Did you know that there’s a shortage of special education teachers in the U.S.? According to American University, more than half of U.S. school districts struggle to find appropriately trained special education teachers, and this disproportionately affects high-poverty districts.
If you’re thinking about a career working with the country’s most vulnerable student population, a job in special education teaching is both rewarding and very much in-demand today. These jobs can also pay reasonably well. Special education middle school teachers in California, for example, make a median annual wage of $76,420. The top 10% of earners in that demographic make about $106,130 per year.
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Texas Christian University’s special education program prepares students interested in working with children and adults with special needs including developmental and physical disabilities. This program requires courses that teach students how to assess student needs, communicate with learners, and structure lesson plans in a classroom environment. Classes are available both in-person and remote, though some courses may include in-person instruction at grade schools in the Fort Worth metro. Students at TCU typically attend practicum during their junior or senior year to further their professional experience before graduation.
For students interested in pursuing a special education degree in Florida, the University of Florida offers a competitive track with ample professional observation opportunities at local middle and high schools in the Gainesville metro area. Undergraduates are advised to apply to internships during the special education program and in summer breaks to gain hands-on experience that will be invaluable when they apply for professional roles post-graduation.
The special education program at Towson University offers classes geared towards students preparing to enter into the field as a teacher, private tutor, or school resource officer. In the classroom, students have opportunities to study Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and can choose an early childhood education or elementary education track, depending on their preferences. Learners can also complete off-campus internships at public schools in the Baltimore metro to gain professional experience.
University of Maryland-College Park offers 5 Special Education and Teaching, General degree programs. It's a very large, public, four-year university in a large suburb. In 2020, 26 Special Education and Teaching, General students graduated with students earning 15 Master's degrees, 9 Bachelor's degrees, and 2 Doctoral degrees.
The University of Georgia offers an undergraduate program in special education, which is the first step for students interested in teaching children with developmental limitations. It is common for students to take classes in psychology and early childhood development as an introduction to the broader field, along with hands-on classes to familiarize themselves with student interaction and communication. UGA offers a four-year path with opportunities to apply to internships at schools locally in Clarke County to gain real-world experience.
Lipscomb University offers 2 Special Education and Teaching, General degree programs. It's a small, private not-for-profit, four-year university in a large city. In 2020, 26 Special Education and Teaching, General students graduated with students earning 21 Master's degrees, and 5 Bachelor's degrees.
The University of Washington has a special education program that emphasizes courses in psychology and early childhood development and is structured to prepare students for classroom roles immediately upon completion of their bachelor’s degree. This program takes four years to complete and provides students with a range of local internship opportunities in the Seattle metro, along with seminars to provide professional observation and guidance before entering the workforce.
For New York City residents with aspirations of pursuing a degree in special education, New York University (NYU) offers a four-year program designed to prepare students for jobs working directly with children with developmental difficulties and physical disabilities after graduation. Along with special education courses, students complete classes in psychology and literacy, as well as in-person internships at public schools in New York City to gain experience working in a classroom setting with students and practicing professionals.
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities offers 4 Special Education and Teaching, General degree programs. It's a very large, public, four-year university in a large city. In 2020, 74 Special Education and Teaching, General students graduated with students earning 35 Master's degrees, 26 Bachelor's degrees, and 13 Certificates.
Florida State University offers 1 Special Education and Teaching, General degree programs. It's a very large, public, four-year university in a midsize city. In 2020, 17 Special Education and Teaching, General students graduated with students earning 17 Bachelor's degrees.
Special education teachers work directly with learners who possess a wide range of emotional, mental, learning, or physical disabilities. These professionals work in both public and private schools and utilize specialized assessment and instructional skills to meet the needs of their specific student population.
Special education refers to teaching students using methodologies that are tailored to their challenges, exceptional needs or learning disabilities. Special education professionals provide early intervention to infants and toddlers identified as having disabilities or developmental delays and also work with eligible school age. The most effective instructional strategies require training and expertise that most general education teachers are unequipped to provide.
Though every program is different, a master’s degree in special education generally addresses the most effective methods of teaching to the abilities of children with learning disabilities or cognitive or emotional delays. The programs are offered in-person, online, and as hybrids between the two. A master’s degree in special education generally takes two years to complete and arms teachers with the expertise, skills, and training they need to help special needs students learn and thrive. It also expands their opportunities for advancement, careers outside of the classroom, and higher compensation.
Though each special education program will have its own curriculum based upon the priorities of its administration and its particular concentration, students considering a degree in special education can anticipate taking classes similar to those listed below:
Special education programs prepare graduates to help students with special needs achieve and succeed. This is learned through both coursework and research and results in graduates attaining invaluable skills, including:
Making the decision to become a special education teacher is a commitment to helping students realize their fullest potential. For the many students who receive special education services, fulfilling that commitment requires expertise in the instructional strategies tailored to their unique needs, and that is what a master’s degree in special education provides.
Special education teachers with master’s degrees are in increasingly high demand and can earn significantly higher salaries than their colleagues with bachelor’s degrees. They are also positioned to easily transition into positions outside of the school setting. Potential non-education roles include diagnosticians and testers, counselors, case managers, and policymakers.
When investigating the various special education master’s programs available, you will find that each curriculum has its own particular focus. In addition to differences in concentration/specialization, students must also pick between a master of science or arts in teaching (MAT or MST) degree or a master of education (MEd) degree. Though the distinction may sound like a matter of semantics, each has its own focus and facilitates a different career outcome.
While both programs take approximately two years to complete, they diverge significantly when it comes to the content of the material presented. Students who choose to pursue a master of science or arts in teaching often plan on becoming better, more effective teachers. They want to learn new methods to educate their students and better understand their students’ needs and how best they can learn. These degrees make graduates better teachers.
By contrast, graduate degree candidates who opt for a master’s in education learn more about leadership and how the educational system works to serve students. Their work focuses as much on issues of ethics and collaboration as on understanding the learning differences of students requiring special education. This knowledge certainly serves to make them better teachers should they chose to remain in the classroom, but also prepares them for careers outside of the classroom.
After graduating with a master’s degree in special education, you will not only be eligible for higher compensation as a teacher but will also find yourself qualified to move outside of the classroom into other meaningful, rewarding career paths. Special education teachers with master’s degrees provide invaluable guidance to countless agencies and organizations that are dedicated to meeting the needs of individuals with disabilities, including:
Having a master’s degree in special education can open the door to becoming a diagnostician or case manager, a consultant or program coordinator. Graduates also work in early childhood education, elementary education, and secondary education.
Students who pursue a master’s degree in special education should expect to spend 1-2 years on coursework completing roughly 30-to-36 credit hours made up of both classwork and, in some cases, a capstone project, practicum, or thesis. Specific program lengths vary upon whether students choose a full time or part time program, whether they opt for an online degree or in-person setting, and their educational background prior to the master’s program.
If an applicant to a program has not previously taught and/or does not have an undergraduate degree in education or a teaching certification, they may also be required to complete prerequisite classes. Alternatively, those who have already attained a certain level of experience and have teaching certifications may be able to accelerate their degree completion, particularly if they select an online program.
There are several different types of credentials required to teach. Every state requires that educators have at least bachelor’s degree and hold a teaching license from their state, and some states now require that teachers pursue and attain a master’s degree within five years of starting their teaching career.
Any graduate of a master’s in special education program who has not previously been licensed will be well prepared to meet the student teaching standards their state requires. In addition to licensure, certifications are awarded following completion of both an educational curriculum and a certain level of hands-on teaching practice. These certifications may be for:
There is also a national certification board, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, that awards certifications to teachers that meet their standards. Certification is voluntary but ensure that an individual teacher has met the high and rigorous standards set by the organization. The agency offers a special “Exceptional Needs Standard” ideal for those who have earned a master’s degree in special education.
Whether you’ve already been teaching students or you’ve decided to go straight from undergraduate school to a graduate program, applying for admission to a master’s in special education program requires meticulous attention to the selection of the program that most closely matches your goals and needs, the collection of required application material, and the submission of all needed documents to meet each school’s deadlines.
Each of the accredited programs that offer master’s degrees in special education has its own specific admission requirements, but there are commonalities among all of them that candidates for admission can expect. These include:
The cost to attend a graduate program in special education varies greatly, with tuition costs ranging from under $10,000 to almost $70,000. Tuition is based on factors including:
When choosing a program to attend, students should weigh their priorities against the elements that add or subtract to costs. Keep in mind that by choosing an online program, students avoid the additional fees attributable to room and board.
There are many job opportunities in the public and private sectors for students interested in pursuing a career in special education, and a degree in this field can provide the foundation for the exciting opportunity to help special education students to learn and grow.
A degree in special education includes classes like early childhood development, mental and physical disabilities, and lesson planning. Special education teachers must possess strong communication skills and an ability to structure lesson plans that provide stimulating and educational opportunities for their students with ranging cognitive abilities.
To become a special education instructor, you typically need a four-year bachelor’s degree with on-the-job training to get familiarized with working with students in a classroom setting. Special education programs usually offer in-person coursework due to the personal nature of the job, but there are online options for those interested in pursuing an associate’s degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that opportunities in this field will grow by 8 percent in the next decade, a much higher growth rate than other professions.
Just a few years ago, the idea of earning a graduate degree online was unheard of. But today, accredited colleges and universities offer high-quality programs in both online and in-person formats, and some of the best programs in the country are exclusively available online.
Because online education has progressed to the point where academic quality meets that of in-person classes, potential students can now make their decision based on what is best for them as individuals. When choosing, you should consider the following factors:
Many master’s in special education programs require that their students who are not currently teaching fulfill a minimum number of hours of in-person teaching experience in a special needs setting. If you are not currently a teacher and you’re considering an online program, make sure you understand each program’s requirements for in-person study and experience.
According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, earning a master’s degree provides first-year teachers with $2,760 more in than teachers who have only earned a bachelor’s degree. This pay differential grows with experience, topping out at an average of $7,358 more per year by the time a teacher reaches the maximum number of years of experience within their district’s pay scale.
Some school districts offer incentives that recognize a master’s degree as equivalent to several years of experience, while others offer compensation for higher education credits earned, whether they result in a degree or not. The larger the school district, the greater the difference tends to be. For example, the most experienced teachers with master’s degrees earn $36,716 more than bachelors-degreed teachers with the same level of experience in the Montgomery County Public School District in Maryland.
A master’s in special education program provides graduates with the skills and knowledge needed to reach the children who require the most attention and help. That need goes far beyond the classroom, and so do the career opportunities. Here are a few of the positions that this degree makes possible, along with salary and job projections provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
|Career||Salary||Projected Job Growth (2020-2030)||About the Position|
|Special Education Teacher||$61,500||8%||Provides education tailored to meet the unique demands of students with special needs in a wide range of school environments, at all age levels.|
|Elementary, Middle, and High School Principal||$98,490||8%||Oversees students in elementary, middle and high schools, providing direction of school operations and activities, oversight of budgets and curriculums, guidance and organization of staff, and engagement with community.|
|Instructional Coordinator||$66,970||10%||Instructional coordinators are tasked with designing, implementing and improving a school’s curriculum and educational programs.|
If you are considering pursuing a degree in special education or would like more information on the support and resources available to those who have chosen a career in educating those with special needs, the following organizations offer a wealth of assistance.
Should I get a Master’s in Special Education if I have a Bachelor’s in Special Education?
Many high-quality undergraduate teaching programs allow special education majors to focus on students with special needs. Though having a bachelor’s degree in special education opens the door to teaching this specific demographic, a master’s degree offers higher-level education focused on research, skill development, and leadership.
What can you do with a master’s in special education?
With a master’s degree in special education, you will be qualified to teach special education students as well as to be a leader in the creation, implementation and management of their education.
Is a master’s in special education worth it?
Earning your master’s degree in special education will not only add to your earning potential, it will also provide you with advanced leadership skills and improve your opportunities for advancement.
How much can you make with a master’s in special education?
The average income for a teacher with a master’s in special education is over $61,500, and other positions for which you will be qualified pay even higher salaries.
How long does it take to earn a master’s in special education?
It takes approximately two years to complete a master’s in special education program.
|School||Average Tuition||Student Teacher Ratio||Enrolled Students|
|Texas Christian University Fort Worth, TX||16 : 1||11,379|
|University of Florida Gainesville, FL||21 : 1||53,372|
|Boston College Chestnut Hill, MA||17 : 1||14,934|
|Towson University Towson, MD||24 : 1||21,917|
|University of Maryland-College Park College Park, MD||22 : 1||40,709|