Special education refers to educating students who may have a variety of issues that lead to learning being more difficult for them to achieve. A teacher in special education will need to adapt his or her method of teaching in a way that will address the individual needs and differences of the particular student.
Some special needs that you will need to deal with in special education careers include learn disabilities, difficulty speaking or writing, disorders with emotions and behaviors, physical disabilities, and development problems. Students who have some of these challenges will likely be better served by a teacher who is very skilled at providing specialized educational services. These include alternative teaching approaches, use of technology and more.
Employment for special education teachers, particularly those with a master’s degree, is expected to increase faster than other professions for the next decade. Your job prospects with a master’s in special education should be excellent; many school districts have problems finding enough licensed special ed teachers. This is thought to be because the number of students needing these services has increased markedly in the last decade. Learning disabilities are recognized at earlier ages than ever before.
The median salary for special education teachers in 2008 was $50,020. The middle 50% of earners made between $40,480 and $63,500, while the top 10% in higher cost areas earned over $82,000.
Jobs & Careers
As a special education teacher, you will work to develop what is called an individualized education program (IEP) for your students in special ed. The IEP will be used to set goals for each student. The program is tailored to meet the needs and the abilities of that one student. You will develop this program in some cases to include a transition component that will detail specific steps to get your student ready to go to a regular middle school or high school. Or, in the case of older students, you will prepare him or her to enter the workforce or even go to college.
As a special education teacher, you will go over the IEP with parents, administrators and also with the school’s regular class teachers. You will teach and design special curricula for your students, and also will need to grade assignments and papers. You also will need to be deeply involved with each student’s behavioral and social development. Preparing your students to deal with life after their special ed classes is also important.
Due to the challenges of working with students with special needs, it is becoming more common for special education teachers to need a master’s degree, or additional training after their 4-year bachelors. Your master’s degree will provide you with the sort of specialized skills and classroom experience to effectively teach and mold these special students.
If you are an early childhood or elementary school teacher and wish to become a highly qualified, and in demand, special education teacher, there are many good online master’s programs to choose from. The best online master’s programs in this growing field will cover some of the following coursework:
- Issues in special education
- Instructional design for special learners
- Progress monitoring and diagnostic assessment
- Theory and instruction for students with emotional or behavioral problems
- Inclusive classroom techniques
- Special ed law and policy
- Highly regarded online master’s programs in special education include St. Joseph’s University, and Drexel University.
A master’s degree in special education will provide you with the skills, knowledge and competencies that you will need to educate special needs children. Many master’s programs offer specialization areas that you will need to master to earn your master’s:
- Autism – The numbers of learners with autism has soared in the last 10 years, so there is a great need for special ed teachers in this area. The curriculum in this concentration will give you the knowledge and the skills to work with these children.
- Technologies for special ed — This concentration covers a wide range of the latest technologies that you may use to reach special learners.
- Language and culture – Many students today have widely differing cultural and language backgrounds. This concentration will train you to work with students from greatly different backgrounds.
A master’s in special education will take approximately 36 credit-hours to complete in approximately 2 years, full time. You also will likely need a 3.0 GPA in undergraduate coursework, and GRE scores as well.
Grants & Scholarships
- Clifford E. Erickson Memorial Scholarship – Michigan State -You must be a graduate student who is earning a degree from the College of Education, who has been given recognition for outstanding achievement or potential success.
- San Francisco State University Scholarships for Master’s of Education Students -San Francisco State University offers a number of scholarships for students majoring in education at the master’s degree level. Please see more at the link above.