So, You Want to Become a Special Education Teacher?

Special education teachers work with special needs students who must have their lessons tailored to them on account of physical or intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, or mental health issues. Some special needs educators have a classroom of their own, while others co-teach in an inclusive setting where special needs students are integrated with other students their own age.

If you’re interested in special needs education, you’ll need to develop a specific set of skills through education, and obtain state licensure. However, education and skills alone can’t make a great special education teacher. You’ll also need to possess a genuine love of children and a set of other crucial personality traits, including patience, creativity, optimism, a good sense of humor, and strong organization skills.

Education and Licensure Requirements for Special Ed Teachers

At a minimum, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in order to teach special needs students. However, many states require special education teachers to have a master’s degree. You can earn your bachelor’s degree in an academic subject or elementary education, with a special education minor, or you can go ahead and major in special education. If you major in special education, you can use your master’s program as an opportunity to specialize in a specific field of special education, but otherwise, your master’s program should focus on the basics of special education so you can obtain licensure. You can even earn your MS in Special Education online while working as a teacher, allowing you to earn teaching experience at the same time.

Once you have your degree, you’ll need to obtain special education teaching licensure. The requirements for teaching certification and licensure vary from state to state. Look up the requirements in your state so you know what to expect.

Personality Traits You’ll Need to Succeed

On top of an advanced degree, in order to make it as a special education teacher, you’ll have to really, genuinely like children. Real children, especially those with special needs, may act out when they feel upset or overwhelmed. They may not always be as polite as you’d like, because they haven’t learned this skill yet. They may be messy, and may even struggle with hygiene issues. Special needs children especially require a non-judgmental teacher who can accept them as they are.

You’ll need to be very intelligent to make it as a special education teacher, since you’ll have to adapt your lessons to fit the needs of each individual student. That means you’ll need to closely observe your students and do a lot of thinking about their strengths and weaknesses, their learning style, and how you can make lessons most accessible to them.


Other strengths you’ll need include strong organizational skills, not only so you can provide the students with the structure they need, but also so you can stay on top of federal and state guidelines and meet any deadlines that may arise. An even temperament and a good sense of humor will help you make lessons fun for your students, who will enjoy class much more if they can sense that you’re enjoying their company.

Creativity will help you find novel ways to present information so that special needs students can understand it. Patients will help you weather those moments when special needs teaching inevitably becomes frustrating. Optimism can help you remain hopeful and encouraging when students struggle to master subjects or lessons, as they almost certainly will.

Job Outlook for Special Needs Teachers

While the need for talented special needs teachers is great, the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t predict as much growth for this field in the next 10 years as it does for some others. Special needs education is expected to grow by about six percent over the next decade. So, while there are special needs jobs out there, you’ll need to keep in mind that the field is very competitive. Do everything you can while in school to improve your chances of landing a job. Speak with career counselors, network as much as you can, practice interviewing techniques, make sure your social media presence is squeaky clean, and polish your resume until it shines.

Special needs teachers need a specialized education that can help them make lessons accessible to their students, and they need a specific set of personality traits in order to succeed in the field. If you think you have what it takes to be a great special education teacher, don’t hesitate to start on the path to special needs teaching today. The field needs more educators like you.