How to: Become a Special Ed Teacher
Special education is both a challenging and rewarding career choice. While you have to deal, on a daily basis, with children that have many kinds of mental, physical, and learning disabilities, as well as behavior problems in some cases, you also get the unique gift of being able to see students overcome the odds and learn both classic subjects and how to deal with the world around them. Becoming a special education teacher takes years of hard work and dedication, but the best programs will prepare you for a career in teaching that you really enjoy.
The first step to becoming a special education teacher is to learn about your state’s requirements. Special education in the United States is controlled by each state independently, and in some states you can teach with just a bachelor’s degree, while other states require a master’s degree to teach special education. Before you begin looking at programs, you should also determine the level at which you want to teach, since most colleges have different education paths for those who want to teach in elementary schools versus those who want to teach in secondary schools. Some colleges even have early childhood education courses with an emphasis in special education.
Once you learn about your state’s special education teacher requirements and choose an educational path, you can start looking at programs. Rank programs according to characteristics that are important to you, which can include class size, location, professor experience, financial aid availability, alumni networks, and more. Apply to your top three to five schools of choice, and choose a program from the schools where you’ve been accepted.
Most colleges require special education students to take a number of liberal arts classes as well as major-specific classes. You’ll have the added task of completing student teaching requirements. States and colleges have different rules about the minimum number of hours you’ll need, but essentially, you’ll teach classes under the supervision of a real special education teacher a certain number of times per week.
After you’ve completed your education, you’ll need to get a teaching certificate in order to work in your state. Some private schools, which do not receive state funding, do not require teachers to have a teaching certificate, but this is increasingly rare, and many require not only a certificate, but also a master’s degree and experience in the field. Ever state differs on the certification requirements for teaching special ed, but they typical require you to complete student teaching and to take a state-wide test or series of tests to prove that you are qualified to teach students.
From there, it is simply a matter of applying to jobs! Becoming a special education teacher does require at least four years of your time in most cases, but as a teacher in this field, you’ll often be eligible for higher starting salaries, and there are more jobs available in this field than in most others (though it does depend on your location).