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4 Special Education Careers

Written by: Wilson College   •  Feb 1, 2024
A Special Education Teacher Works With a Student With Down Syndrome Drawing on a Tablet.

Four Special Education Careers

Every child deserves a quality education that inspires growth and curiosity. This fundamental concept fully applies to students with disabilities and special needs, a demographic that makes up roughly 14% of the public school population, according to the National Education Association (NEA). However, carrying out that mission can pose challenges, as the unique needs of these children may require special services and accommodations to ensure that they receive a quality education. 

Special education professionals rise to these challenges. These individuals apply their knowledge and skills toward creating environments that optimize learning opportunities for students with special needs, offering an education that stimulates, enriches, and inspires.

Individuals can pursue numerous special education careers that truly make a difference. While the roles have different approaches, each one is instrumental in achieving the goal of ensuring that these students receive a high-quality education.

The Need for Special Education Professionals

Teachers and other professionals who specialize in special education allow students with special needs or different abilities to achieve a level of academic success that may not be possible in a mainstream educational environment. Their work impacts a wide range of students, as the categories that fall under special education are broad in scope. These categories include students with:

  • Physical disabilities

  • Learning disabilities

  • Neurodivergent behaviors

  • Emotional disorders

  • Behavioral disorders

Special education professionals work to create educational environments that accommodate the unique needs of individual students. They identify the accommodations that help students thrive, such as smaller classroom sizes, one-on-one instruction, and specialized test-taking conditions. By focusing on each student’s unique abilities, these professionals promote equity and empowerment in an educational setting.

Special education professionals are in high demand. According to a 2023 poll conducted by ABC News, 30 states and the District of Columbia are facing shortages of special education professionals. These gaps represent opportunities for individuals interested in special education careers and can mean that they have a chance to make an immediate impact on students’ lives.

Four Special Education Careers at a Glance

Those who seek to make a unique impact in education can pursue one of several special education careers and help deliver a lasting academic impact on students with special needs. Because these careers approach the goal of quality education for all students differently, understanding each position’s role is important. This can help individuals pursue a job that best aligns with their interests.

1. Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers provide instruction to students with disabilities or special needs. They create adaptable lesson plans known as Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that meet the student’s specific needs. They also use these IEPs to assess student performance and track progress, a process that involves the student’s parents, other teachers, school administrators, and school counselors. Additionally, they can help students transition between grades and from school to life beyond the classroom.

Special education teachers need to have strong communication and interpersonal skills to ensure effective instruction. Special education teachers must possess patience and have a sense of resourcefulness to present information in a manner that meets their students’ needs. The median annual salary for special education teachers was $62,950 in 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

2. Special Education Coordinator

Special education coordinators develop and oversee special educational services for students with disabilities and special needs. They arrange resources, design budgets, review programs, and implement state guidelines. They may also manage a school’s special education personnel, conducting tasks such as hiring staff and training new teachers.

Special education coordinators typically need strong communication and interpersonal skills. They must also possess strong analytical skills to effectively evaluate performance and resourcefulness to coordinate a wide range of services for students. The BLS reports that instructional coordinators (including special education coordinators) made a median annual salary of $66,490 in 2022.

3. Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor

Vocational rehabilitation counselors work with students and families to identify resources that can help promote a student’s progress in and out of the classroom. They often work with other agencies and community members to coordinate transitional learning opportunities that prepare them for life beyond school, such as jobs or volunteer programs. Those in the role also act as liaisons between these agencies and the local school systems. 

Vocational rehabilitation counselors must have strong interpersonal skills, an ability to lead and motivate others, and strong problem-solving skills. The median annual salary for rehabilitation counselors was $39,990 in 2022, according to the BLS. 

4. School Counselor

School counselors can work with students to develop strategies to navigate both their school experience and their postgraduate life. Their work can involve enabling students to build strong social skills by helping them understand and work through behavioral or social challenges. They also help students discover their own interests and help them build goals around these interests. 

School counselors must have strong analytical skills that allow them to devise strategies that fit with student personalities. They must have exceptional interpersonal, listening, and speaking skills to develop a strong rapport with students. Additionally, they must possess empathy and compassion to appreciate the context of each student’s situation. The BLS reports that the median annual salary for school counselors was $60,140 in 2022.

Benefits of a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education

A bachelor’s degree is required for special education roles. While this degree can be in education or a specific subject, such as mathematics, a degree in special education can offer advantages that can help a professional throughout their career.

A degree in special education can also help individuals broaden their job opportunities. Some schools require prospective special education teachers to earn an undergraduate degree in special education, particularly in private school settings.

Prepare for a Career in Special Education

While individuals can pursue many different special education careers, they all share a common goal: to provide the best education possible for every student. Special education professionals provide opportunity and encouragement to students who may struggle in traditional educational settings, offering a unique level of job satisfaction.

Wilson College Online’s Bachelor of Arts in Special Education program can help you make a real difference in the lives of others. Our program is designed to deepen the knowledge and skills you need to instruct, support, and connect with students with disabilities or special needs, all within an online environment that can fit your schedule. Learn how we can help you succeed in a crucial field.

Recommended Readings

A Look Inside the Modern Classroom

Special Education Teacher Salary and Career Overview

What Are the Benefits of Collaboration in Special Education?


ABC News, “Why There’s a Special Education and STEM Teacher Shortage and What Can Be Done”

Cleveland Clinic, Neurodivergent

Glassdoor, How Much Does a Special Education Coordinator Make?

Indeed, Special Education Degree: Advantages and Specializations

Indeed, What Does a Special Education Teacher Do? Duties and Salary

National Education Association, Special Education

StatPearls, “Special Education”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Instructional Coordinators

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Rehabilitation Counselors

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, School and Career Counselors and Advisors

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Special Education Teachers

Zippia, Special Education Coordinator Overview

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