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Special Education

Earnings Potential

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual earnings for special education teachers, from pre-k to elementary and high schools were $44,477.

The middle to top fifty per cent earned incomes ranging from $35,340 to 59,340. Additionally, the lowest 10 per cent of earnings in this field were less than $30,350, and the highest 10 percent of earnings were greater than $72,056. The highest earnings in this field went to those working in public secondary education, private education, and management. New York state special education professionals received the highest pay nation-wide, with a median income of $60,780.

Facts at a glance

  • All states require a bachelor’s degree to work in special education, plus additional licensing and appropriate teaching credentials. Many states also require a master’s degree in education, with an emphasis on special education. However, because of the demand for special education teachers nation-wide, many states also offer alternative licensing options for those people who wish to enter the field, but earned their bachelor’s degrees in a discipline outside of education.
  • A shortage of qualified teachers, combined with a rise in special education enrollment, ensure good job prospects in this field.
  • Jobs opportunities range from early childcare to primary and secondary education, individual family services, residential mental health institutions, offices of health practitioners, state and local governments, management, and universities.

Summary of what this career entails

Special education teachers work primarily with infants, children, and young adults whose disabilities can range from mental retardation and severe autism, to those who suffer only mild to moderate learning disabilities. With the former group, the goal is to teach students basic life and coping skills, while with the latter group students are guided through the learning experience by using a modified version of the school’s general education curriculum to accommodate their special needs. Disabilities can include, but are not limited to, speech and language impairment, orthopedic impairment, visual impairment, deafness and/or blindness, and traumatic brain injury, emotional distress, and brain injury. This field can be extremely rewarding, but the workload is tremendously stressful, and teachers can face the threat of litigation if the requisite reporting and paperwork procedures are not followed. Because this field is so physically and emotionally draining, many teachers leave this area of education.

Examples and or details of work

Special educators are not limited to working in the classroom and can look forward to employment in a variety of career choices, including art and music therapy, educational diagnostics, physical therapy, home-schooling, speech-language pathology, social work, nursing, administration, interpretation, and occupational therapy. As more children are diagnosed with special needs, the demand for specialists in this field will continue to grow, and people interested in becoming special educators will find more opportunities for financial assistance to reach their career goals. In a step in this direction, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro recently received an $800,000 grant from the federal Department of Education to fund its Project RESTART, a program designed to annually support 20 students through their special education studies.

Degrees that lead to this career

  • BA in Education, with an emphasis on special education
  • MA in Teaching and Learning
  • MA in Arts Education, with an emphasis on special education
  • MEd in Special Education (Credentialed and non-credentialed)
  • PhD in Special Education

Specific Career openings in this field

According to the National Association for Special Education Teachers job board, there are openings for special educators as teachers, university faculty members, assessment and research specialists, hospital coordinators, school principals, and therapists. Though there is a need in all areas of the country for special educators, there seem to be more job openings in suburban and wealthy urban areas. Bilingual teachers and teachers with multiple skills and areas of expertise will find greater opportunities for employment.


US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook handbook, 2006-2007, Special Education Teachers, on the internet at

National Clearinghouse for Professions in Special Education, on the internet at

National Association for Special Education Teachers, on the internet at