In jobs ranging from special education teacher to program director, those who work in the fulfilling field of special education transform the lives of children every single day.
If you're considering pursuing one of many special education jobs—or you currently work in the field but want to shift roles—ask yourself a few questions:
- Do you prefer working with toddlers, preschoolers, grade schoolers, teens, or young adults?
- Do you prefer to work with students with a particular disability (i.e. autism, communication disorders, emotional or behavioral disorders)?
- Do you want to help high-school students transition to adult life?
- Do you prefer assessing and diagnosing disabilities?
- Do you prefer working in administration and/or leadership?
These questions can inform which special education jobs might be a right fit for you. Below, we break down a few paths you can take in this rewarding profession if you prefer to work in a school environment.
Special Education Teacher
Special educators may work with students with high incidence disabilities, such as speech and language disorders, learning disabilities or emotional behavioral disorders. They may also work with students with autism spectrum disorders or low incidence disabilities, such as deafness, blindness, traumatic brain injury and other intellectual disabilities.
The job descriptions, settings, caseload and responsibilities for special education teachers can vary greatly. Special educators collaborate closely with general educators, therapists, related service providers, families and community agencies to help students meet their individualized goals in the least restrictive environment possible. A successful special education teacher is highly organized, flexible, creative and has strong communication skills.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, median pay for a special education teacher was $59,780 per year in 2018. The projected growth rate for the profession through 2026 is 8 percent, slightly above the national average for all professions. 1
Director or Administrator of Special Education/Exceptional Student Education (ESE) Programs
Administrators keep special education programs running smoothly. While responsibilities will differ depending on role, special education administrators may be required to develop, implement, oversee, monitor, and/or measure district-wide special education programs; ensure the quality and improvement of services; manage area coordinators; and work with parents, teachers and legal advocates to ensure that students are receiving the best possible education and services.2
Special education administration is an ideal path for those who want to shape policies and programs that improve learning outcomes and daily life for students with disabilities. Individuals in these roles may not interface directly with students on a daily basis, but they can greatly affect the lives of students nonetheless.
Administrative positions often require a master's degree or higher, but that additional training brings a higher salary. The mean annual wage for educational administrators was $98,750 in 2018.2
Are you interested in launching or advancing your career in special education administration? Explore the online graduate certificate in leadership in special and inclusive education* from the University of Kansas. This program imparts a deep understanding of special education policy and law, giving you the skills to identify and remove barriers to inclusive policy, principles and practice.
The 1900 Amendments to EHA (PL 101-476), which changed the name to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDA), mandated transition services to aid students with disabilities through the transition from secondary school to adult life,3 and the demand for transition specialists was born.
A transition specialist, also known as a transition coordinator, works closely with students with disabilities, other educators, family members and special education advocates to develop and implement a post-secondary-school student success plan that complies with legal requirements and takes into account the student's needs, preferences and interests. A transition specialist typically works in elementary and high schools, often in an office setting to provide privacy.4 As a transition specialist, you can expect to earn a similar income to a special education teacher (see above for salary statistics).
A leading institution for transition education, KU is proud to offer online master's and graduate certificate programs in secondary special education and transition that prepare graduates to implement, develop and sustain evidence-based transition practices and programs.
Literacy is the cornerstone of education, and reading specialists provide much-needed assessment and instruction to children (and in some cases, adults) who struggle with reading. The International Literacy Association (ILA) defines a reading specialist as “a teacher who has specialized preparation in literacy and is highly qualified to teach struggling readers.”5
According to the ILA, a reading specialist primarily works with students, and this role requires a deep understanding of how to provide literacy instruction to students who experience difficulty with reading and writing tasks.6 Reading specialists are most commonly employed in grade schools, where they work directly with students—individually or in a group setting—who read below grade level. Reading specialists may collaborate with classroom teachers or parents on strategies to help students improve their fluency and reading comprehension skills, and they may also perform assessments and diagnose reading issues in students.7 According to PayScale, the average salary for a reading specialist in the U.S. is $51,246, with the 90th percentile earning approximately $71,000.8
Learn the strategies and gain the credentials you need to become a reading specialist with KU's online master's and graduate certificate programs in reading education, which include courses such as Supporting Striving Readers: Adolescent Through Adults and Emergent Literacy and Beginning Reading.
Special Education Jobs: Challenging but Incredibly Rewarding
If you want your life's work to make a difference in the lives of others, consider a career in special education. Explore the forward-thinking online master's and graduate certificates in special education at the University of Kansas, home to the No. 1 Special Education program in the nation among public universities.9
*This online graduate certificate does not lead to initial nor advanced licensure in special education in the state of Kansas.
1. Retrieved on July 22, 2019, from bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.html
2. Retrieved on July 22, 2019, from bls.gov/oes/current/oes119032.html
3. Retrieved on July 22, 2019, from www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/leg/idea/history.html
4. Retrieved on July 22, 2019, from work.chron.com/transition-specialist-job-description-27276.html
5. Retrieved on July 22, 2019, from literacyworldwide.org/get-resources/literacy-glossary
6. Retrieved on July 22, 2019, from youtu.be/Ua5E1WKuPS
7. Retrieved on July 22, 2019, from understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/treatments-approaches/working-with-clinicians/reading-specialists-what-you-need-to-know
8. Retrieved on July 22, 2019, from payscale.com/research/US/Job=Reading_Specialist/Salary
9. Retrieved on July 22, 2019, from usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-education-schools/special-needs-education-rankings