Is a Special Education Degree Right for You?

Special education teachers create individual learning programs for children who display varying degrees and symptoms of disability. For special education teachers to offer such personalized instruction, they must maintain a working knowledge of pedagogical strategies that address a wide range of disabilities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual entry-level salary of a special education teacher is $53,220. Positions for special education teachers are forecasted to grow at an average rate of 17% by 2020.

Advice for Earning Your Special Education Degree Online

Online degree programs work well for those who are able to manage their time and work independently. Online students also need to be comfortable with technology. Those who aren’t confident in their abilities to navigate the virtual classroom can usually find instructional guidelines or courses in basic software at their college of interest. Students must also have access to high-speed Internet connections and may be required to use web cams for online conferencing. Before beginning any online program, it is imperative to verify the school’s accrediting agency. Once you have found the accrediting agency, check to make sure the agency is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. This measure will ensure that your degree will be recognized as valid by your employer and other postsecondary institutions.

There are few strictly online bachelor degree programs in special education. This is because major milestones of earning a teaching degree involve on-site participation with students and other teachers. Online universities like Western Governors University integrate demonstration teaching by pairing their students with host teachers in local schools. Because licensure requirements vary from state-to-state, it is important for all students of online education programs to measure their educational credentials against the professional requirements of their future employer.

Required Courses

Students can expect to take courses in the foundations of special education, classroom management, effective teaching practices, and professional planning, design and development. Students will also learn how to properly assess, evaluate and manage children with special needs. Most students will also receive training in psychology in order to successfully aid children with behavioral or emotional problems. All online students have to complete student teaching and other field experiences before graduation.

Common Career Paths

There are many different avenues for careers in special education. Some special education teachers will specialize in a severity level or specific type of disability. Some teachers may work with children who have autism, while others may work with students who have mild learning disabilities such as dyslexia. Another path for a special education teacher is working with children who are struggling with behavioral or emotional problems. If an educator wishes to work outside of a school, he or she can work as a personal care giver or private tutor for a child with special needs.

  • Special Education Teacher

    Most professionals with a degree in special education work in schools as special education teachers. Many schools require teachers to obtain state licensure, but some private schools may hire non-licensed teachers with a degree. There are four main groups of licensure for special education teachers:

    • Early Childhood Special Education
    • Cross-Categorical Special Education
    • Cross-Grad/Age Special Education
    • Disability-Based Certificate

    According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, special education teachers earn more than their counterparts. The national average of salaries of special education teachers is 4-5% more than that of traditional teachers at the same levels. Of special education teachers, those who work in early childhood education have the lowest national average salaries at $56,460 per year, while those who work at the secondary levels earn an average of $59,080 per year.

  • Early Intervention Specialist

    Early intervention specialists often fall under the category of early childhood special education teachers, but they have special training that enables them to work with infants, toddlers, and young children who have sensory and physical impairments, or are cognitively or emotionally challenged. While earning their special education degrees, early intervention specialists study developmental milestones and the various disabling conditions that affect children from birth to 5 years of age. After obtaining their licenses, early intervention specialists may work in classrooms, homes or medical centers. Early intervention specialists often partner with occupational therapists, social workers and medical professionals in order to create the best learning program for a specific child.

    Because public schools begin teaching children at the age of 5, early intervention treatment has historically been the responsibility of parents. However, it is becoming more apparent that early intervention is crucial to the development of a disabled child. In many states, legislation has been passed in order to serve this population of disabled children. This new initiative has increased employment opportunities for early intervention specialists as schools and medical centers receive funding to help these children succeed. Experienced early intervention specialists are in high demand, and can be promoted to supervisory or coordinating positions in educational organizations and school districts.

  • Personal Care Assistant & Tutor

    Special education classrooms often require more than one teacher. An assistant helps teachers supervise and tutor the children in cross-sectional classrooms. Many special education teachers and assistants must provide their students with personal care services such as dressing and toileting. Some individuals perform personal care services and tutoring within the home of a student with disabilities.

    The pay for personal care workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is significantly less than that of a special education teacher, with annual salaries of $23,100. The national average for a teaching assistant salary is also lower than that of a teacher, at $25,270. However, these positions do not require a college degree.


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