special education teacher with student

How to become a special education teacher

Interested in becoming a special education teacher? Learn more about the role and requirements needed to become a certified special education teacher here.

Special education teachers work with students identified with special needs or developmental differences. They may work in various settings, including schools, care homes, resource centers, and even one-on-one with families to provide support for individuals with learning, behavioral, physical, cognitive, or emotional disabilities.

In order to become a special education provider, you must fulfill a set of requirements for certification, typically laid out by your state’s Board of Education. Below is some information about what a special education teacher does as well as the general steps necessary to become a certified special education teacher.

Special education teacher job description

Whether you work in a classroom, group, or one-on-one setting, it is your responsibility to ensure that your students develop and succeed in a classroom setting and beyond.

Special education teachers collaborate with parents, administrators, counselors, and general education teachers to draft specific Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for each student in relation to their specific needs.

While specific roles may differ depending on the level or setting in which you work, a special education teacher’s general responsibilities include:

  • Determining the unique needs of your students
  • Developing IEPs for each student
  • Assigning and supervising activities depending on the abilities of each student
  • Working with other teachers, parents, administrators, and counselors to monitor students’ progress and discuss plans
  • Preparing students for success upon graduation

Requirements for becoming a special education teacher

Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree: Earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution is the first step in becoming a certified special education teacher. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for many education employers and specific education licenses.

Aspiring special education teachers have a few options in their bachelor’s programs. Depending on the institution, students can major in:

  • Special education
  • Elementary education
  • General education
  • A subject-based major, such as math education

Students may also pursue a combination of the above programs. For example, an education major with a special education minor or specialization.

Step 2: Gain teaching experience: Those looking to become a special education teacher must also gain firsthand experience before being eligible for certification. Often, undergraduate or graduate education degree programs will include practicums as a part of the curriculum. This means by the time you graduate, you will already have the required number of practice hours.

Otherwise, you must complete a separate student teaching or education internship after graduation in order to get classroom experience.

Step 3: Achieve state certification: Every state will have its own requirements for education licensure. If you’re looking to work in a public school, every state is required to license its teachers. For private institutions, whether you need licensure or not may vary from school to school.

Be sure to get licensed in the state you wish to teach in. Some states may require a general education license, while others may offer specialized certifications in special education or even specific learning disabilities.

Be sure to refer to your state’s Board of Education for the current requirements needed to teach special education. Likely, you will be required to provide documentation of your bachelor’s degree and student teaching internship. Then, after passing the licensure examinations, you can apply for jobs as a certified special education teacher.

Step 4: Continuing education and master’s programs: To maintain certification and relevancy in the field, many special education teachers will pursue continuing education or enroll in a master’s program. A master’s degree in Education or Special Education provides advanced study, theory, and practice for teachers looking to grow their careers. Continuing education courses or certificates allow professionals to specialize in a given area of special education and are sometimes required for licensure renewal.

Special education teacher degree programs

If you are ready to begin your career as a special education teacher and provide support for students with disabilities, apply now to Pacific Oaks College get your bachelor’s degree in the field.

Pacific Oaks offers on-campus and online special education degree programs. A bachelor’s degree program in Early Childhood Education will equip you with the skills to implement inclusive learning environments for children with disabilities. This program also qualifies graduates for the California Preliminary Education Specialist Instruction Credential, allowing you to teach in the state of California. Learn more and request more information here.

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