Special education teachers either major in special education or in a subject area such as English, history or math with a special education minor. Those with a degree in another field who want to become special education teachers can go back to school to get a master's degree in special education. Special ed teachers use their training to assist students with a variety of learning, mental, emotional and physical disabilities to get the most out of their educational opportunities.
Special education teachers spend most of their time working one on one or in small groups with special needs children. Their initial responsibility is to assess the skills and academic progress of their students to determine their needs. If the student has a mild or moderate disability, special ed teachers make sure to appropriately modify lessons. When the student has a more severe disability, special ed teachers typically focus on independent living skills and basic literacy and counting. Special ed teachers often work closely with the parents of special needs students to design an individual learning plan.
Preschool Special Education Teacher Salaries
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that preschool special education teachers earned a median salary of $52,480 in 2012. Based on the standard 2,087-hour annual salary divisor, that works out to a $25.14 median hourly wage. Preschool special education teachers in Virginia earned the most, with an average salary of $73,900 in 2012, or $35.40 per hour. Those based in Louisiana came in at the lower end of the salary range, with an average salary of $47,770, or $22.88 per hour.
Elementary and Middle School Special Education Teacher Salaries
According to the BLS, elementary and middle school special education teachers earned a median salary of $51,980 in 2012, or a median hourly wage of $24.90. Virginia-based special education teachers also earned the most at the elementary and middle school levels, garnering an average salary of $82,460, or $39.51 per hour. Those working at schools in New Mexico only earned an average salary of $34,880, or $16.71 per hour.
High School Special Education Teacher Salaries
The BLS reports that high school special education teachers earned a median salary of $56,830 in 2012, or $25.14 per hour. High school special ed teachers based in New York came out on top of the pay scale, earning an average salary of $76,350, or $36.58 per hour. Those based in Texas earned a somewhat below-average salary of $52,390, or $25.10 per hour.
Given increasing school enrollment and demand for special education services, the BLS is projecting a reasonably strong 17-percent job growth rate for special education teachers through 2020. But enrollment of special needs students should grow more rapidly in kindergarten, elementary, and middle schools than in high schools. The BLS is projecting preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school special education teachers jobs will grow by 21 percent and that employment of middle school special education teachers will increase by 20 percent through 2020. It predicts employment of high school special education teachers will grow by just 7 percent, however.
2016 Salary Information for Special Education Teachers
Special education teachers earned a median annual salary of $57,840 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, special education teachers earned a 25th percentile salary of $46,080, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $73,740, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 439,300 people were employed in the U.S. as special education teachers.