How to Become a Special Education Needs Teacher



Working as a special education needs teacher can be a great career choice if you’re someone who has a genuine passion to see other people grow, develop, and reach their goals. It ca be highly emotionally, physically and mentally draining, and can require a great deal of patience, but it can also be extremely rewarding.


From a career standpoint, this profession involves a decent level of pay, good prospects for career advancement, although not a large variety in terms of the types of employers you could work for (although, perhaps more than you’d think).


Below, we’ve outlined everything you need to know to become a special education needs teacher. We’ll show you what education, skills and personal traits employers will expect you to bring to the table. We've also included helpful supplementary information, such as a job description, an overview of the job duties, salary expectations, a list of career advancement possibilities, and much more.



Education Needed to Become a Special Education Needs Teacher

Most, if not all Canadian provinces and American states require that you at least have a bachelor’s degree in education (B.Ed.) to work as a special education teacher.


Some provinces and states will also require that your education degree is focused specifically in special education. Others will allow you to major in elementary education or a content area, such as math or science, and pursue a minor in special education. Others still will accept a degree in another area combined with a valid teaching certificate.


Success Tip: Please check with your province/state education regulation authority to find out what the specific educational requirements are in your region.






More About This Career: General Job Description

Special education needs teachers are responsible for working with students who require extra support in order to complete their learning successfully. 


They may work with children and young adults who are physically disabled, mentally disabled, sensory impaired, have speech and language difficulties, have behavioural difficulties or are emotionally vulnerable.



Typical Duties & Responsibilities 

Although the duties of a special education needs teacher can vary from job to job, they are generally responsible for the following:


• Reviewing statements regarding the special education needs of students

• Attending workshops and seminars in order to ensure continuous professional development

• Liaising closely with parents, guardians, other teacher, and school administrators

• Assisting with the personal care of severely disabled students

• Organizing learning activities for outside of the classroom

• Preparing lessons and resources for classes

• Using special equipment and facilities, such as audiovisual materials and computers to stimulate interest in learning

• Collaborating with classroom teachers to define appropriate activities for the pupils in relation to the curriculum

• Performing specialized teaching functions, such as teaching Braille to visually impaired students and teaching sign language to students with hearing impairments



Work Environment Typical to This Profession 

Setting & Hours: Special education needs teachers typically work in classroom settings, during weekday school hours. Many work the traditional 10 month school year and have a 2 month break during the summer, as well as a short mid-winter break. Some teachers work in summer programs.


Conditions: Working with students who have special needs requires considerable physical, mental and emotional energy, and can also be very rewarding in these regards. Teachers must be physically fit enough to assist students with mobility in some cases, such as helping students in and out of wheelchairs.





Typical Earnings for Special Education Needs Teachers

The salary and wage levels of special education needs teachers can vary, typically depending on the following factors:


• Their level of education and experience

• The size, type and budget of their employer

• Their wage and salary negotiating abilities 

• The region in which they work

• The specific responsibilities of their job

• Their work schedule (such as part-time versus full-time)


Special Education Needs Teacher Salary - United States: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Americans working in the ‘Special Education Teachers’ occupational group is $59,780 per year (May, 2018 figures). The lowest 10% of salaries in the group were at or below $39,680, and the highest 10% were at or above $97,070 per year.


Salary - Canada (Alberta): According to the Government of Alberta, the average salary of Albertans working as “Elementary school and kindergarten teachers” (the most closely related profession reliable statistics were available for) is $78,971 per year.


Salary - Canada (British Columbia): According to the Province of British Columbia, the average salary of British Columbians working as “Instructors of people with disabilities” is $72,532 per year.



Who Employs Them?

Special education needs teachers are typically employed with public and private schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centres, specialized educational institutes, and other institutions. They can also work privately as tutors.



Special Education Needs Teacher Jobs - Current Opportunities

Although job opportunities in this field aren't all that common, from time to time they will be listed. Have a look below to see if there’s anything listed in your area:





Making Sure You’re a Good Fit

By now you should have a good sense of what special education needs teachers do for a living, and what you’ll need to become one. 
However, you’ll also need to be a good fit for the work, and vice-versa. If you’re going to be effective and have success in this line of work, you’ll need to have the following personal traits, skills and professional ambitions:


• Interest in an education-based career within a classroom setting

• The ability to work closely and co-operatively with other teachers, parents and consultants, and build positive working relationships 

• The ability to maintain a positive attitude and focus on student capabilities, not limitations

• The genuine desire to learn effective instructional skills for teaching individuals with special educational needs, such as those on the autism spectrum

• A genuine desire to help students develop academic and life skills

• Patience, and the ability to remain calm when instructing students with disabilities, who may lack basic skills, present behavioural or other challenges, or require repeated efforts to understand material



Career Advancement Opportunities

With enough experience, and proven competence, special educations needs teachers can move into lead teacher or department head positions, which would be accompanied with greater responsibility and pay.


They can also become school counselors, instructional coordinators, curriculum developers, and elementary, middle, and high school principals; positions which generally require additional education, an advanced degree, or certification. 


With further education, special education needs teachers can also become researchers and instructors at the university level. They can also become consultants, providing expert insight for government agencies, non-profit organizations, private compares and other organizations.



Similar Career Guides on Our Site

Is becoming a special education needs teacher not quite the right career move for you? Need more options to explore? Listed below are occupational guides in our system that are similar in nature to this one:


Developmental Care Worker

• Early Childhood Educator

• Educational Assistant 

• Foreign Language Instructor 

• Occupational Therapist 

• Physical Education Teacher

• Principal



References for This Career Guide

The following sources were referenced in the preparation of this career guide. Please visit them to learn more about the various aspects of this profession.


Occupations in Alberta:Special Needs Teacher.” (February 1, 2012). Government of Alberta - Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS). Retrieved July 18, 2019.

Explore Careers: Instructors of persons with disabilities (NOC 4215).” (n.d.). Province of British Columbia - WorkBC. Retrieved July 18, 2019.

Explore Careers: Elementary school and kindergarten teachers (NOC 4032).” (n.d.). Province of British Columbia - WorkBC. Retrieved July 18, 2019.

Becoming a Teacher:Requirements.” (n.d.). Ontario College of Teachers. Retrieved July 18, 2019.

Occupational Outlook Handbook:Special Education Teachers.” (May 20, 2019). United States Department of Labor - Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved July 18, 2019.


Please Note: Some actual job postings were used in the preparation of this career guide. Due to the brief nature of their online presence, they are not listed here as cited references.



Scholarships for Becoming a Special Education Needs Teacher

All of the scholarships found on our Education Scholarships page are relevant for this profession. Just be sure to apply to as many as you can, as there are literally millions of dollars in scholarship money that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants.



Relevant University Majors for This Career

Studying one of the university majors listed below will serve as an excellent educational foundation for this career:


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