Special education teachers, who are trained to work with students who have disabilities, are in demand around the country. Teachers may work in separate classrooms or schools, or alongside children who do not have disabilities. Students may have a range of special needs, including blindness, deafness, intellectual disabilities, dyslexia, or autism. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects faster-than-average job growth in the field, in part because disabilities are being diagnosed at younger ages, academic requirements in public school are becoming more rigorous, and federal law requires public schools to provide education to students with disabilities.
Obtain a bachelor's degree. A four-year degree from an accredited college or university is the minimum standard for earning certification. Some universities offer a bachelor's degree in special education, which allows students to start teaching right after they graduate from college.
Pass the teacher certification exams. Most states require would-be teachers to take tests that measure reading, writing, and math skills in order to earn a teaching certification in any field. States may also require some subject-specific tests before awarding a teaching certificate.
Seek master's degree training, if needed. Though some states give special education certification to teachers with bachelor's degrees, in others states a master's degree is necessary. Many universities have online programs, which offer flexibility for teachers-in-training who might already have a full-time job.
Investigate "emergency" certification. Some school districts need special education teachers so much that they have created temporary special education certifications. These emergency certifications allow teachers to work with special needs students while taking any needed coursework. They are not intended to replace permanent special education certification.
Consider national board certification as a demonstration of commitment to the field. Sponsored by the American Academy of Special Education Professionals (aasep.org), the national board certification process does not replace state certification process, but is considered a higher level standard.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Teachers---Special Education
- College Board: Careers: Special Education Teachers
- Council for Exceptional Children: Special Ed Careers
- Educational Testing Service: Praxis
- American Academy of Special Education Professionals: Board Certification
- Private schools or charter schools may have different requirements for special education teachers compared to the public school system. Check with the school for more information.
Alicia Turner has worked in journalism for more than 20 years. She has served as a reporter for publications such as the "Roanoke Times" and the "Tallahassee Democrat," covering local politics, transportation and education. Turner holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism.