Special Education Teacher Job Description

What is the Role of a Special Education Teacher?

The primary role of a special education teacher is to support students with a disability within a school setting. Special education teachers create and implement Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s) in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Each student with a disability has a right to a free and appropriate education that supports their individualized needs. It is the special education teacher’s responsibility to oversee that the student is receiving services outlined in the IEP.

The IEP team meets annually to discuss the needs of the student and adjust the IEP accordingly.

Every IEP team consists of the student, guardians, special education teacher, general education teacher and a Local Educational Agency Representative (LEA).

Depending on the student’s needs, the team may also have a Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP), Physical Therapist (PT), Occupational Therapist (OT) and other local agencies. At an IEP meeting, the IEP team will discuss to determine the students present academic and behavioral needs, goals, accommodations and modifications, special education services and least restrictive environment (LRE).

Once the IEP is developed, the special education teacher will collaborate with the school staff to determine how the services will be met.

Every student with a disability will have a different outline of services. In some cases, the student will spend the majority of their day within the special education setting while other students will spend more time in the general education environment.

Each school district may be different in how they determine the role of the special education teacher. Some districts will allow the special education teacher to determine their daily schedule based on the needs of their caseload students, while others will assign teachers to certain departments or grade levels.

For example, a student’s IEP may state that they will receive 60 minutes of specially designed instruction in solving algebraic equations within the general education department. It is up to the special education department to determine how and when those minutes will be serviced to the student.

What is the Daily Schedule of a Special Education Teacher Like?

The daily schedule of a special education teacher will be fluid based on the needs of the students that receive special education services.

Some special educators will do a “push-in” style of instruction. “Push-in” is when a special education teacher provides specially designed instruction to a student within the general education environment for the amount of minutes determined in their IEP. This type of instruction allows the student to receive their special education services while still being with the non-disabled peers.

Another type of instruction is “pull-out”. “Pull-out” takes the student out of the general education environment and the special education teacher will provide services within the special education environment.

Along with “push-in” and “pull-out”, many districts choose to use strategies such as team teaching and self-contained instruction. Team teaching places a special education teacher in the classroom full-time with a general education teacher. Both teachers collaborate with one another to design lesson plans that are universally designed for learning (UDL).

Self-contained courses are taught by a special education teacher within the special education environment. These class sizes will generally be smaller than a regular education class size and only be populated with students who have an IEP.

All instructional styles have their benefits and each one should be used based on the best interest of the student.

What are Qualifications to be a Special Education Teacher?

The first step to becoming a special education teacher is to earn a bachelors or masters degree in special education from a state-approved university. Some states require a bachelor’s degree while other states require a master’s degree. Check your state’s education department website to learn more about what is required.

A teaching internship or student teaching experience in a special education classroom is required. Student teaching typically occurs during the last semester of your college coursework and requires you to be supervised by a cooperating teacher. Most student teaching experiences are unpaid and require the teacher to work five days a week throughout an entire semester.

On top of earning a degree in special education and student teaching, you will need to pass all state required exams. These exams will test your knowledge in various subjects to ensure that you are capable of being an effective teacher.

Once again, some state requirements are different from others. It is important that you check with your state’s education department to ensure that you have passed the required exams.

After achieving these requirements, you will need to apply for your teaching license through the state education department. Applying for a teaching license will require you to pay a fee and is only recognized by the state that issues the license.

If you plan on teaching in a different state, you will be required to earn a license from the state you plan on moving to. Certain states throughout the country have a reciprocity agreement that allows certain states licenses to transfer much easier than others.

After receiving your license in your desired state, you will begin applying for special education teaching positions. Many states will have a central website for districts to post openings.

Having a polished resume, cover letter, and letter of recommendations are a great way to stand out above other applicants.

What are the Challenges of Being a Special Education Teacher?

Although being a special education teacher is rewarding, there are many challenges that come with the job.

Special education teachers are often responsible for overseeing and supervising special education paraprofessionals. They will need to develop their schedule and support them on a daily basis with different challenges that arise.

Along with teaching and providing special education services to students and supporting paraprofessionals, special education teachers are also responsible for completing paperwork and making sure to meet deadlines required by IDEA.

Each student with a disability must have a written IEP completed annually. Since each IEP is individualized, this is a time consuming process.

Some students will require extra IEP forms based on their needs. For example, a student with an Emotional Behavior Disorder (EBD) must have a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) performed and a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) created.

A lot of the special educator’s time will be spent away from the classroom completing paperwork. Furthermore, effective special educators will be in communication with guardians of students on their caseload.

Clerical and administrative work is an integral part of being a special education teacher. But it can be challenging if you are someone who likes interacting with students on a daily basis.

Every student with a disability will have IEP goals that need to be progress-monitored frequently, and reported to the students guardians. IEP progress reports must be completed as often as their same age receive a report card.

What Makes Being a Special Education Teacher Interesting?

As a special education teacher, you will have the opportunity to impact the lives of many students. Students with a disability are often overlooked by society and special educators get to see first hand all the great things that can be accomplished by these individuals.

Special educators get to see first hand the progression of a student throughout their academic career and achieve goals that many people might not think were possible.

There is never a dull moment in the day of a special educator. They are often the teachers that are seen the most throughout the school because they are needed in many different places at once. A special educator may be in the classroom working with a student on their academics and then needed on the other side of the school due to a student displaying challenging behaviors.

General education teachers look to special educators as experts in learning. When a concept is not clicking with a student, the special educator will be called upon to assist the student.

It is always interesting to learn what will work for students who have a learning disability. Being a special education teacher provides the opportunity to explore an abundance of teaching strategies that work for students.

Depending on the needs of a teacher’s caseload, they will have to perform duties above and beyond that of being just a teacher. Students with physical disabilities may need assistance throughout the day with their hygiene. This means learning lifts and holds for students who are in a wheelchair.

Furthermore, students with behavioral disabilities will sometimes need support other than their academics. Anxiety, depression, impulse control and emotional dysregulation will be some of the behaviors that a special education teacher will see in these students.

Oftentimes a special education teacher will not teach any academics throughout their day but instead work with students on life skills, emotional regulation and vocational skills. These are skills that special education students will utilize on a daily basis in their lives and will impact them even throughout their adult stages.

Special Education Acronyms

  • IEP- Individualized Education Plan
  • IDEA- Individuals with a Disability Education ACT
  • LEA- Local Educational Agency
  • SLP- Speech and Language Pathologist
  • OT- Occupational Therapist
  • PT- Physical Therapist
  • LRE- Least Restrictive Environment
  • UDL- Universal Design for Learning
  • FBA- Functional Behavioral Assessment
  • BIP- Behavior Intervention Plan