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Considering a Career in Special Education—Reasons, Rewards, and Challenges

teacher working with student
Reviewed By
Published on: 10/30/2018
Last Updated: 02/12/2024
7 minute read

It was once said, “To teach is to touch a life forever,” and this sentiment isn’t any truer than for special education teachers.

But why become a special education teacher? Special education students require focused instruction to meet their educational, vocational, social, and emotional needs. Special education teachers are the men and women who pursue meeting those needs.

If you are preparing to become a teacher for students with special needs, you may need to first acknowledge that the job demands much more than just having the right educational background and practical experience. It typically demands patience, flexibility, and attention, but many find that the rewards of being a special education teacher far outweigh these challenges.

LLet’s explore how to prepare yourself for the special education teacher career path.


Rewards of being a Special Education Teacher

Perhaps one of the foremost reasons to be a special education teacher is the chance to positively impact the lives of children with disabilities, developmental delays, and learning disorders. Many special education teachers find that each day is a new opportunity to facilitate a child’s development, confidence, and positive outlook on school and learning. These are often rewards in themselves.

Other special education teacher benefits

  • Highly satisfying work. Although the job can, at times, be demanding, many education specialists admit that they can’t imagine doing any other work. The relationships created as a special education teacher, and the positive effects they witness having on their students each day, often make the taxing aspects of the job worthwhile.
  • Often higher salaries and benefits packages. Due to being one of the sectors most affected by the teaching shortage, the special education teacher job has prompted many states to look into improving the compensation and benefits of this type of educator, which, depending on the location, can either be higher or at par with other positions available to professionals with a teaching degree.
  • Greater chance of employability. Special education teachers require special certification beyond the usual teaching certification, giving them a highly specialized skill set. This advanced training may give holders of special education credentials additional opportunities in the workforce.
  • Mastering patience and adaptability. Working in special education can be highly demanding and unpredictable. The typical day of a special education teacher offers teachers an opportunity to enhance their skills in instructional strategies and also learn from their students as much as students learn from them, including the mastery of patience and adaptability.
  • Developing a genuine understanding of students' individual characteristics. The small class size creates an engaging and inclusive education environment. Teachers are often personally invested in each student with a unique learning disability. This creates a special bond that both the student and the Special Ed teacher find rewarding.
  • Serving a large community. Teachers in special education services work with other professionals who are committed to serving individuals with disabilities. When making an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for a student, they may connect with family members and forge meaningful professional relationships with doctors, advocates, and representatives from state agencies or nonprofit organizations. Such an expanded network of peers can open up interesting career prospects in the future.

Challenges of being a Special Education Teacher

Despite the many benefits, including an excellent special education career outlook, you must also consider the challenges of the job before deciding if it’s right for you. While shortages in special education may translate to greater employability, it may also mean you could be overworked. Special education teachers must complete a great deal of paperwork, such as maintaining an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student, in addition to typical lesson planning. This may lead to working more hours than is typical or taking their work home.

Furthermore, special education teachers must endure working in a particularly high-stress environment in which their students may be struggling with physical, mental, or emotional challenges. They also frequently have to manage meetings with parents and other staff, such as therapists and other school administrators.


Special Education Careers in a School Setting

Special education teachers are crucial in providing tailored instruction and support to students with diverse learning needs. Job positions for special education teachers vary, including;

Special Education Teacher - A special educator works with students with mental, emotional, physical, or learning disabilities. Being a special education teacher means supporting students with a  individualized education plan and helping the special needs student develop the skills necessary for academic success and daily life. 

Special Education Administrator - The administrator is responsible for overseeing and managing the special education program of a school district. The role involves administrative and leadership responsibilities related to special education services.

Instructional Coordinator - Often referred to as a Curriculum Specialist or Curriculum Coordinator, they are professionals in the field of education responsible for developing and implementing curriculum and instructional strategies for the overall quality of education within a school or district. Their role involves working closely with special educators, administrators, and other stakeholders to improve teaching and learning practices. 

Special Education Careers Outside of Teaching

Special education teachers can also specialize in specific areas outside of teaching. Here are a few with focus areas like pre-school and community support initiatives;

Early Intervention Specialist - They work with young children, typically from birth to age 3, to identify and address child development delays or disabilities early on. The goal of an early intervention specialist is to provide support and services that promote the child's overall development and improve their chances of success in later years. 

Special Education Advocate - The advocate is also a special education major and professional who works to support and empower parents, guardians, and students with disabilities in navigating the special education system. They ensure that students with special needs receive appropriate educational services, accommodations, and support.

Questions to Ask

Before you enroll in an accredited special education credential program you must first be sure this career path is ideal for you and your goals. It may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions before applying for a special education degree:

  • Do I hold the necessary traits to be a successful special education teacher, such as being highly organized, detail-oriented, and even-tempered?
  • Am I able to work in a high-stress, demanding work environment?
  • Am I flexible and able to change depending on the unique needs of my students?
  • Do I have the capacity to work on an interdisciplinary team with therapists, doctors, and other teachers?
  • Am I willing to take work home if paperwork hasn’t been completed throughout the course of the school day?

Education needed to become a Special Education Teacher

If you answered “yes” to the above questions, then you might consider getting your Preliminary Education Specialist Teaching Credential. Those interested in taking on the challenging yet rewarding career as a special education teacher may get professional training for Mild-Moderate specialization at the California School of Education (CSOE) at Alliant International University.

Your training will prepare you for the fulfilling career of serving as a special education teacher in the State of California. You can complete the special education credential training online and be eligible to work in a public school with students in grades K-12 and in settings focused on adults up to age 22.

Frequently Asked Questions

Graduates of our Preliminary Special Education Teaching Credential program will often end up teaching at the elementary-, middle-, and high-school levels—largely dependent on exactly what age range each individual person would care to teach.  Other career options can include becoming a school principal, adult and secondary educator, specialized child care, special education classroom materials creator, policy maker, and a professional tutor.

There are three different teaching tracks available to you in this program: The Standard Intern Option, The Student Teaching Option, and The Early Completion Option. Each has their own differences and benefits, and you can learn more about them here. And at CSOE, you can receive your MAE in Teaching concurrently with your Preliminary Special Education Teaching Credential by completing only three additional courses during your time in the program.

Contact Alliant to find out how you can get started on becoming a special education teacher today.

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