How to Become a High School Special Education Teacher

How to Become a High School Special Education TeacherHigh school special education teachers play a critical role in the learning and development of their special-needs students, continuing what was begun with preschool and continuing through high school. Many prominent people past and present, including athlete Magic Johnson and the composer Ludwig van Beethoven, have had special needs, physical disabilities or learning difficulties, reports The College Board. In spite of their challenges, these and many others went on to enjoy successful careers, making their marks in society and history.

If you enjoy helping others, especially those with mental or physical disabilities, are patient, creative, and supportive of those whose learning styles differ from most, then you may wish to learn more about becoming a special education teacher.

What are the duties of high school special education teachers?

Bachelor's Degree
Find Related CareersSOURCE: US Bureau of Labor Statistics
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) special education teachers’ duties usually include:

  • evaluating a student’s unique strengths and well as available skills
  • developing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to outline the services and other attention to be given to students
  • working with a student’s other teachers to adapt lessons to fit the students’ academic and other needs
  • update IEPs throughout the school year as needed to reflect changes and improvements in academic progress and changing goals
  • meet regularly with parents, administrators and others to discuss and update student progress
  • oversee special education teacher assistants to ensure that they possess the skills and training needed to successfully work with special needs students
  • monitor and ensure that the school complies with regulations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education act (IDEA)

Special education teachers may work in public or private schools, as well as charter or magnet schools, adds the BLS. Work hours are usually during normal daytime school hours, within a traditional 10-month cycle and a summer break. Special education teachers may be employed by residential schools as well as tutor homebound or hospitalized children.

How to become a special education teacher

All special education teachers, whether elementary, middle or high school, need to hold a bachelor’s degree. College courses usually include teaching methods designed for learners with special needs, what kind of disabilities that may be encountered and how to successfully work with them, as well as creating teaching and IEP plans. Some states require special education teachers to hold a master’s degree, particularly at the high school level. Fieldwork (student teaching) is also required for graduation.

Public school special education teachers must be certified or licensed; many private schools do not require licensing beyond a degree.

States requiring licensure also require continuing education courses to maintain the license or certification. These can often be easily obtained through online education. Find out more here:

What kind of personal qualities are needed?

  • You should be patient and supportive of people who learn differently from most students
  • Good communication skills are necessary for communicating with parents and others
  • Critical thinking skills are needed to develop teaching plans based on analysis of data concerning progress and other variables
  • Good instructional skills to help students become engaged in the learning process and explain difficult ideas in understandable terms.

What is the job outlook and pay?

Due to early-intervention programs, the BLS states that the biggest hiring increase for special education teachers will be at the elementary and middle school levels. However, there will continue to be a need for extending special attention through high school, especially in terms of learning life skills, such as using a checkbook or time management to help with future employment. As of 2010, BLS data shows that the average annual salary was $54,810 for high school special education teachers.

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