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Become a Special Education Teacher With a Master of Science in Education Degree

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Why become a special education teacher? According to the Council of Exceptional Children, “Employment of special education teachers is expected to increase faster than average. Job prospects should be excellent, as many districts report problems finding adequate numbers of certified special education teachers.” In addition to the strong demand for special education teachers, the rewards of teaching children with special needs can be priceless—far outweighing the challenges.

Challenges and Rewards

Experienced teachers who earn a Master of Science in Education (MSE) degree to become special education teachers know what to expect. Though many of these graduate candidates work in general education classrooms, they know the day-to-day challenges and rewards of their colleagues who teach children with special needs. And while there are many unique struggles that come with the job, they are far outweighed by the sense of accomplishment a special education teacher experiences regularly.

Here are some challenges faced by even the most experienced teachers:

  • Heavy administrative workloads, such as creating and maintaining Individualized Education Programs (IEP’s) for each student
  • A significant number of meetings, including IEP meetings with staff and parents, collaborative planning meetings, and professional development meetings to stay current with legislative and instructional requirements.
  • Meeting with families when students are first identified with a learning or behavioral disability. When testing results are delivered to parents, it may be difficult to convince them that a regular education classroom may not meet all of their students’ needs.
  • Maintaining healthy relationships with students and families. Special education teachers frequently get involved with family life issues that impact student well-being and academics. It can become emotionally draining to bear the concerns that families share with teachers — poverty, abuse and health problems.

However, the rewards of teaching students with special needs can outweigh any of the challenges.

  • Special education teachers often work with much smaller student groups and get to know each student very well. Because the teacher can observe progress up close and in real time, they can make meaningful, individualized and appropriate modifications on the spot.
  • When a student, challenged by even the simplest of skills, finally “gets it,” both the teacher and student have reason to celebrate.
  • Special education teachers work with a team of people who share a common goal: student success.

Job Outlook

Since the 2011-2012 school year, schools have reported an increase in enrollment numbers of students covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The reason for this increase is unclear, but this rise calls for additional highly-qualified special education teachers.

Students with specific learning disabilities have always been the largest group of those who require special services. However, students are being reclassified in terms of specific disabilities such as autism.

In addition, the numbers of students who have been identified as having “other health impairments” that require special assistance is also on the rise. Children who have health issues such as epilepsy or mobility impairments are receiving special services to make academic success more accessible. And children who experience mental health disorders — ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) for example — are receiving additional help as they cope with issues that interrupt and inhibit learning.

Why Study Online?

Earning an MSE — Special Education online from the University of Wisconsin-Superior may be the best way for you to continue working full-time while preparing for a special education position. There are several advantages to earning this degree online.

  • You will continue to work with students and maintain a relationship with the school administration.
  • You will learn from committed professionals who are experienced in special education settings.
  • You will be able to put into practice those skills you are learning as you work with students with special needs in your classroom.
  • You can schedule your classes around your work schedule and personal responsibilities.
  • You can study from anywhere without worrying about commuting to class.

Making the move from the general education classroom to special education services is not for everyone. It takes a special kind of person. You may want to collaborate with other teachers to make the grade-level environment more accessible, or you may want to work with profoundly exceptional students in a self-contained classroom. But whatever position you pursue as a special education teacher, earning a Master of Science in Education degree will help you meet your goal.

Learn more about the UW-Superior online MSE — Special Education program.


Council for Exceptional Children — Selected Job Profiles in Special Education

Bureau of Labor Statistics — Special Education Teachers

Teach Hub — 5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Became a Special Education Teacher

ALOT — Pros and Cons of Being a Special Education Teacher

Education Week — Number of U.S. Students in Special Education Ticks Upward

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