How to Become a Special Education Teacher (USA)

Three Parts:Getting Your EducationCultivating Personal and Professional SkillsKnowing What to Expect From the Career

If you have a real passion to teach children who have mild to moderate disabilities, becoming a special education teacher might be right for you. Becoming a special education teacher will require you to obtain at least a Bachelor's degree, state licenses, and possibly acquire additional local qualifications. After you meet the educational requirements of your state and potential employer, you will be able to apply and pursue the position. Learning more about the specific requirements of this position can help you better plan your way forward and gain a position as a special education teacher.

Part 1
Getting Your Education

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    Learn your state and employer requirements. Each state and employer will have their own specific requirements that you will need to meet. Although many states and employers share some requirements in common, there may be some important differences. Take some time and look into your these specific requirements when considering becoming a special education teacher. [1]
    • Most states and employers will require you to have earned your Bachelor's degree.
    • Some states or employers only accept applicants that have obtained their Master's degree.
    • Your state may require you to earn additional certifications.
    • You can start your search at
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    Earn your Bachelor's degree. To become a special education teacher you will need to have earned your bachelors degree. In some states, earning this four year degree is enough to qualify you for the position. Since all states require at least a bachelor's degree, look into accredited colleges in your area that offer a special education teacher program.[2][3][4]
    • It's a good idea to enroll in a program that focuses on special education.
    • You may need to complete an internship or student teaching period during your studies.
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    Learn if a Master's degree is required. Some states or employers will require you to have earned your Master's degree in special education program. Even if your state or employer doesn't hold this requirement, earning a Master's degree can help you stand out when applying for a position. Search for colleges near you that offer special education teacher programs at a Master's level to get started.[5][6]
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    Focus on specializations. The field of special education is a large one, offering many areas of specialization for you to choose from. Having a specialization in one area can give you an edge and help you deal with specific issues that you might encounter on the job. Take a look at some of the following areas of specialization to get a better idea of which you might want to pursue. [7][8]
    • Learning disabilities
    • Autism spectrum disorders
    • Traumatic injuries
    • Emotional disturbances
    • Children with disabilities such as deafness, blindness, or multiple disabilities
    • Behavioral disorders
    • Speech problems
    • Intellectual disabilities

Part 2
Cultivating Personal and Professional Skills

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    Stay organized. A big part of being a successful special education teacher is keeping organized. You may be required to teach multiple children and will need to keep track of what you are working on with each of them. Scheduling, time management, and personal organization will all help you to succeed in your career as a special education teacher.[9][10]
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    Be able to connect with others easily. Working with disabled children will require you to easily understand a child's needs. Many of the children you work with will likely have difficulty expressing their needs and may also have a tough time understanding your own needs of them. Being able to intuitively connect with your students will be a critical skill.[11][12]
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    Stay current with technology. You may not always use technology directly when working with the students. However, other tasks such as sending emails, entering data, or working with educational software will all require you to stay current with your technological skills. If you aren't up-to-date in this area, brushing up on what technology is currently used by special education teachers can be a good idea.[13]
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    Be a good mentor. Most of your work as a special education teacher will involve directly working with children who have mild to moderate disabilities. Because of this, you will need to be a good mentor, teacher, and coach to help your students understand whatever it might be that you are working on.[14]
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    Have a good sense of humor. Being a special education teacher can present its own unique challenges. These challenges can lead to feeling frustrated, stuck, or otherwise upset. It's important to have a good sense of humor when considering a career as a special education teacher.. Having a good sense of humor can also help to reduce stress and keep things on track.[15]
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    Avoid being inflexible. It's likely that not everything will go according to your plans as a special education teacher. You'll need to be ready to adapt and stay flexible in the event that something isn't working out like you had hoped it would. Don't be afraid to change your approach with a student if something isn't working. Always keep an eye out for what's working and don't be afraid to deviate from a lesson plan if needed.[16][17]

Part 3
Knowing What to Expect From the Career

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    Be passionate about working with children. Since working as a special education teacher involves working directly with children, you should have a passion for this aspect of the career. You'll want to have a real passion for helping children with disabilities learn, grow, and become empowered. If you think you have this desire to help children, you might consider a career as a special education teacher.[18]
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    Learn more about the work environment. Knowing what kind of environment you can expect to work in can help you get a better understanding of the career. In the case of special education teachers, many work with public schools, working with students in nearly every age group. Special education teachers may also work in private schools or other institutions. Since most schools are not in session over the summer break, many special education teachers will work ten months out of the year.[19]
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    Know what the average pay rate is. Before you pursue a career as a special education teacher, it can be helpful to know what you can expect in regards to annual pay rate. Knowing this average pay rate can help you decide how to finance your education and if the position will meet your financial needs. Take a look in your local area to learn more about the average pay rate for special education teachers.[20]
    • The national average yearly income for a special education teacher in 2014 was $55,980
    • Average pay rate will vary depending on location and qualification.


  • Self-confidence is important and something you should cultivate.
  • Make sure to have backup plans for the classroom. Be ready to change plans if needed.
  • Always remain calm and act professional, even if a challenging situation arises.
  • Even after you've obtained your education, don't stop learning. Keep up with current practices, studies, and technology.

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Categories: Teaching | Teaching Students with Special Needs