Special education teachers work with minors--infants through teens--who have physical, mental, emotional and other disabilities. They may work in their own classrooms in schools or alongside other teachers in their classrooms. In some cases, special education teachers may work with very young disabled children in their homes. Although there are teachers and caregivers who work with adults who have various disabilities, these workers are usually not given the title "special education teacher."
Advantage: Meaningful Work
When special education teachers go to work each day, they know they are making a difference in the lives of children. By helping children and teens learn everything from self care skills to academics, special education teachers help those children build a brighter future. By assisting special needs children, special education teachers know they are doing meaningful work, so they can feel good about the work they do and the contributions they are making to society.
Special education teachers have a rewarding position in that it allows them to form relationships with the students they help. Teachers have the chance to participate in the overall planning of students' educations and serve as a mentor to them, as well as an educator. Teachers can learn a great deal from having these relationships with their students and be enriched and rewarded through them.
Special education teachers often face very stressful days full of more than one problem or conflict. Because they work with students who have emotional and behavioral disabilities, special education teachers may face student meltdowns, tantrums and other uncontrollable behavior. They may face frustrated students who are struggling academically and rebelling by refusing to do their work. And they may face all of those stressors on top of massive amounts of paperwork required by the administration and criticism from other staff or administrative professionals who do not understand theories related to special education.
Special education teachers often make low salaries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while special education teachers can make upwards of $80,000 per year, some make less than $35,000. The median wage for special education teachers in elementary schools was just over $50,000 in May 2008. High school teachers made a median income of just over $51,000.