral challenges may be required to obtain a behavior intervention certification or endorsement.
It is important to check the specific requirements in your state or district to determine the certifications or endorsements required to become a special education teacher. Additionally, many states have reciprocity agreements with others, which may allow you to transfer your certification from one state to another if you relocate.
Special Education Teacher Programs
If you are interested in becoming a special education teacher, several different types of programs can help you obtain the necessary education and training:
- Bachelor’s Degree Programs: Many colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs in special education. These programs typically take four years to complete and provide you with the foundational knowledge and skills needed to teach students with disabilities.
- Master’s Degree Programs: If you already have a bachelor’s degree in education or a related field, you may consider pursuing a master’s degree in special education. This program can help you deepen your understanding of special education and gain specialized skills in behavior management and assistive technology.
- Alternative Certification Programs: In some states, you may be able to become a special education teacher through an alternative certification program. These programs are designed for individuals with a bachelor’s degree but not a teaching certification. They typically involve supervised teaching experience and coursework in education and special education.
- Online Programs: Many colleges and universities now offer online programs in special education, which can be a convenient option for individuals who cannot attend classes in person. Online programs typically include virtual classroom experiences and opportunities for interaction with instructors and peers.
- Continuing Education: Once you have become a special education teacher, continuing education programs can help you stay up-to-date with the latest teaching methods, technology, and research. These programs may be offered through your school district, professional organizations, or universities.
It’s important to research different special education teacher programs and choose the one that best fits your needs, interests, and career goals. When deciding, consider factors such as the program’s reputation, cost, location, and curriculum.
How to Become a Special Education Teacher in Massachusetts?
If you want to become a special education teacher in Massachusetts, there are several steps you need to take:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree: To become a special education teacher in Massachusetts, you must have a bachelor’s degree. The degree should be in special education or a related field such as education or psychology.
- Complete a teacher preparation program: You must complete a program with supervised classroom teaching experience. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) must approve the program.
- Obtain a teaching license: To teach in Massachusetts, you must obtain a teaching license from the DESE. You can apply for a preliminary license if you have completed a teacher preparation program and passed the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL). A preliminary license is valid for five years.
- Complete additional requirements for special education: Massachusetts requires special education teachers to complete additional requirements, including coursework in special education and passing the Foundations of Reading MTEL. You may also need to complete an additional practicum or student teaching experience.
- Obtain a professional license: After completing the preliminary license and additional requirements for special education, you can apply for a professional license. This license is valid for five years and can be renewed with additional professional development.
- Seek endorsements: Massachusetts offers several endorsements for special education teachers, including Moderate Disabilities, Severe Disabilities, and English Language Learners. Each endorsement requires additional coursework and passing the related MTEL exam.
It’s important to note that the qualifications to become a special education teacher in Massachusetts may vary depending on the level of education you want to teach and the specific district where you plan to work. You should check with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for the most up-to-date requirements and application procedures.
How Do I Get Special Education Certified in MA?
To become special education certified in Massachusetts, you must complete several steps. Here is an overview of the process:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree: To become a special education teacher in Massachusetts, you must have a bachelor’s degree in education or a related field.
- Complete a teacher preparation program: You must complete a state-approved teacher preparation program that includes supervised classroom teaching experience. This program must include coursework in special education.
- Pass the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL): You must pass the appropriate MTEL tests for the level and subject you wish to teach. Special education teachers must pass the Foundations of Reading MTEL and the tests required for the initial license.
- Apply for a Preliminary License: After completing the teacher preparation program and passing the MTEL exams, you can apply for a Preliminary License in special education through the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
- Complete the SEI Endorsement Course: Massachusetts requires all educators to complete the Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) Endorsement course. This course must be completed within the first year of employment.
- Gain experience in special education: To qualify for a professional license, you must complete at least one year of employment as a special education teacher in Massachusetts.
- Apply for a Professional License: After completing the requirements for the Preliminary License and gaining the necessary experience, you can apply for a Professional License in special education through the DESE.
It’s important to note that the requirements for special education certification may vary depending on the level and subject you wish to teach. You should check with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for the most up-to-date requirements and application procedures.
Is It Hard To Be a Sped Teacher?
Being a special education (SPED) teacher can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding. SPED teachers work with students with a wide range of disabilities and needs, including learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and behavioral challenges. They must be knowledgeable about various instructional strategies and techniques to effectively meet each student’s needs.
Some of the challenges that SPED Teachers may face include:
- Classroom management: Students with disabilities may require different classroom management strategies than those without disabilities. SPED teachers must create a positive and supportive learning environment while addressing behavioral challenges.
- Individualized instruction: Each student with a disability has unique needs and requires individualized instruction. SPED teachers must be able to differentiate instruction and modify the curriculum to meet each student’s needs.
- Collaboration: SPED teachers often work closely with other educators, therapists, and parents to develop and implement Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for their students. Effective collaboration requires strong communication skills and the ability to work as part of a team.
- Paperwork and documentation: SPED teachers must maintain detailed records of each student’s progress, including assessments, goals, and progress reports. This requires strong organizational skills and attention to detail.
Despite the challenges, many SPED teachers find their work highly rewarding. They can make a real difference in their student’s lives and help them achieve their full potential.
Jennifer Hanson is a dedicated and seasoned writer specializing in the field of special education. With a passion for advocating for the rights and needs of children with diverse learning abilities, Jennifer uses her pen to educate, inspire, and empower both educators and parents alike.