Special Education Teacher Job Description
Special education teachers instruct and assist students who have a range of mental, physical, emotional, and learning disabilities. They may work in special education classrooms or in inclusive classrooms. In this role, special education teachers assess each student’s needs and develop and adapt lesson plans and classroom materials to help each student succeed. This might include small group or individual activities.
Special education teachers also work closely with parents, general education teachers, and administrators to monitor student progress and ensure that each student receives the instruction they need. For students with severe disabilities, this can also include assistance with life skills and basic skills like literacy.
Special Education Teacher Duties and Responsibilities
While the special education teacher’s duties can vary depending on the classroom and student, most share several core responsibilities:
Develop Curriculum and Lesson Plans
One of the special education teacher’s core responsibilities is developing lesson plans that meet educational standards and the specific needs of students within the classroom. This process generally involves working with students, administrators, and parents to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student that addresses their specific educational needs and disability.
Adapt Classroom Materials and Activities
Special education teachers work with students, parents, and teachers to adapt classroom materials and activities based on a student’s particular needs and abilities. This can include adapting existing lessons to make materials more accessible for special education students or developing new materials and activities that are specifically tailored to special education students’ needs.
Lead Classroom Activities
From day to day, the special education teacher leads a variety of classroom activities that help meet educational goals and maintain students’ social, behavioral, and mental health. The special education teacher may work with the class as a whole, break students into smaller groups, or work with individual students throughout the day. In inclusive classrooms, a special education teacher works with general education material to lead activities.
Assess Student Progress and Performance
Throughout the school year, special education teachers monitor and assess student progress and learning. This can include taking daily reports and notes related to each student’s successes and challenges within the classroom, as well as periodically assessing and adjusting the student’s IEP. In addition, special education teachers prepare and submit reports on student outcomes to administrators.
Confer with Parents and Administrators
Special education teachers frequently work with parents and school administrators to discuss student progress, classroom policies and procedures, and changes to IEPs. In parent conferences, the special education teacher provides updates on the student’s progress within the classroom and answers parent questions. A meeting with administrators may involve developing more effective or inclusive classroom materials.
Special Education Teacher Skills and Qualifications
Special education teachers help students with a range of physical, mental, learning, and emotional disabilities succeed in the classroom. Special education teachers tend to have at least a bachelor’s degree, state licensure, and the following skills:
- Instructional design – special education teachers develop and adapt classroom lessons and materials to meet specific student needs, so they should have some skill with lesson planning and curriculum development
- Student assessment – in this role, special education teachers determine each student’s specific needs to design their IEP and monitor their progress, so strong assessment skills are vital
- Classroom leadership – special education teachers need to manage their classrooms and may work with teaching assistants to organize, plan, and adapt activities from day to day
- Organization skills – throughout the year, special education teachers monitor student progress and may update their IEPs, so they should be organized and highly detail oriented
- Communication skills – effective communication is also important in this role, since special education teachers work with students and parents to ensure that students can access resources and meet their goals
Special Education Teacher Education and Training
Generally, special education teachers need at least a bachelor’s degree and a license or certification, although some private schools may not require licensure. Certification processes can vary from state to state, as can required fields of study. In some states, special education teachers may need a bachelor’s degree in special education, while in others they can major in elementary or secondary education and minor in special education.
Special Education Teacher Salary and Outlook
Special education teacher salaries can vary depending on district and level of experience. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that special education teachers earn a median annual salary of $58,980. The highest-paid 10 percent of special education teachers earn more than $95,320, while the lowest paid earn less than $38,660.
The BLS expects employment of special education teachers to grow 8 percent through 2026.
We searched the web and found many resources if you’d like to learn more about working as a special education teacher:
National Association of Special Education Teachers – special education teachers can join NASET to access resources, professional development materials, and publications related to teaching special education students
A Teacher’s Guide to Special Education – read this book to learn about the requirements and responsibilities of teachers working with special education students and classes
“Things I Wish I Knew My First Year of Teaching Special Education” – in this blog post, an experienced special education teacher provides tips and advice for newcomers to the profession
The Exceptional Teacher’s Handbook: The First-Year Special Education Teacher’s Guide to Success – authors Carla F. Shelton and Alice B. Pollingue provide new special education teachers with information and resources including checklists and advice on instructional practices
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