Special Education Teachers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you are considering a career as a special education teacher, you should focus on courses that will prepare you for college. These classes include natural and social sciences, mathematics, and English. Speech classes would also be a good choice for improving your communication skills. Finally, classes in psychology might help you understand the students you will eventually teach and prepare you for college-level psychology course work.

Postsecondary Training

All states require that teachers have at least a bachelor's degree and that they complete a prescribed number of subject and education credits. It is increasingly common for special education teachers to complete an additional fifth year of training after they receive their bachelor's degree. Many states require special education teachers to get a master's degree in special education.

Hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States offer programs in special education, including undergraduate, master's, and doctoral programs. These programs include general and specialized courses in special education, including educational psychology, legal issues of special education, child growth and development, and knowledge and skills needed for teaching students with disabilities. The student typically spends the last year of the program student teaching in an actual classroom, under the supervision of a licensed teacher.


The American Academy of Special Education Professionals offers a certificate of advanced professional development to teachers who "wish to demonstrate a commitment to excellence to employers, peers, administrators, other professionals, and parents." Applicants must complete the following courses to receive the certificate: Review of the Major Principles of Special Education; Principles of IEP Development; Understanding Assessment in Special Education; Understanding Response to Intervention; and Special Education Eligibility. Contact the academy for more information.

Other Education or Training

Workshops, webinars, classes, conferences, and other continuing education options are available from the American Academy of Special Education Professionals, Childhood Education International, Council for Exceptional Children, and the National Association of Special Education Teachers. Contact these organizations for more information. Special education teachers can also seek out continuing education opportunities via professional associations at the state and local levels.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The American Academy of Special Education Professionals and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offer certification to special education teachers. Contact these organizations for more information on certification requirements. 

All states require that special education teachers be licensed, although the particulars of licensing vary by state. In some states, these teachers must first be certified as elementary or secondary school teachers and then meet specific requirements to teach special education. Some states offer general special education licensure; others license several different subspecialties within special education. Some states allow special education teachers to transfer their license from one state to another, but many still require these teachers to pass licensing requirements for that state.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

One of the best ways to gain experience in the field is to work as a student teacher; this is a requirement of most teacher-education programs.

To be successful in this field, you need to have many of the same personal characteristics as regular classroom teachers: the ability to communicate, a broad knowledge of the arts, sciences, and history, and a love of children. In addition, you will need a great deal of patience and persistence. You need to be creative, flexible, cooperative, and accepting of differences in others. Finally, you need to be emotionally stable and consistent in your dealings with students.