What Does a Special Education Teacher Do?

A special education teacher watches as a student builds a model wind turbine.

Skilled and dedicated teachers have the opportunity to make a positive impact and shape the future of their students. For students who need extra attention, teachers with an expertise in special education can provide significant support to help them excel in the classroom. Whether students need assistance for physical, cognitive or emotional challenges, special education teachers can help them learn the strategies and tools they need to succeed.

Prospective instructors who want to pursue a specialized degree can benefit greatly from earning a master’s degree in education with a concentration in special education. By taking the time to learn the advanced knowledge and skills they need to guide their students, special education teachers can build a meaningful and fulfilling career for themselves in education.

Special Education Teacher Job Description

Every student is different and has a range of strengths and weaknesses. For students with learning disabilities or difficulties, achieving success in the classroom can be challenging and requires the assistance of a special education teacher.

What special education teachers do involves working with general teachers or other specialized teachers to create and implement individualized instruction strategies to help their students succeed. Working in classrooms ranging from traditional schools to private facilities or health care organizations, special education teachers work closely with their students to help them reach attainable goals and work through the state-issued curriculum.

Depending on the student and their learning disability, special education teachers use different strategies to improve their learning environment and help them cultivate essential life skills.

Typical Work Environments

Special education teachers’ skills are in demand in traditional classroom settings; specialized schools; early intervention facilities; private facilities; and health care facilities, such as hospitals or clinics. Depending on the class setting and age group of students, special education teachers may find themselves either working in tandem with general teachers to provide assistance to a small group of students or working with other specialized educators in dedicated special education classrooms.

Key Responsibilities

Working in conjunction with other educators, administrators, and a student’s parents or support system, special education teachers are tasked with establishing strategies to streamline their students’ learning environment. Their key responsibilities include the following:

  • Adapting the general curriculum to meet the needs of students
  • Teaching lessons in an inclusive manner
  • Coordinating with and updating parents on a student’s progress or challenges
  • Evaluating the academic performance of students
  • Advising parents and other teaching staff on methods to work with individual students
  • Working one-on-one with students
  • Diagnosing students and establishing achievable education plans

Essential Skills for Special Education Teachers

Teaching can be both fulfilling and challenging. As special education teachers, instructors face various challenges on top of the more routine obstacles in education. Being a special education teacher does require the specialized or interpersonal skills listed below.


Learning with a disability, particularly in a classroom with students of all levels, can be challenging both mentally and emotionally for students. By showing students empathy and understanding, teachers can encourage them to invest in themselves as opposed to giving up.


Special education teachers must practice patience when working with students who face all types of challenges. By being calm and listening, they can inspire confidence in their students and create a safe, inclusive space for them to learn.


Building rapport with students is just as critical as implementing the correct learning strategies. By taking the time to listen to students, ensure that they feel heard and tailor lessons to overcome specific challenges, teachers can help their students build the practical skills they need to succeed.

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Education doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. With each student comes a unique set of challenges. Through critical thinking, special education teachers can evaluate their options to choose the solution with the highest chance of success.

Special Education Teacher Salary and Job Growth

Special education teachers earned a median annual salary of $62,950 as of May 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Depending on their level of education, workplace experience and job location, a special education teacher’s salary may vary. For example, special education teachers in kindergarten and elementary schools in Georgia earned a mean salary of $67,570, while those working in middle and high schools in Georgia earned a mean salary of $65,390 as of May 2022, according to the BLS.

Across the country, students with learning limitations require the assistance of a special education teacher to succeed. However, the U.S. has a shortage of special education teachers. The BLS projects 33,500 openings for special education teachers each year between 2022 and 2032.

Pursue a Meaningful Career as a Special Education Teacher

With the right tools and guidance from a dedicated teacher, every student has the opportunity to achieve success in learning. What a special education teacher does not only provides special needs students with those tools but also provides them with the support and direction they need to believe in themselves.

By earning a degree, such as the Master of Education (MEd) in Instruction with a concentration in Special Education from Augusta University Online, graduates can build the in-depth knowledge and practical skills they need to begin a fulfilling career in education. Providing personalized attention; applied theory; and 21 concentrations, including special education, the MEd from AU Online was designed to help you enter the workforce with confidence. Discover how you can make a positive impact as a special education teacher.

Recommended Readings
What Is Pedagogy in Education?
Why Is Classroom Management Important?
Augusta University Online Expands AU’s Degree Offerings With Successful Launch

Indeed, How to Become a Special Education Teacher
Indeed, What Does a Special Education Teacher Do? Duties and Salary
NPR, “Students With Disabilities Have a Right to Qualified Teachers — But There’s a Shortage”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 25-2052 Special Education Teachers, Kindergarten and Elementary School
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 25-2058 Special Education Teachers, Secondary School
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Special Education Teachers
U.S. Department of Education, High Standards & Innovative Solutions: How Some States are Addressing the Special Educator Shortage Crisis
Workable, Special Education Teacher Job Description

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