Inside: Salary for a special education teacher, the role of a special education teacher, a special education teacher job description, special education teacher job requirements, special education teacher certification information, and special education teacher responsibilities.

what does a special education teacher do

Have you ever wondered what makes a special education teacher different from a general education teacher? They are teachers, but special education teachers wear many hats and perform many tasks that set them apart from the role of a general education teacher.

Because of these differences, many people need clarification or are led to believe common misconceptions about this critical role in education.

This article will address the role and responsibilities of special education teachers and the difference in salary, requirements, and certification of special education teachers as opposed to general education teachers.

What Does a Special Education Teacher Do?

Special education teachers are highly skilled professionals that are trained to address mild to severe learning needs, which can include complex physical and mental disabilities, as well as behavioral, social, emotional, and communication needs.

They maintain classrooms that are specifically designed to meet the needs of their students and adapt the curriculum so that they can serve the needs of their students. This description is just a brief overview of their role. Let’s get into a more specific discussion of special education teachers and their roles and responsibilities!

What are the Special Education Teacher Responsibilities?

Special education teachers are tasked with providing education to students who require learning outside of general education classrooms. This definition may sound broad, but it must be because the learning assistance needs of children can be diverse, unique, and difficult to label.

It is important to note that special education teachers may only provide some instruction for their students throughout the day. The period of time in which the students of a special education teacher are in their classroom can vary depending on the child's individual needs. Teachers who have a “revolving door” style classroom can be tasked with the added difficulty of maintaining a complicated schedule.

There are also additional tasks that special education teachers must perform that general education teachers are likely familiar with. However, these tasks are an everyday reality for special education teachers. These tasks include: developing IEPs, participating in IEP meetings, coordinating with general education teachers, constantly adapting schedules, and possibly supervising special education aids within the classroom.  

Above all, special education teacher responsibilities are to create an environment that fosters the growth of students who need additional guidance and adaptation to receive an education.

salary for a special education teacher

Special Education Teacher Salary Expectations

According to the American Bureau of Labor Statistics, special education teachers made $61,820 as the median pay for 2021. This data is nationwide, which means that the median salary will vary by state. You can expect to see higher wages for special education teachers in states where the minimum wage is higher and likewise where the minimum wage is lower.

For example, in 2022, Californian special education teachers made a median salary of $67,150, according to Meanwhile, those in Florida made a median salary of $57,105 in 2022, also according to Overall, special education teacher salary expectations are higher than general education teacher salaries due to the additional skills and difficulty of the positions.

Role of a Special Education Teacher in the School

Within a school, a special education teacher has many responsibilities that reflect on the rest of the proceedings within a school through their role. Special education teachers help to maintain flow in general education classrooms by providing assistance to their students, helping to assess children who may need additional support, and acting as a resource for the school’s teachers. Some teachers work in a self-contained classroom or they work with students in small groups. It is good to have or develop the following skills as a special education teacher:

  • interpersonal skills
  • communication skills
  • time management
  • delegating
  • scheduling 
  • organizing documents

An excellent special education teacher can add a lot of value to a school, helping to enhance children's learning experiences within both the special education and general education programs. In addition, the role of a special education teacher is uniquely positioned to support and advocate for their students, which can help students to make transitions throughout their time at school.

Special Education Teacher Job Description

Job duties may vary depending on the age group of students that the special education teacher serves and the individual schools. However, a special education teacher can be expected to:

  • Provide a welcoming learning environment for students who need adaptations
  • Discuss needs and progress with parents and general education teachers
  • Assess student needs and participate in IEP development
  • Provide instruction to students in their program

This list is just a generic special education teacher job description; you will find additional information at specific schools. Other duties can include curriculum design, organization of schedules, and more.

Special Education Teacher Job Requirements

Special education teacher job requirements can vary greatly depending on the school district you are hoping to apply to. Individual school districts post job requirements for all of their educators and special education teachers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most programs require special education teachers to have the following:

  • A Bachelor’s degree
  • Completion of a student-teaching program
  • A completed background check
  • A special education certificate

Additional requirements can include other documentation, such as a valid driver’s license, a Master’s degree, and additional years of work experience. Check what the requirements are in your state and prospective school district!

Special Education Teacher Certification Requirements

A special education teacher certification is needed to become a special education teacher due to the differences in responsibilities between general education teachers and special education teachers.

The certification requirements to become a special education teacher vary from state to state. You must have at least a Bachelor’s degree and a certification in every state. Some states require a Master’s degree in order to obtain a certificate to become a special education teacher.

If you are already a general education teacher, you might be able to add a special education teacher certification by participating in online courses and testing. Your district or state will have more information regarding the requirements for special education teachers.

Special Education Teachers are Needed

Special education teachers are a vital part of the infrastructure of a school system. They cater to students who need additional help and adaptation to make progress. These professionals are highly trained and integral to a school’s culture and environment. Special education teachers work in a challenging but gratifying profession.

If you are interested in becoming a special education teacher, you are fulfilling a very needed role within school districts. Research your state’s requirements for more information about your pathway to becoming a special education teacher. May you have the best of luck in your journey!

If you are looking for more on what special education teachers do, try our articles about working with kids with developmental delays or the article on the benefits of teaching in a self-contained classroom.


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