What Training, Certification, and Licensure Do You Need To Qualify as a Special Education Teacher?

specialedteachCurrently, there are not enough licensed special education teachers to fill all open positions. Technical advances that have made it possible to better diagnose and treat learning disabilities have created a large pool of special education students, but there are not enough qualified educators to teach them. For someone with the desire to make a difference in the life of a child whose disability makes learning a challenge, a career in special education offers many rewards.


A career as a special education teacher requires a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree. There are programs that offer training specifically in special education, but there are also programs that offer education degrees and an additional year of training in special education.

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Special education is a broad teaching area that encompasses many different areas based on the disabilities of the students. Special education teachers work with students who have learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, physical handicaps, behavioral challenges, and a combination of severe mental and physical handicaps as well as autism spectrum learners. Most state licensing boards will expect those looking to pursue a career in special education to choose an area of specialization, and their training will usually be geared toward that specialization.

Those who already possess a Bachelor’s degree in an area other than education have the additional option of earning a Master’s degree in special education while accepting a temporary teaching position with special education students. All special education training, whether at the Bachelor’s or the Master’s level, will involve some form of in-classroom training. Temporary credentials can be granted to those with Bachelor’s degrees in other areas who are taking special education classes.

For those who are still in high school, local Regional Occupational Programs (ROPs) may offer teacher’s aide classes that provide the opportunity to actually be in the classroom or other courses that would expose the student to a variety of children with different abilities. Another way to gain valuable experience before beginning formal training would be to volunteer either in a special education class or with an organization that provides services to special education students.

Certification and Licensing

All prospective teachers must take and pass the Praxis teaching exam, and special education teachers must take the Praxis II specifically for special education. The score needed to pass the exam varies by state, so it is important for test-takers to know what the passing score is for the state in which they intend to teach. The Praxis II may be taken as many times as needed to pass, and once passed, the new teacher may apply for licensure in that state.

Applying for a Job In Special Education

Licensed educators looking to work in special education will find the field wide open. Due to the high turnover rate and the decline in students entering this field, jobs in special education are readily available. Furthermore, the number of jobs in this area are expected to grow. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of special education jobs is expected to increase by 20% from 2008 to 2018.

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Salaries for special education positions are also attractive and expected to increase. While they vary by geographic location and education level, the middle 50% of elementary school special education teachers will earn anywhere from $40,000.00 to $63,000.00 annually. The majority of special education teachers work in elementary schools, but there are positions available at the junior high school and high school levels.

Whatever the age level, degree of ability or part of the country where teaching is desired, a career in special education offers the chance to provide an essential resource to those who need it most.