A teaching career in the field of special education can be a very rewarding experience, and completing a special education degree program is the first step towards starting on this career path. Since Federal and State laws require all public schools to give students with mental, physical or psychological disabilities equal opportunities for their education, special education teachers deliver specialized courses and class work so that these students can succeed. The special education degree program can be completed through a college or university campus setting, or completed online. Teachers who want to specialize in a particular disability can continue their educational career by completing a master degree in special education or related courses toward certification.
Special Education Teacher - Necessary Skills
A special education degree is comprised of several specialized courses designed for teaching students with learning difficulties, disabled students and students who may be struggling in school. The field requires patience, empathy and the ability to work with different types of students who may be at a disadvantage in the classroom. Strong candidates for becoming a special education teacher include those who have:
Strong communication skills
Strong coping skills
Ability to handle stressful situations
Ability to nurture young and talented students
Enthusiasm for teaching
Special Education Degree - Required Classes and Programs
Every special education teacher must complete at least a four-year bachelor's degree program In general education, and they can pursue specialized courses as part of their elective requirements during their junior and senior year. Undergraduate courses towards a special education degree may include coursework in the fields of:
A prospective special education teacher can then take specialized subjects in psychology, human behavior and sociology that pertain to specific disabilities. At least one or two semesters of the degree program may involve an internship or work-study program that can help the teacher gain hands-on experience in the field. This may involve shadowing a special education teacher in a classroom setting, or serving as a teacher's aide at a public or private school. An internship or work study program is a valuable supplement to a special education degree program, and can help many students learn the essential skills needed to succeed in their career. Some educational institutions offer a fifth year bachelor's degree program that involves in-depth training in special education, covering the legal aspects of the field and ongoing research in childhood development, educational psychology and other related topics.
A master degree in special education allows teachers to develop advanced skills and training in the special education curriculum and work towards specialization for a particular disability. Students who complete a master degree in special education may also explore career opportunities to teach teenagers, college students and adults with learning impairments.
Obtaining Special Education Certification
All States require teachers to obtain a teaching license, but those who wish to specialize in the field of special education must meet the State's formal educational requirements in special education (these can vary by State) only after completing a bachelor's degree. Alternative licensure is another option, and involves taking an assessment test, teaching under the supervision of licensed teachers, and completing educational requirements through a local college. Students who complete a master degree in special education meet all of the certification/licensure requirements, and can explore further career opportunities in the field.
Completing an Online Special Education Degree Program
Online special education degree programs offer prospective teachers a chance to complete their education off-campus. These programs are delivered via the Internet, and may involve participating in discussion groups; submitting coursework and projects online; participating in online lectures; communicating with professors and students via e-mail; and taking part in tutorials and webcasts provided by the professor. Online special education degree programs from an accredited college or university are generally accepted and acknowledged as equal to a degree completed onsite.
An online special education degree program gives students the flexibility to work at their own pace and possibly work full or part-time while enrolled in school. Completing an online special education degree program requires a high level of self-motivation, self discipline and strong computer and Internet skills.
Special Education Career - Employment and Work Options
A special education teacher can work in a variety of settings and different grade levels; they may also choose to become tutors for students in the general education setting, and can offer services in residential facilities such as mental health hospitals and clinics. A special education teacher may work closely with therapists, social workers, and teaching assistants, and works towards developing an individualized education program (IEP) for each student.
Employment prospects for those who pursue a special education career look promising as there is an increasing demand for teachers who have developed advanced skills and received formal training for working with students who are mentally disabled or are learning impaired. The number of special education teachers is expected to grow faster than average through 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Office.
The median annual earnings of a special education teacher in 2006 was $46,360 for preschool through elementary school, and $47,650 for middle school special education teachers.