How to Become a Special Education Teacher: Your 5-Step Guide

How to Become a Special Education Teacher

You have a passion for working with children with special needs, and it’s growing stronger every day. Whether it’s spending the day at the zoo with a family member who has autism or volunteering to read with children who are struggling with dyslexia, you feel called to turn this passion into a career.

Becoming a special education teacher sounds like the perfect job. You can’t imagine anything more fulfilling than working with children who have physical, cognitive or learning disabilities and helping them achieve their full potential.

There’s just one problem: You don’t know how to become a special education teacher. It seems like a career specialty that could require years of training, and you’re worried you don’t have the time or money to embark on this path.

Becoming a special education teacher may sound daunting, but it may be easier than you think. We did the research and spoke to special education teachers to bring you this five-step guide to becoming a special education teacher. Keep reading to discover your first step toward a career that could change lives!

5 Simple steps to becoming a special education teacher

1. Enroll in a teaching program that meets your needs

All public schools require their special education teachers to hold a Bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Public schools aren’t the only option for special education teachers, however. Some jobs may not require a four-year degree, such as working for a childcare center, preschool or individual families.

You’ll need to find a degree program that fits your needs, regardless of which type of degree you decide to pursue. Consider flexible options like online courses and self-paced learning, which can make your education more affordable and easier to fit into your busy schedule.

You may also want to look for programs that focus specifically on special needs education.

“Special education courses focus on creating, monitoring and delivering intervention,” says Julianne Miller, a specialist teacher and tutor at Special Educational Needs. She adds that these specialist programs will help you develop intervention plans for each individual child rather than trying to applying a one-size-fits-all learning strategy to students who learn differently.

2. Student teach and build experience

Once your education is underway at your chosen degree program, you’ll likely need to get some hands-on experience through student teaching. This training is required to become a public school teacher in certain states, but it doesn’t hurt to have the extra experience even if it’s not required by law.

Many degree programs include student teaching as part of your education. Others may include other types of valuable applied learning, such as volunteering or pursuing research related to special education topics.

3. Become certified

There’s still one more step to go after completing your degree program and gaining hands-on experience: becoming certified, or licensed, to teach in your state.* Though the certification process varies from state to state, you’ll most likely need to pass your state’s licensing exam to be qualified to teach in a public school. Some private schools and childcare centers don’t require a license, so be sure to dig into the rules for your state and desired place of employment.

Different states may also offer additional certifications specific to special education, or even specific disabilities, such as dyslexia or autism. If these certifications are available in your state, obtaining them can show employers that you have the depth of knowledge it takes to truly make a difference in the education of a child who has special needs.

4. Land a job

Now that all the educational requirements are out of the way, your path is clear to begin working in the field. The BLS expects special education teachers to have good job opportunities in the coming years. “Job opportunities also may be better in certain specialties, such as those requiring experience with early childhood intervention and skills in working with students who have multiple disabilities, severe disabilities or autism spectrum disorders.”

You’ll have the training and the specialized skills employers are looking for in their special education teachers.

5. Continuing education

Your journey as a special education teacher doesn’t end with landing a job. Researchers are constantly shedding new light on how the brain works, and how students with special needs may best be able to learn. Some school districts require their special education teachers to complete a certain number of continuing education hours each year, such as those offered by the National Association of Special Education Teachers.

Miller sees specialized courses and continuing education as positive for everyone involved, especially for the extraordinary children you’ll encounter throughout your career. “We teach children so that they are best able to bring their skills to the world they live in. If you believe in education, then educate yourself. Get specialist training so that you can be the best teacher possible for these wonderful children.”

Take the first step toward your new career path

Now that we’ve shown you how to become a special education teacher, you have all the information you need to turn your passion into your new career.

Choosing and enrolling in a degree program is your first step to changing children’s lives as a special education teacher. Get started today by checking out the Special Needs Specialization in our Early Childhood Education program.

*Graduates of Early Childhood Education programs at Rasmussen College are not eligible for licensure as a teacher in an elementary or secondary school. A Bachelor’s degree and a state teaching license are typically required to work as a teacher in public and private school settings.

About the author

Ashley Brooks

Ashley is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen University. She believes in the power of words and knowledge and enjoys using both to encourage others on their learning journeys

female writer

Related Content

Related Content

This piece of ad content was created by Rasmussen University to support its educational programs. Rasmussen University may not prepare students for all positions featured within this content. Please visit for a list of programs offered. External links provided on are for reference only. Rasmussen University does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced. Rasmussen University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, an institutional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

logo-accreditation-acen logo-accreditation-ccne chart-credential-laddering-associates-bachelors-masters 0 Credits 90 Credits 180 Credits 48 Credits Start Here HIGH SCHOOL GRADS Start Here TRANSFER STUDENTS Start Here SECOND DEGREE PURSUERS End Here ASSOCIATE'S DEGREE Start Here MASTER'S DEGREE PURSUERS End Here BACHELOR'S DEGREE End Here MASTER'S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-associates-bachelors 0 Credits Start Here HIGH SCHOOL GRADS Start Here TRANSFER STUDENTS 90 Credits Start Here SECOND DEGREE PURSUERS End Here ASSOCIATE'S DEGREE 180 Credits End Here BACHELOR'S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-msn chart-credential-laddering-nursing-programs chart-credential-laddering-nursing DNP MSN RN to BSN LPN to RN Bridge Accelerated BSN Professional Nursing ADN Practical Nursing Diploma Pre-Licensure Post-Licensure icon-colored-outline-bank icon-colored-outline-certificate icon-colored-outline-circle-dollar-sign icon-colored-outline-folder-search icon-colored-outline-hand-heart icon-colored-outline-head-blocks icon-colored-outline-head-cog icon-colored-outline-head-heart icon-colored-outline-health-plus-leaves icon-colored-outline-hospital icon-colored-outline-lifelong-learning icon-colored-outline-light-bulb-analytics icon-colored-outline-location-pin icon-colored-outline-magnifying-glass icon-colored-outline-monitor-healthcare icon-colored-outline-monitor-paper-search icon-colored-outline-nurse-rays icon-colored-outline-padlock-shield icon-colored-outline-person-presenter-screen icon-colored-outline-scales ras-logo-flame ras-logo-horizontal ras-logo-stacked icon-colored-advance icon-colored-arrows-cross-curve icon-colored-briefcase-star icon-colored-build icon-colored-bulb-analytics icon-colored-certificate icon-colored-continual-development icon-colored-duo-chatbox icon-colored-folder-mortarboard icon-colored-forward-ribbon icon-colored-gears-clock icon-colored-globe-pen icon-colored-growth icon-colored-hand-bubble icon-colored-hand-stars icon-colored-hands-gear icon-colored-head-blocks icon-colored-head-cog icon-colored-health-plus-leaves icon-colored-hospital-building icon-colored-laptop-cbe-skyscraper icon-colored-laptop-checkmark icon-colored-laptop-webpage icon-colored-location-map icon-colored-location-pin icon-colored-monitor-paper-scan icon-colored-mortarboard-dollar icon-colored-national icon-colored-people-chat-bubbles icon-colored-person-cheer-star icon-colored-person-laptop-checkboxes icon-colored-person-screen-instructor icon-colored-person-whiteboard icon-colored-phone-chatbox icon-colored-police-light icon-colored-prep icon-colored-presenter icon-colored-regional icon-colored-save-time icon-colored-shirt-hat icon-colored-skyscraper icon-colored-state icon-colored-student-centered icon-colored-support icon-colored-world-experience icon-triangle-arrow-up-plant icon-triangle-calendar-pencil icon-triangle-clock-rotating-arrows icon-triangle-display-gears icon-triangle-hand-right-speech-bubble icon-triangle-laptop-coding-brackets icon-triangle-mortarboard icon-triangle-paper-ribbon icon-triangle-person-cheer-star icon-triangle-person-juggle icon-triangle-triple-people-chat-bubble icon-modality-campus icon-modality-field icon-modality-online icon-modality-residential icon-arrow icon-bank icon-camera icon-filter icon-general-chart icon-general-connect icon-general-degree icon-general-discuss icon-general-email icon-general-find icon-general-hat icon-general-heart icon-general-laptop-building icon-general-laptop icon-general-leader icon-general-map icon-general-money icon-general-paperwork icon-general-people icon-general-phone icon-general-speak-out icon-head-heart icon-info-circle icon-mail-forward icon-mglass icon-play-solid icon-quote-mark-left icon-quote-mark-right icon-scales icon-share-square-o icon-simple-chat icon-simple-desktop icon-simple-find icon-simple-hamburger icon-simple-phone icon-spinner icon-tag icon-testimonial-quotes icon-util-checkbox-white icon-util-checkbox icon-util-checked-white icon-util-checked icon-util-chevron-down icon-util-chevron-left icon-util-chevron-right icon-util-chevron-up icon-util-circle-arrow-down icon-util-circle-dot icon-util-language-switch icon-util-loading icon-util-open-window-link icon-util-pdf-link icon-util-refresh icon-util-x rebrand-arrows icon-social-facebook-colored icon-social-facebook-square-colored icon-social-facebook-square icon-social-facebook icon-social-google-plus-square icon-social-google-plus icon-social-instagram-colored icon-social-instagram icon-social-linkedin-square-colored icon-social-linkedin-square icon-social-linkedin icon-social-pinterest-p-colored icon-social-pinterest-p icon-social-twitter-colored icon-social-twitter-square icon-social-twitter icon-social-youtube-play-colored icon-social-youtube-play graduate-cap-star-coin hand-coin hand-heart nurse-stethoscope-rays card-send-smile person-yoga-pose suitcase-star