How to Become a Special Education Teacher: Career Advice & Information

Overview & Salaries


Special education teachers work with children who have learning disabilities. Special education teachers must not only be skilled teachers, but be able to adapt their teaching to their students, who may have disabilities ranging from mild to severe. They need to have patience and compassion for their students and the ability to adapt their teaching to each child’s individual needs.


Annual salaries for special education teachers will vary depending on your experience, education level, and expertise. In 2013, the average annual salary for special education teachers working in U.S. kindergartens and elementary schools was $56,690; for middle schools, it was $59,540; and for secondary schools was $60,410 per year.

For more information on what parts of the country have the most opportunity for special education teachers, click through to our Best Places to Work tab for information on the number of people employed and the average salary in each state.

Discover the Best Cities and States to Work in Special Education Teaching

New York State has the most special education teachers, with a total of 50,920 kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high school special education teachers. California has the next most, with 28,430.

Special education teachers are broken down into kindergarten & elementary, middle, and high school teachers: the data below is for kindergarten and elementary special education teachers. There are many more opportunities for middle and high school special education teachers.

The metro areas employing the most kindergarten and elementary special education teachers are:

  • New York-White Plains (12,740)
  • Chicago-Joliet (3,800)
  • Atlanta-Sandy Springs (3,560)

The metro areas employing the highest concentration of kindergarten and elementary special education teachers are:

  • Vineland, NJ (5.35 jobs per thousand)
  • Springfield, IL (5.04 jobs per thousand)

The metro areas employing the best-paid kindergarten and elementary special education teachers are:

  • Nassau-Suffolk, NY (average annual salary $89,930)
  • Kingston, NY (average annual salary $80,200)

Employment and Salary Information for Special Education Teachers

Use our interactive map below to find out which areas of the United States are currently experiencing the greatest amount of growth and job availability for graduates looking for a career as a special education teacher. The associated information has been gathered from Bureau of Labor statistics, representing data collected in 2012.

Employment and Information Data for Special Education

Why Become A Special Education Teacher?

Special education teachers help children who have it incredibly tough. It’s not always an easy job, but the opportunities to make a difference are enormous:

  • Work with kids. It’s not for everyone. But if it is for you, then special education is one of the best possible ways to work with kids.
  • Decent pay. The average salary for special education teachers is at least $56,690 per year.
  • Change students’ lives. Special education helps you reach kids with disabilities in their formative years, when they’re learning vital skills and confidence. If good educators are important to most children, they’re absolutely vital for those overcoming disabilities.
  • Vacations. Yes, teachers work hard, and they need the breaks between school semesters for grading and planning lessons, so it’s not all a vacation for them. But still!

Special Education Teaching: What You Need To Know

Special education teachers need teaching skills, but also a lot of patience and love for what they do. A working knowledge of these skill sets will help to set you apart from other candidates.

  • Understanding of Children with Special Needs
  • Lesson Structuring and Planning
  • Classroom Management and Discipline
  • Subject-Matter Knowledge
  • Public Speaking and Communication
  • Working with Children

Feel like you’ve got a lot to learn? Get more information about special education teaching careers, degrees, and applicable courses from one of the schools below.

Degree Options for Special Education Teaching Careers

Bachelor’s degree

Special education teachers in public schools need a bachelor’s degree—employers prefer teachers with specialist degrees in special education, but there are some roles for teachers in a particular subject area, such as English, math or science. Private school teachers also usually require a bachelor’s degree.

Special education degrees will usually teach special needs student assessment, classroom behavior and management, psychological foundations in special education, and also opportunities to perform supervised fieldwork.

Public school teachers are also required to also hold a state-issued certification or license.