If you’re thinking about a career change, special education is well worth considering. In this post, we delve into the facts about this in-demand field.

What is Special Education?

Special education is a specialization within the education sector that focuses on teaching students with unique needs and abilities. It plays an incredible role in today’s society, ensuring every child, regardless of their physical, emotional, or cognitive differences, gets a fair chance at education. Special education caters to children with physical, psychological, and neurological disabilities, learning difficulties, behavioral issues, and giftedness.

Children and teens are identified for special education services through a process known as referral and evaluation. This process typically involves teachers, parents, or other professionals noticing that a student may be struggling in school or exhibiting behaviors that indicate they may have a disability. Once a referral is made, the school will conduct assessments to determine if the student qualifies for special education services. These assessments can include academic testing, observations of behavior, and evaluations by specialists such as psychologists or speech therapists. If it is determined that the student meets the criteria for special education services, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) will be developed to outline specific goals and accommodations tailored to their needs.

Many people are drawn to a career in special education because it offers the opportunity to significantly impact the lives of students who need it the most. This field might be your calling if you’re considering a career change and want to make a difference.

Demand for Special Education Teachers is High

There is a significant demand for special education teachers in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, special education jobs are expected to grow by about 8% between 2016 and 2026. This demand results from the rising number of students requiring special education services.

What is expected of a special education teacher differs at each educational level. At the elementary level, teachers focus on introducing basic skills and concepts. At the high school level, the emphasis shifts towards preparing students for life after school, including college or vocational training.

Post-high-school special education services are often integrated into vocational programs and job training. These services aim to help individuals with disabilities gain the skills they need to secure employment and live independently.

Special education services at the college or post-secondary level refer to a range of support and accommodations provided to students with disabilities to help them succeed academically. These services may include specialized tutoring, assistive technology, extended time for exams, note-taking assistance, access to sign language interpreters, and individualized education plans tailored to each student’s specific needs. By law, colleges and universities must provide reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. By offering these services, higher education institutions aim to create an inclusive learning environment where all students have equal opportunities for success.

The Personal Rewards of a Career in Special Education

Personal Rewards of Special Education Career


One of the most rewarding aspects of being a special education teacher is witnessing firsthand the progress and growth of your students. There’s an indescribable joy in seeing a student overcome challenges and thrive.

Special education teachers play an integral role in their students’ lives. They teach academic skills and help students build social skills, confidence, and independence.

A typical day for a special education teacher is diverse and challenging. They may start by preparing individualized lesson plans and materials for their students, considering their specific needs and learning styles. Throughout the day, they provide instruction, support, and guidance to help their students overcome barriers to learning.

Special education teachers also collaborate with other educators, specialists, and parents to create comprehensive educational plans for each student. In addition, they may attend meetings with school administrators or participate in professional development opportunities to stay current on best practices in the field.

Despite the demanding nature of the job, special education teachers find fulfillment in helping their students reach their full potential and achieve academic and personal success. Their impact on their students’ lives is immeasurable and deeply rewarding.

Special education teachers not only support their students in the classroom but also play a crucial role in helping families with learning and behavioral goals at home. By collaborating with parents and caregivers, special education teachers can provide valuable resources, strategies, and support to ensure that students receive consistent guidance and reinforcement inside and outside the school environment. This partnership between educators and families helps to create a robust support system for students with special needs, ultimately leading to improved academic success and overall well-being.

The emotional rewards of this career are immense. You get to make a real difference, and the bonds you form with your students are unlike any other.

The Practical Benefits of Being a Special Education Teacher

Along with the emotional rewards, special education also offers several practical benefits. For one, special education teachers often earn competitive salaries. Additionally, job security in this field is typically strong due to the consistent demand for qualified professionals.

The average starting salary for a special education teacher in the United States can vary depending on location, level of education, and years of experience. According to recent data, the national average starting salary for special education teachers is approximately $40,000 annually. However, salaries can range from around $35,000 to over $100,000 based on individual circumstances and qualifications. Ultimately, pursuing a career in special education offers the rewarding opportunity to impact students’ lives positively and provides competitive compensation and benefits for dedicated professionals in the field.

Another benefit is the variety of work settings available. Special education teachers can work in public or private schools, residential facilities, and hospitals or even offer private tutoring services.

When considering a career in special education, it is crucial to weigh the pros and cons of working in a public or private school setting, as these are the two settings where most special education teachers are employed. In a public school, special education teachers may have access to more resources and support services for their students, such as specialized programs and funding for classroom materials. Private schools may offer smaller class sizes and potentially more individualized attention for students with special needs.

Ultimately, deciding whether to work as a special education teacher in a public or private school, hospital, residential facility, or as an independent tutor will depend on your preferences and priorities. All options offer unique benefits and challenges that should be carefully considered before making a career change.

How to Become a Special Education Teacher

To become a special education teacher in the U.S., you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree in special education or a related field to obtain certification. Some states will require a master’s degree to receive professional certification. Additionally, gaining practical experience through internships or student teaching is frequently required.

If you’re considering a career change from a different field, you should research the requirements and expectations in your state. You might need to return to school or complete additional certification programs. Fortunately, many colleges offer “fast track” certification programs to help career changers get started.

College classes often required to become a special education teacher include special education law and policy, behavior management techniques, instructional strategies for students with disabilities, assessment and evaluation methods, and courses on working with diverse populations. Additionally, coursework in child development, psychology, communication skills, and educational technology may also benefit aspiring special education teachers. These classes help prepare individuals to effectively support and educate students with various learning needs and abilities in inclusive classroom settings.

Several personal qualities are also needed to be a successful special education teacher. Patience is vital when working with students with diverse learning needs requiring individualized attention. Empathy and understanding are crucial in building strong relationships with students and their families and collaborating effectively with other educators and support staff. Flexibility is important in adapting teaching strategies to meet the unique needs of each student, while creativity helps create engaging and meaningful lessons that cater to different learning styles. Lastly, a passion for advocating for inclusive education and supporting the growth and development of every student is vital in this rewarding career path.

Despite the potential challenges, many find the transition into special education incredibly rewarding. With patience, dedication, and a passion for making a difference, you, too, can thrive in this meaningful career.

Special Education: An Excellent Career Choice

A career in special education offers both emotional and practical rewards, making it an excellent choice for those seeking a fulfilling career change. Not only will you be stepping into an in-demand profession with great job security and competitive salaries, but you’ll also have the opportunity to make a genuine difference in the lives of your students.

If you have a passion for helping others and believe in equal opportunities for all children—regardless of their unique abilities—then a career in special education could be the perfect fit for you. So why not take that step? Students and their families are waiting for you.


About the author:

Tiffany Young is a freelance writer, content strategist, and former graduate assistant. She writes about the latest developments in teaching, individualized education programs, public policy, standardized testing, and educational technology.