Special Education Degrees

(found programs from 18 schools)

Below is a directory (broken down by state) of all of the Special Education Teacher programs we could find, from over 1,700 accredited colleges and universities across the US.

Every teacher needs patience, compassion and creativity to coax the best out of their students, but special education teachers must have these qualities in abundance as they work to guide students with disabilities toward the brightest possible future. Earning a special education degree can prepare you with the tools you need to make an impact in students lives.

Special Education Teachers Job Description

Although a special education teachers job description can vary, the overall similarity among all SPED teachers is that they work with youth with cognitive, emotional and physical disabilities ranging from mild to severe. They are employed at every education level from preschool through secondary school.

Special education includes students with a wide variety of disabilities such as autism, mental retardation, speech impairment, dyslexia and deafness and blindness. The role of the special education teacher is to adapt the general education curriculum and teaching techniques to accommodate his or her students' special needs. One way special education teachers do this is by developing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for their students. IEPs are roadmaps for student achievement that account for each students' special needs and abilities.

Special education teachers serve as a resource for general education teachers, and they coordinate with other service providers such as social workers, psychologists, and therapists. They may work as a support teacher in a general education classroom, in a self-contained special education classroom or in a resource room. Some special education teachers work in residential facilities or tutor homebound or hospitalized students.

special education career specialties infographic

Special Education Teacher Requirements

Special education teachers must be licensed by the state in which they work. Most states require a four-year degree in special education, but some require a master's degree or a fifth year of graduate-level training. States also require a student teaching internship and a passing score on a competency exam.

Colleges and universities offer special education degrees at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels. These programs may offer generalized special education degrees, or they may offer the opportunity to specialize in a particular area such as autism. The time it takes to obtain a special education teacher certification it typically 4 years for a bachelors degree.

How Much Does a Special Education Teacher Make?

Special education teachers are in high demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment in special education is expected to grow 17 percent through 2018 thanks to earlier diagnosis of learning disabilities and legislation emphasizing tougher graduation standards for special education students. Special education teachers will find the most opportunity in inner city and rural school districts as well as in the South and West where student enrollment is growing rapidly. In addition, special education teachers who are trained to teach autistic students or those with multiple disabilities are in great demand.

The median annual salary for special education teachers at the kindergarten through elementary level was $57,040 in 2016 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For middle school special education teachers that figure rose to $58,560 and for secondary teachers the median wage topped $59,700.


Special Education Teacher Job Outlook

As minority populations continue to grow in most areas of the country so, too, will the need for bilingual special education teachers to serve these populations. In addition, legislation aimed at improving early intervention efforts for infants, toddlers and preschoolers with disabilities is creating a need for more early childhood special education teachers.

Online Special Education Courses

According to the Department of Education, many states have a critical need for special education teachers at all grade levels. A substantial number of online programs in special education are available for both aspiring and current teachers, including bachelor's degrees at the elementary and secondary levels, master's degrees and doctorate degrees. Several online schools also offer emphasis areas such as autism spectrum disorder, behavior analysis, gifted and talented education and differentiated instruction.

Online special education courses generally focus on inclusion and collaborative practices, assistive technology, pedagogy, types of physical and mental/emotional disabilities, classroom management strategies and effective assessment. Depending on how much time a student is willing to spend, an online bachelor's degree program may be completed in three to four years, while online master's and doctorate degrees can take 18 months to two years to finish.

Before enrolling in an online degree program, assess if this is the right path for you. Those who need little external motivation are most successful with online programs; otherwise, consider enrolling in on-campus classes instead.

Three schools offering online degrees in special education that you may wish to consider include Arizona State University, Arkansas State University and Grand Canyon University.

Arizona State University offers several different Master of Education degrees that can be applied to special education, one of which is the Master of Education in curriculum and instruction: teaching and learning, with a focus on the autism spectrum. This degree program consists of 10 classes and one practicum, which is customized to fit individual students' interests and abilities.

Arkansas State University offers a Master of Science in education with an emphasis on gifted, talented and creative (GTC). This program prepares educators to identify giftedness in children and to understand and serve their needs in the classroom.

Capella University's Master of Science in special education teaching is designed for education professionals who wish to develop instructional strategies for special needs students. Courses involve pedagogy, curriculum design, research methodology and educational ethics.

Special Education Teacher Courses

If you major in special education, your curriculum can address the specific concerns that special needs children experience. You will determine which of the five specialty areas that you will declare your major in a special education program such as:

  • Early Childhood
  • Mild to Moderate Disabilities
  • Moderate to Severe Disabilities
  • Visual Impairment or Blindness
  • Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Specialty programs generally define core courses that can provide you with the insight and problem solving skills. Depending on your major in special education, your curriculum may include the following courses:


Introduction to Special Education

This introduction to special education provides an overview of individuals with disabilities. Content includes the study of human growth and development over the life span. Aspiring teachers explore the needs and apply educational strategies to assess and evaluate learning disabilities, emotional or behavioral disorders, autism spectrum disorders and other conditions that impact the learning process of children.

This course also focuses on the historical perspective of teaching children with special needs and how the past has impacted today's learning theories on societal issues surrounding children with special needs. The philosophy of teaching children with learning disabilities is discussed as it relates to ethical and legal implications as well as moral reasoning.

Strategies that Support Children's Learning

This course examines the assessment and evaluation of hearing, visual, physical and emotional learning disabilities of the school aged child. As an introduction, this course discusses the characteristics and categories of exceptionality. Aspiring teachers learn the rules and regulations that define special education, and are provided with ethical and legal considerations for professionalism, ethics and advocacy.

Students also discuss current trends of local and national state legislation that impact special education and funds required to effectively meet the needs of children with special needs. This course may include a field experience component that includes actual classroom attendance.

Assessment and Intervention in Early Childhood Special Education

This course is devoted to the early assessment in infants, toddlers and preschoolers for developmental delays and disabilities. Interventions are applied with a focus on family-centered agencies, parental involvement and reporting findings to other interdisciplinary agencies. Emphasis is placed on teaching strategies that encourage the child to participate in activities that stimulate learning and reduce deficits.

Prospective teachers can learn how to design and evaluate activities that contribute directly to each child's unique disability. Students can be exposed to various learning theories that are put into practice to include the family, cultural background and the assessment of the child's specific needs. This course can provide special education teachers with insight into the impact of disabilities on a very young child.

Education of Students with Severe and Multiple Disabilities

Prospective teachers can learn how to develop curriculum and methods of instruction that address the needs of children with severe disabilities. Teachers can learn how to use augmentative equipment, such as speech software, computer access programs and cognitive rehabilitation aids for the special child's needs.

In addition, this course can provide assessment tools to evaluate a severely disabled child's access to the community, living options and parental support. Interventional strategies include collaboration and communication with other interdisciplinary teams that provide teachers with the tools to help students with learning disabilities and behavioral challenges.

Practicum Experience for SPED Teachers

Toward the end of your program, you can experience teaching, curriculum and program design and implement it in an actual classroom. Depending on your concentration, you can perform the clinical experience with children who have been diagnosed with mild to moderate, or moderate to severe disabilities.

The practicum usually consists of a teaching project that is directed towards intellectual impairment, autism spectrum disorders, emotional disturbances or other disabilities, to demonstrate knowledge of teaching pedagogy, the ability to plan individual instruction and evaluate the teaching plan for effectiveness and appropriateness.

Advocate For Special Education Students are Vital

With education reform bringing changes to special education classes and the current trends of mainstreaming children with special needs to standard classes, education leaders and advocates are needed more than ever. According to the NY Times, special education teachers are needed to facilitate the special needs child into mainstreaming successfully and appropriately.

If you want to make an impact in student's lives and move ahead in the field of education, use our listings to request information from the schools that interest you. You may want to contact multiple schools to make sure you choose the right program.


Useful Resources

Expert Advice

Below, we interview Dr. Paula Leitz, President of the International Association of Special Education, and Dr. James Payne, professor of special education at the University of Mississippi, about careers in the special education field.

Featured Online Programs:

Online programs may not be available in all states

Traditional On Campus Programs:

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