Special Education Teachers - High School Overview

Due to the an increased enrollment of special education students and an apparent lack of qualified teachers, experts expect job prospects to be excellent for high school special education teachers. All states require the licensure of teachers—traditionally a bachelor’s degree and a special education teacher-training program are required, however some states require a masters degree. Many states offer special programs for college graduates who are not formally trained in education as well. Good organization skills, the ability to accept differences in others, an understanding of students’ special needs and patience are all important for special education teachers teaching at the high school level.

Nature of the Work for Special Education Teachers - High School

Special Education Teachers - High School

High school special education teachers instruct youths with a wide range of disabilities. While a few high school special education teachers teach basic literacy and life skills to students that have severe physical, cognitive or emotion disabilities, most work with children that have mild to moderate disabilities. They use the general education curriculum or modify it to meet each individual child’s needs, providing remedial instruction as required.

Students in special education programs may have autism, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, visual impairments, combined deafness and blindness, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, traumatic brain injury, speech or language impairments, specific learning disabilities or other health impairments. Students are identified with one of these categories, which is important, as early identification of a special needs child is essential for educating children with disabilities.

Many techniques are used to promote learning including small-group work, problem-solving assignments and intensive individualized instruction. The high school special education teacher typically determines the technique based on the student’s needs. When required, high school special education teachers make sure students have any special accommodations they need such as lengthening test time or having material read aloud.

For each student in special education, high school special education teachers help develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which sets personalized goals and is tailored to each student’s abilities and needs. The program may include a transition plan to prepare students for a job or postsecondary schooling. The IEP is then reviewed wit the student’s general education teachers, parents and school administrators. High school special education teachers work closely with parents to keep them up to speed on their child’s progress and make suggestions for learning activities outside of school.

High school special education teachers design and teach appropriate curricula based on each student’s needs and abilities, and they grade homework assignments and papers. In addition to academics, high school special education teachers are involved with the behavioral and social aspects of their students lives to help them develop emotionally and have effective social interactions. An important part of the job for high school special education teachers is preparing students for a daily life after they graduate. They may teach life skills such as balancing a checkbook or provide career counseling.

Schools are becoming more inclusive and in turn, more high school special education teachers are working together with general education teachers in the classroom. Special education teachers can help general education teachers adapt their lesson plans and teaching techniques for students with disabilities. Within inclusive special education programs, these workers will need to coordinate therapists, social workers, teachers and teacher assistants to meet the needs of their students. Part of the job is coordinating with everyone involved in a child’s well-being from parents to social workers to school administrators.

Some high school special education teachers work in their own classrooms and teach strictly special education students, others may work as a resources to general education teachers helping students in those classrooms, and some teach alongside general education teachers for mixed classes of general and special education students. Some special education teachers work with students in a separate resource room way several hours a day. A small number of these teachers work tutor students in hospitals, homes or residential facilities.

Technology plays an important role in special education. Teachers may use computers that have audiotapes, synthesized speech or interactive educational software programs.

While working with special education students can be challenging, special education teachers typically enjoy the work and establish meaningful relationships. The highly rewarding work can be equally emotionally and physically draining though, and the demands sometimes cause teachers to leave the occupation. Heavy workloads and administrative tasks often lead to stress. As students progress must be documented in case of litigation against the school district, a considerable amount of paperwork must be produced. However, new legislation is helping to reduce that workload.

Most high school special education teachers work the traditional 10-month school year though some schools offer year-round education.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Special Education Teachers - High School

High school special education teachers must be licensed in all states. A bachelor’s degree and the completion of an approved special education teaching program is usually required, though some states look for a masters degree. For candidates without an education background, alternative methods for entry into the career are offered in many states.

Programs in special education are offered at many colleges and universities. Special education teachers often spend more time in school than general education programs. A typically bachelor’s degree program lasts four years and includes specialized special education courses as well as general ones. A fifth year is increasingly being required though. Some programs offer a general special education degree, while others require a specialization. The final year of teaching programs are typically spent in the classroom as a student teacher under a certified special education teacher.

All 50 states require a license to work as a special education teacher. The state board of education grants licenses, which vary from state to state. In some states, special education teachers earn the general education teaching credential for kids kindergarten through 12th grade and then go on to train in a specialty such as behavioral or learning disorders. However, many states offer special education licenses according to different specialties.

The completion of an approved special education program, a prescribed number of credits, supervised student teaching and a bachelor’s degree are typically required for a state license. Some states also require a masters degree in special education, resulting in another year of coursework and a specialization. Prospective special education teachers usually need to pass a professional assessment as well. In some states, a license from another state will transfer, but some require a new license.

Alternative methods for entering the career are available in some states to accommodate recent graduates or professionals from other fields who have a bachelor’s degree. Usually, prospective high school special education teachers must complete a supervised preparation and instruction with a college or university and pass an assessment test while student teaching for 1 to 2 years.

Beyond educational requirements, high school special education teachers should be organized, motivational, patient, accepting and understanding of special needs. Creativity comes in handy as teachers must come up with new ways to cope with learning difficulties. Special education teachers also spend a lot of time working with other teachers, parents and administrators so communication and cooperation skills are useful.

To advance, some special education teachers become administrators or supervisors. Others may earn an advanced degree so they can teach others at the college-level on the subject of special education. Some school systems look to experienced high school special education teachers to mentor less experienced teachers.

Top 10 Most Popular Special Education and Teaching Schools

1. Touro College, New York (New York, New York)
2. Grand Canyon University (Multiple Campus Locations)
3. Saint Josephs College, Long Island (Patchogue, New York)
4. California State University, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, California)
5. Illinois State University (Normal, Illinois)
6. George Mason University (Fairfax, Virginia)
7. New Jersey City University (Jersey City, New Jersey)
8. Grand Valley State University (Allendale, Michigan)
9. Dowling College (Oakdale, New York)
10. Dowling College (Dekalb, Illinois)

See All Special Education and Teaching Schools

Most Popular Online Special Education and Teaching Schools

1. Saint Leo University Online
2. University of Phoenix - Online School
3. Ashford University - Online
4. Walden University - Online School
5. University of Florida - Online School
6. Capella University - Online School
7. Winston-Salem State University - Online School
8. Grand Canyon University
9. Western Governors University

Employment and Job Outlook for Special Education Teachers - High School

Number of People in Profession

146,240

Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow faster than average (increase 14 - 19%).

Employment of high school special education teachers is expected to grow faster than average. Job opportunities should be excellent as many schools have trouble finding qualified special education teachers.

The number of special education teachers should grow by about 17 percent over the next decade. As student enrollments grow slower than in the past, special education enrollment is expected to increase creating a need for more special education teachers at the high school level.

Now that more learning disabilities can be diagnosed at an early age, more students are seeking special education. New laws have also put a greater importance on the employment, education and training of individuals with disabilities. Teachers are now better able to detect disabilities in foreign-born students as well adding them to the mix of students needing special education and therefore special education teachers. Parents are increasingly looking for special education programs to help their children meet the new higher education standards despite learning difficulties.

Beyond job growth, opportunities will arise as high school special education teachers transfer to general education or other careers, or as they retire. Many school districts also report having trouble finding qualified special education teachers at the high school level. So, these teachers will have excellent job prospects.

While most areas of the country report a shortage of special education teachers at the high school level, jobs do vary by location and specialty. Inner cities and rural areas have more jobs available than suburban and wealthy urban areas. The South and West are expected to have increasing student populations, and in turn the demand for high school special education teachers should be higher. Specialties such as severe autism and multiple disabilities are growing in popularity and need, so those categories will see many job opportunities. Bilingual skills will also be valuable as student populations become more diverse.

Earnings and Salary for Special Education Teachers - High School

Special education teachers at the high school level earned median annual wages of $52,900. The highest 10 percent earned above $83,590, the lowest 10 percent earned under $35,840 and the middle 50 percent fell between $43,060 and $67,440.

Over half of all high school special education teachers belong to unions or are covered by a union contract.

To earn higher wages, teachers can usually lead extracurricular activities, coach sports or work summer hours.

Annual Salary for Special Education Teachers - High School

On average, Special Education Teachers - High School earn $52,900 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $35,840/yr $43,060/yr $67,440/yr $83,590/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook