How to Become a Special Education Teacher

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Become qualified.You need two things: A State Teaching certification and (since NCLB was enacted) status as a Highly Qualified teacher in the subjects you plan to teach. Every state has its own guidelines for teaching certification and HQ. Check with your state's Department of Education (or equivalent department) for specific guidelines.
Although it varies, the following will be needed for certification: A four year degree in special education, OR a four year degree in another subject area, with a master's degree in special education. (If you have a four year degree in a subject other than education, many states will allow you an emergency or temporary certificate so that you may teach while earning your certification in Special Education.)
Find a suitable university or college with a program in Special Education. Public universities often do just as well as private colleges, if not better in some circumstances, at preparing you for working in a public school.
Take as many elective courses as possible in reading and math. Special education students are nearly always integrated in the english and math regular classrooms. This will give you a better idea of their needs. Reading instruction is also critical in elementary grades.
Look around for alternative options. If your degree does not also make you Highly Qualified, check your options. Each state usually has two or three means of becoming HQ. The most direct option tends to be a Praxis II exam if your state considers it acceptable.


Further your education whenever possible. The willingness to continually improve your understanding of the subjects you teach and of instruction methodology is what will make you an excellent teacher.
While taking courses, take care to learn as much as possible about reading, writing, math, special education curriculum, learning styles and teaching styles.
Self-confidence is important; you should at all times emit an aura of having everything under control, even when you just want to run away and cry.
Respect is earned. While you will be able to have some leverage in your position, good teaching will not take place until your students respect you.
In challenging situations (and there will be many), keep your cool; respect is easily lost.
The kids can and will try anything to throw you off balance, so have a plan to handle it before it happens.
Choose your battles; some conflicts are just not worth engaging in. It will only distract you and your students and derail the class.
You will have some fantastic moments that will make you wonder how you could ever have considered anything but teaching.
Always over-prepare your lessons. Bored kids are noisy kids.
Always be prepared for the unexpected. You might have the best lesson in the world planned, but sometimes half the class is clueless to the concept and you have to adjust everything.
Be sure you know to spell and use correct grammar. Nothing looks worse than a teacher who can't spell or punctuate properly, even the students don't know the difference.
Greet your students each morning to read their moods even before the school day begins. If appropriate, hug each of them. At least give each of them each a high five and tell them you are glad that they are there. That may be the only positive contact they have all day.


The Special Education field is not for everyone; it takes a lot of patience and you'll have to be prepared for anything.
You are not the kids' friend. Relationships can become misunderstood. Be friendly with your students, but keep a distance.