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Careers in special education: skills, education and how to get started

At a glance

  • From teaching in the classroom to performing the administrative work that makes teaching possible, special education offers a number of career paths.
  • Overall employment of special education teachers is projected to grow 8% from 2020 to 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • As a prerequisite to a career in special education, many choose to pursue a degree program in education.

Everyone has the right to an education, but not everyone has the same needs when it comes to learning. Students with special needs have physical, emotional or learning disabilities, and they require informed instruction from special education teachers and administrators.

Special education is certainly a team effort. There are numerous careers in special needs beyond working directly with students as educators in the classroom. Coordinators, counselors and managers make up a wide range of special education teaching jobs that can have a profound impact on the lives of students with disabilities.

Many choose to pursue a degree program in education  to better prepare themselves for these careers. A master’s degree in special education, for instance, gives special education teachers the opportunity to hone skills that are uniquely suited to special education teaching jobs.

In the following, we explore jobs available to education and special education majors. These represent several careers in special needs that are important in the lives of students. If you’re looking to explore one of these fields, University of Phoenix may be able to help. But please note that the University’s degree programs may not directly prepare you for all these jobs. Some may require additional education, licensure or training.

Special education teacher

Overview: If you’re looking for a job in special education that has a direct impact on the lives of students, you may want to consider working as a special education teacher. These individuals work in the classroom directly with students with disabilities. They can teach a wide range of subjects, develop lesson plans and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), communicate with supervisors and administrators, and work one-on-one to help students succeed.

Education requirements: Every state requires a bachelor’s degree to teach special education in a public school. Some require a specific degree in special education.  

Job outlook: Overall employment of special education teachers is projected to grow 8% from 2020 to 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Salary range: The salary range for special education teachers was between $46,180 and $100,040 in May 2021, according to BLS.

Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

Instructional coordinator

Overview: Assuming a more administrative role in the lives of students with special needs, instructional coordinators take on a bird’s-eye view to improve educational outcomes. Curriculum development is a major responsibility of education coordinators, requiring them to use data and student and teacher input to craft the best classroom experience.

Education requirements: Instructional coordinators typically need to complete an education program at a master’s degree level. Some schools require these professionals to have a state-issued license. University of Phoenix does not offer a degree program that aligns directly to this job outcome.

Job outlook: Employment of instructional coordinators is projected to grow 10% from 2020 to 2030, according to BLS.

Salary range: The salary range for instructional coordinators was $38,390 to $101,090 in May 2021, according to BLS.

School counselor

Overview: School can be challenging, especially for students with special needs. School counselors address in a personal, one-on-one manner the many challenges that these students face. This can mean giving advice to a struggling student or reaching out to teachers to collaborate on ways to improve outcomes for students with special needs. School counselors can be found at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

Education requirements: To be a school counselor in most states, a master’s degree in psychology or counseling is a common prerequisite. Public schools also require a state-issued license, certification or endorsement.

Job outlook: According to BLS, employment of school and career counselors is projected to grow 11% from 2020 to 2030. 

Salary range: The salary range for school and career counselors was between $37,550 and $98,190 in May 2021, according to BLS.

Some teachers choose to specialize in early childhood education. Learn how to optimize your results with the right degree.

School psychology professional

Overview: By administering psychological, neurological, personality and academic tests to students, school psychology professionals produce data-driven insights to improve student outcomes. This is especially important in the field of special education. Data produced by school psychology professionals can help diagnose mental disabilities and lead to educational strategies that address these disabilities. This makes everyone from special education teachers to administrators better prepared to teach students with special needs.

Education requirements: According to BLS, psychology professionals typically need a doctoral degree in psychology, but a masters’ degree may be sufficient to work in a school. Common fields include psychology and education. These professionals may also need certification from the Board of Certified Psychometrists, and 3,000 hours of testing experience is also typically required. University of Phoenix does not offer a degree program that aligns directly to this job outcome.

Job outlook: The job outlook for school psychology professionals is projected to grow 10% between 2020-2030, according to BLS.

Salary range: BLS reports that the salary range for school psychology professionals in May 2021 was $47,850 to $133,890. Note that this range is for all psychology professionals. BLS data shows the median salary for psychology professionals in elementary and secondary schools was $78,830.

Education administrator

Overview: Education administrators perform the day-to-day work that makes running a school possible. Education administrators plan and execute plans to improve educational outcomes as well as manage a budget and encourage efficiencies within school administration. They can work in admissions, as registrars, at research institutions and really anywhere within a school where administrative work needs to be done. 

Education requirements: Principals and deans generally have experience as educators as well as a master’s degree before moving on to administrative roles. For other administrative roles, a bachelor’s degree is a common prerequisite.

Job outlook: According to BLS, the national estimated occupational employment for education administrators in kindergarten through secondary schools is projected to increase 8% from 2020 to 2030.

Salary range: According to BLS, the salary range for education administrators in kindergarten through secondary school in May 2021 was between $61,480 to $153,250.  

Specialize your skill set with a Post-Master’s Certificate in Higher Education Administration.

Principal

Overview: Principals are education administrators who oversee the entire administrative structure of an elementary, middle or high school. Special education requires the specific attention of principals, who are ultimately responsible for instituting an educational plan that helps students with special needs succeed.

Education requirement: Employment as a principal generally requires at least a master’s degree in education administration as well as licensure.

Job outlook: Employment of elementary, middle and high school principals is projected to grow 8% percent from 2020 to 2030, according to BLS.

Salary range: The salary range for elementary, middle and high school principals was between $61,480 and $153,520 in May 2021, according to BLS.

That’s our list of some of the most rewarding jobs in special education! While the field might not be for everybody, it is one that has tremendous opportunity to improve the lives and futures of numerous children.

Is a career in special education right for you? University of Phoenix has education programs for teachers at every stage of their careers.