Special education teachers work with preschool, elementary, middle, or high school students who have physical disabilities or emotional, behavioral, or learning difficulties. Special education teachers are required to be licensed, which usually requires a bachelor’s degree and a special education teacher training program.
Special education teachers work with students who have learning disabilities, speech, hearing, orthopedic, or visual impairments, mental retardation, emotional disturbances, autism, combined deafness and blindness, brain injuries, and other health impairments. They help develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student, taking into account individual needs, abilities, and goals.
Special education teachers work with students to carry out the IEPs using various teaching methods that can include individual instruction, problem-solving, and group work. They also work closely with parents, teachers, and school administrators to be sure the student is making satisfactory progress. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage of special education teachers was $53,220 in 2010.
In addition to location, employer, and experience, special education teachers’ salaries also vary by grade level. Those who work in preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school make a median wage of $52,250. Middle school special education teachers earn $53,440, and those at the high school level make $54,810. The top paying states for special education teachers in 2011 were Alaska, Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, and California.
The BLS estimates that 459,600 jobs were held by special education teachers in 2010, and employment for this occupation is expected to increase 17% by 2020. Enrollment of special education students will be the greatest in the kindergarten, elementary, and middle school grades, resulting in a 21% employment increase for special education instructors.
Most special education teachers work in public or private schools, while a much smaller number work for childcare centers, agencies, residential facilities, homes, or hospitals.