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Special Education Teacher Salary and Career Overview

Written by: Wilson College   •  Dec 20, 2022
A special education teacher interacts with a student playing with blocks.

Special education teachers have never been more vital to student success: More than 7 million students in the United States receive special education services, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Earning a master’s degree in special education can help graduates qualify for positions with strong special education teacher salaries and job growth while also making a real difference in students’ lives.

What Does a Special Education Teacher Do?

Special education teachers help students with disabilities and special needs achieve personal academic goals and develop important social skills. They also teach students how to behave appropriately in the classroom.

Work Settings for Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers typically work in private and public elementary and secondary schools. They sometimes serve students in a general education classroom and at other times work independently. A 2019 survey by the Council for Exceptional Children found that 32% of special education teachers work in self-contained classrooms. Some 28% of special education teachers worked more than half their time in a general education classroom, while 26% worked in resource rooms. A career as a special education teacher thus requires the ability to balance collaboration with independent work.

Key Job Responsibilities

Special education teachers take on many of the same responsibilities as other teachers, including managing the classroom structure and creating lesson plans. Some of the job duties that are specific to teachers in the area of special education include:
  • Developing individualized education programs (IEPs) and support plans that identify student goals and necessary modifications
  • Implementing IEPs and conducting assessments to track progress
  • Maintaining compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which ensures that students with disabilities get an appropriate education

Special education teachers are also responsible for continually learning more about various disabilities and teaching strategies that can best meet their students’ needs.

Fundamental Skills for Special Education Teachers

To succeed in the classroom, special education teachers need a unique combination of skills and personality traits. Students who earn an advanced degree in special education have the opportunity to explore and develop these abilities to their fullest potential.

Communication

Special education teachers need to communicate effectively, not only with students but also with their parents. Offering oral and written feedback that clearly expresses a student’s progress and continuing needs is an essential function of the job.

Compassion

Students with disabilities and special needs are often very vulnerable, and responding to them with kindness and compassion is essential. Special education teachers can foster self-confidence in students by showing them respect and compassion during day-to-day interactions.

Assessment

Regular assessments are an important means of determining whether students are progressing as expected so that changes can be made to goals and learning strategies. Special education teachers should be able to prepare and administer assessments as well as analyze results and make recommendations accordingly.

Collaboration

To best support students with disabilities, a special education teacher often relies on the input of others. Special education teachers closely collaborate with parents, other teachers, counselors, and administrators at the school. The ability to listen openly to feedback and offer guidance during these meetings is crucial.

Instructional Methods

Understanding theories and practices of special education are imperative to a teacher’s ability to help students meet their learning goals. Special education teachers should be invested in learning about human development and exploring new instructional strategies. They frequently attend professional conferences and webinars, participate in professional development sessions, and conduct independent research to continually grow as instructors.

Special Education Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

Special education teachers’ salaries are above average compared to all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As of 2021, the median annual salary for a special education teacher was $61,800, as reported by the BLS. However, this number can differ significantly depending on the type of school where a teacher is employed. For example, special education teachers at public schools earn a median salary of $62,070, while those at private elementary and secondary schools earn $50,270, according to BLS data. Job growth for special education teachers is projected to be steady at 4% between 2021 and 2031, which is as fast as the average for all occupations according to the BLS. A 2022 article by the National Association of State Boards of Education suggests that the demand for special education teachers has historically been higher than the supply and that this trend is unlikely to change. This means that highly skilled special education professionals, particularly those with advanced degrees, are likely to have many opportunities for employment upon graduating.

Image of Domineak Commodore, Master of Special Education student

Domineak Commodore, Master of Special Education student

Explore Exciting Career Opportunities in Special Education

Special education teachers have a lasting and powerful influence on the lives and future success of students with disabilities. By earning a Master of Special Education from Wilson College Online, students have the opportunity to embark on an emotionally fulfilling and financially secure career. Domineak Commodore, a special education teacher in the Harrisburg School District, holds a PK-12 Special Education Certification from Wilson. Commodore says, “My experience at Wilson College has been a journey. I have learned how to trust myself along with my professors and see it through.” He anticipates completion of Wilson’s Master of Special Education degree in 2024 and looks forward to further applying in the classroom what he’s learned in the degree program.

Discover how you can earn a competitive special education teacher salary and support positive student outcomes by exploring the Master of Special Education program at Wilson College Online.

Sources:

Council for Exceptional Children, “The State of Special Education Profession Survey Report”

National Association of State Boards of Education, “Understanding Special Education Teacher Shortages”

National Center for Education Statistics, “Students with Disabilities”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Special Education Teachers” U.S. Department of Education, “Individuals With Disabilities Education Act: About IDEA”

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