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Career Profile: Special Education Teachers

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Why Is Special Education Instruction a Job of Tomorrow?
The demand for special education teachers is expanding as more children are identified as needing specialized services to help them achieve academic, social and emotional success. From 1998 to 2003, there was a 7.4 percent increase in the number of students receiving special education services, but only a 1.3 percent gain in the number of special education teachers, according to the California Department of Education. That gap continues today across the U.S., intensifying the demand for special education teachers. Employment opportunities for special education teachers are expected to rise 15 percent by 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Special education teacher salaries depend on the workplace and teacher’s level of experience. For example, a special education teacher working in a secondary school earns an average salary of $48,330, whereas a teacher working in a middle school earns about $47,650.

What Does a Special Education Teacher Do?
Special education teachers are responsible for the intellectual and social development of students with a variety of disabilities. Most special education teachers work with students who have mild to moderate disabilities, such as autism or attention disorders. Teachers follow the same curriculum that students without disabilities use, but the curriculum is often modified to adapt to the needs of the students. Special education teachers must be able to detect which young children would benefit from services. With early detection, students with special needs will be placed immediately into a class suited for their disability, allowing them to make the most of their educational experience. Special education teachers design and teach curricula that encourages learning, but also work with the student’s disabilities. Many teachers also help their students with life skills and act as mentors, providing career counseling and offering everyday advice.

What Kind of Training Do I Need to Become a Special Education Teacher?
Special education teachers must have a bachelor’s degree in education, as well as successfully completed a special education program. However, most states are now requiring a master’s degree for licensure. A bachelor’s degree would take four years to earn, and a master’s degree would take an additional two to three years. Special education courses cover such topics as mental disabilities and teaching theories. After completing a teaching degree program, prospective special education teachers then must seek licensure, which requires professional training and a teaching evaluation.

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