Reaching Out to Kids: Special Education Degree

Special education teachers work with students with various educational challenges and learning disabilities. Special education students may be challenged with mild, moderate or severe disabilities, and they may be faced with physical, emotional, mental or learning challenges. A special education teacher’s primary role is to modify a curriculum to provide the best possible education for each student, taking into account the individual’s unique challenges.

Special education requires a patient, loving and empathetic individual who can relate well to the students and the student’s family members. Educational topics may range from standard academic subjects to basic living skills.

Special education teachers may work in a variety of environments, from public schools to private homes or institutions. Unlike many other teaching specialties, special education teachers often work year-round.

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Special Education Teacher Degree Information

To earn a degree in special education, you will study teaching fundamentals and practices, general education techniques, educational psychology, assessment and evaluation, classroom motivation and program planning and design. You will be required to complete in person practice teaching sessions in live environments in order to be licensed to teach in most states.

Online Special Education Teacher Education Curriculum

You will be able to complete nearly the entire required special education teacher curriculum online, except for any required live practice teaching sessions. Your courses will consist of general education and teacher training courses, such as fundamentals of education and learning methods. General teacher training will be supplemented with courses relating to program design and modification for disabilities, and courses on diversity and inclusion and using technology in education.

Earning a Degree Online

Several accredited colleges and universities offer online special education teacher courses. These courses can help prepare you to teach at the elementary and high school level.

You can also earn a Master’s or PhD degree in special education teaching completely online, except for any required practice teaching time.

online education is a great choice if you have already started your career and want to branch out, or if you live very far away from schools offering the program you need. Before you commit to a program, just make sure that the school you are considering is accredited.


When you select special education as your field, the curriculum will include:

  • Behavior management counseling
  • Learning and behavior disabilities
  • Technology in special education
  • Special education legal issues
  • Strategies for teaching children with disabilities

These courses are in addition to the normal education curriculum that will include fundamentals of education, teaching and learning methods, and curriculum design.


The master’s degree program will include more in-depth study of similar topics to those in the bachelor’s program. You may also be required to complete a project revolving around designing a special education learning program, or complete a longer practice teaching rotation. Master’s degree programs usually require two to three years to complete.

Further Education

It is possible to earn a PhD in special education teaching either online or on campus. Completing a PhD program will take you two or more years.


You will take courses such as foundation of education, teaching foundation, special education essentials, classroom management, student motivation, diversity, inclusion and special education, and effective teaching practices. You will be required to complete a student teaching segment in the field, where you will be supervised by a certified teacher as you hone your teaching skills.

Career Opportunities

Special education skills are needed in every branch of education. You may teach special needs classes in public schools or find a position within a residential institution or group home environment. There are opportunities in federal or local government agencies, academia or private research foundations. You may also choose to freelance by taking on a number of private educational opportunities.

The US Government Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the demand for special education teachers will increase at about 17 percent per year, which is about average.

Earning Potential

The median pay for special education teachers was $53,000 in 2010. Entry-level salaries are in the range of $35,000, and top earners come in at about $85,000, according to US Government Bureau of Labor Statistics salary surveys. reports slightly lower earnings, since they post the median salary at $47,000.

Benefits for special education teachers are often better than for most positions, and can add substantially to the total compensation package. Special education teachers often enjoy a more liberal vacation and paid time off than other fields.

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Special Education Teacher Education FAQ

Are There Any Special Education Teacher Requirements

You’ll have to pass a statewide teacher exam and take a number of education classes. For example, you might choose to do online course work in:

  • Technology in classroom learning
  • Developing individual needs curriculum
  • Management of disruptive behavior
  • Disciplinary action

Are there any regions with greater opportunities than others?

There are exciting and well-paying opportunities all over the country. Government and research positions tend to cluster in the Northeast and the Washington DC area. Salaries are higher in the Northeast and in remote areas such as Alaska.

Will I be required to act as a “student teacher” to get my degree?

Most states will require that you complete a stint as a student teacher where you will be working under the supervision of an experienced licensed educator. To prepare you for this eventuality and the realities you will face on the job, most educational programs include one or more student teaching opportunities. You may also need to complete a brief internship at an educational facility that includes special needs students.

What are the minimum degree requirements for a special education teacher position?

You will need at least a bachelor’s degree to earn a position as a special education teacher at most public or private schools and educational facilities.

A master’s degree will equip you to act as an administrator or educational head at facilities that focus on special needs education. This will also help you to gain entry to highly responsible government or research roles.

With an Associate’s degree you may be able to land a job as a teacher’s aid or assistant in an educational facility, but you should plan to earn at least a bachelor’s degree for career advancement and maximum opportunity.

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