As an educator, having a career in special education can be especially fulfilling and rewarding. Special education teachers are able to impact their classrooms in extraordinary ways, ensuring all students, including those who require additional classroom support, receive equitable and beneficial education.
Special education teachers are also able to land jobs that can be more lucrative than traditional teaching positions. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a federal agency which gathers and shares data about the U.S. economy and labor market, special education teachers made an average of $61,500 per year in 2020, whereas the median annual wage for all other education, training, and library occupations was $52,380.1,2,
Read on to learn about the highest-paying special education careers that are available to educators who have the right experience and skills which can be learned in a top-ranked special education master’s program from a leading university.
Special Education Careers: In Demand And On The Rise
Why are special education careers generally more lucrative than standard teaching jobs? Simply put, special education teachers have a variety of skills that make them critically important assets to today’s classrooms.
With an estimated 7.3 million students between the ages of 3 and 21 years old benefitting from special education programs in the country, educators with special education experience are in demand.3 As of 2020, there were 463,200 special education jobs in the nation. This number will grow by 8% between 2020 and 2030, driven by school enrollments and the need for top-notch special education services in classrooms.4
The BLS estimates there will be 38,600 new job openings, per year, for special education teachers through 2030. In total, there will be roughly 500,000 special education roles in the U.S. by 2030.4
What Special Education Teachers Do
What skills are needed to land these specialized positions? Special education teachers must be able to adjust general education lessons and teach a number of different subjects to students with mild to moderate dis/abilities. They also need to be able to teach basic skills to students with severe dis/abilities.
In order to teach children with learning, mental, emotional, or physical dis/abilities, special education teachers must do the following:
- Assess each student
- Adapt general lessons and activities for students
- Teach and mentor students
- Develop, implement, and update Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each student
- Discuss students’ progress with family members, caregivers, other teachers, counselors, and administrators
- Supervise and mentor fellow special educators and teaching assistants
- Prepare and help students transition from grade to grade and from school to life outside of school and work5
Additionally, while duties can vary from classroom to classroom, special education teachers must be comfortable using and learning new technology for the classroom because there are many technologies to support students today.
Modern special education is taught in a variety of environments. Teachers can work in private or public school settings, in classrooms, or in resource centers either in one-to-one and in small group settings that are specifically for special education instruction only.
There are also integrated classrooms available for high-paying careers. In inclusive classrooms, special education teachers work with general education teachers to adapt lessons for students with dis/abilities who are in general classrooms.
Special Education Careers and Salaries: A Closer Look
As a special education teacher, you have many career pathways to choose from, including:
- Early Intervention: Work with students from birth to five years old, identifying signs of early developmental dis/abilities, and with parents, caregivers, and family members to provide appropriate support
- Elementary Education: Work with preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school students using customized instruction
- Secondary Education: Work with middle and high school students; providing them with inclusive instruction studies in a multitude of areas
- Special Education Technology: Work with the tools and technology that help students with additional education requirements
- Gifted Education: Work with gifted learners to help them find additional resources, including after-school and advanced learning programs, as well as provide them with advanced curricula, identification and assessment tools, and compacted lessons
Now let’s explore some of the highest-paying careers in special education, taking a closer look at salary averages, basic skills, and role descriptions of these roles.
Preschool, Kindergarten, or Elementary School Special Education Teacher
The areas of expertise that are needed for these roles include:
- Childhood education
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Curriculum planning
- Case management
- Oral and verbal communication
These jobs can be physically demanding and require a lot of student interaction as well as strong communication skills to be able to effectively interact with administrators, teachers, assistants, parents, caregivers, and family members and ensure students have the appropriate education plan. These roles have a salary average of $53,590.6 With experience, these teachers can make an average of $61,000 per year.7
Education specialists work to improve the pedagogical process for institutions and programs, often collaborating closely with teachers and program directors to do so. Having a teaching certification and the experience and adaptability to conform to the fast-changing educational environment of today’s schools are key requirements. These roles pay an average salary of $56,890.6 With experience, these teachers can make an average of $68,949 per year.8
Secondary School Special Education Teacher
The areas of expertise needed for these specialized roles include:
- Case management
- Curriculum planning
- Writing procedures & documentation
- Crisis intervention
- Oral and verbal communication9
These teachers work in secondary schools and teach children with mild or moderate dis/abilities, making sure they learn the basic skills they will need for the future. To meet the needs of all of their students in busy classroom settings, these educators must be highly adaptable and able to manage their time well. A master’s degree is required in some states. These roles have a salary average of $56,980.6 With experience, these teachers can make an average of $64,356 per year.10
Gain Advanced Special Education Skills
To provide students with the support and services that will help them flourish, as required under the federal IDEA act, special education teachers should have the most current special education expertise.
A specialized degree will help you master skills in curriculum design, communication, instruction, resource facilitation, as well as the interpersonal skills that are in high demand for the highest-paying careers in special education.
The most current special education teaching methods can be gained in a top-ranked special education master’s-level programs from an accredited university like The University of Kansas.
KU is U.S. News & World Report’s #1 Best Online Master’s in Special Education Program and offers a cutting-edge curriculum taught by faculty who have first-hand experience in the field. KU online graduate students can gain the leading skills to help accelerate their careers in the area of special education they want to impact most, including:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Leadership in Special and Inclusive Education
- High Incidence Disabilities
- Secondary Special Education and Transition
Depending on their advanced knowledge and experience, special education teachers can make a yearly salary that far exceeds entry-level and average salary amounts.6
KU Online Graduate Special Education Programs: Your Path To Career Empowerment
The University of Kansas has long been a leader in special education. U.S. News & World Report ranks KU No. 1 in Best Online Master’s in Special Education Programs in the nation.
Learn more about the KU Department of Special Education’s online graduate programs in Secondary Special Education and Transition, High Incidence Disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or Leadership in Special and Inclusive Education to accelerate your career and earning power today.
- Retrieved on April 12, 2022, from investopedia.com/terms/b/bls.asp
- Retrieved on April 12, 2022, from www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm
- Retrieved on April 12, 2022, from nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/cgg
- Retrieved on April 12, 2022, from www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm#tab-6
- Retrieved on April 12, 2022, from www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm#tab-2
- Retrieved on April 12, 2022, from bestcolleges.com/careers/education/special-education/
- Retrieved on April 12, 2022, from payscale.com/research/US/Job=Educational_Specialist/Salary/dcfb3f5c/Late-Career
- Retrieved on April 12, 2022, from payscale.com/research/US/Job=Special_Education_Teacher%2C_Secondary_School/Salary
- Retrieved on April 12, 2022, from payscale.com/research/US/Job=Special_Education_Teacher%2C_Secondary_School/Salary/41066cee/Late-Career