What is Special Education Certification?

whatisSpecial education certification is a requirement for teachers working with disabled children. The certification qualifications required for each state vary, and different types of degrees are available. Specifics regarding each state’s legislation on education topics can be found here.

Since the No Child Left Behind act of 2001, U.S. states have had to redefine their special education teaching certification systems. In order to be involved in the teaching of special education, a teacher must acquire certification(s) depending on which state is involved. Different levels of education will result in different possible teaching degrees and specialized areas of certification can be utilized depending on the state in which it will be used.

Types of Certification

There are three classifications of certification systems generally recognized, and each state’s system can be categorized accordingly. They are:
Generalist
States with this classification do not require specialized certification in order for their teachers to work with children that have specially categorized disabilities, but many states that fall into this classification have endorsed programs where additional certification can be utilized. These include, but are not limited to, certificates for early childhood education, blind/visually impaired education and deaf/hard of hearing education.

Mild/Moderate-Severe/Profound
This classification applies to states that make a distinction between educators with general certification and those with certifications specialized to help children who are severely disabled.

Categorical
States that require specialized certification for all of their special education teachers fall into this classification, though each state determines which certifications are recognized.

One very helpful resource produced by the Education Commission of the States breaks this information down many different ways. It shows each state’s classification, including which specialized certificates are recognized, as well as other pertinent information for anyone interested in teaching special education in the U.S.

The special certifications that states recognize include the following:

  • General Special Education Certification
  • Mild / Moderate
  • Severe / Profound
  • Early Childhood
  • Blind / Visually Impaired
  • Deaf / Hard of Hearing
  • Speech / Language or Communication (not pathologist)
  • Orthopedic / Physical Disabilities
  • Specific Learning Disabilities
  • Mental Retardation
  • Cognitive (Mental) Disability
  • Emotional Disabilities
  • Behavior Disorders
  • Autism
  • Adaptive Physical Education
  • Special Education Degrees

    Depending on the type of educator one would like to be, there are a number of degrees attainable in the field of special education. Each state has different teaching requirements and each school offers differing courses which help special education students realize their long term goals.

    A teaching preparation program is required in addition to a Bachelor’s degree in order for someone to begin teaching prechool, elementary and secondary school students. Often an additional year of specialized studies will be needed depending on the specific state’s regulations.

    A master’s degree is usually geared toward specialized certifications for teachers interested in specific areas of the field. Depending on the state in which certification is needed and the particular specialty chosen, either a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Education (MED) degree would be attained.

    Comparable to a second master’s degree is an Educational Specialist Degree (EDS). This type of degree greatly benefits those intending to become psychologists, school counselors, and reasearch and development specialists.

    For those interested in teaching future special education instructors, doctorate degrees such as a PhD or EdD are available. Holders of these degrees often become leaders in the fields of teacher education and research.

    With many degree choices and specialties available for study, working with individuals with special needs can be very fulfilling for teachers in this field.

    Related Links/Resources:

    U.S. Department of Education
    Commission on Teacher Credentialing