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CAREER GUIDE Bachelor of Arts, Special Education and Elementary Education

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Career guide: special and elementary education teacher.

Becoming a Special Education or Elementary Education teacher is a challenging and rewarding career move that opens up a world of possibilities working with students of all ages, grade levels, and abilities. Special needs teaching is required for students who have physical or mental disabilities or behavioral disorders. Students who are blind or deaf or who have multiple disabilities also require teachers who have been adequately qualified and certified to serve their special needs

Special Education and Elementary Education teachers take existing general education lesson plans in various subjects such as reading, writing, and math, then adapt them to match the learning abilities of the students they teach. They may also be required to teach basic communication or life skills. Typically, these educators will work in conjunction with parents, counselors, administrators, and school principals to assess their students' strengths, challenges, and needs in order to help them transition from grade to grade.

A Special Education or Elementary Education teacher's job description calls for someone who is patient and understanding. You'll need to be creative and flexible in the ways you approach your students' Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and you'll need to be an organized, detail-oriented individual. If this sounds like you, it might be time to consider a future in this rewarding field.

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Career opportunities.

With your bachelor's degree and a teaching license or certification from your state's Board of Education, you'll be qualified to pursue a range of teaching careers in Special Education and Elementary Education. Your future opportunities may be enhanced by specialized training in the field and by completing supervised classroom teaching and curriculum development courses. You may also consider positions like:

Positions in the field.

  • Childcare worker
  • Instructional coordinator
  • Occupational therapist
  • Recreational therapist
  • Social worker
  • Teacher assistant
  • School counselor
"For non-traditional students who have jobs, who have families, it is an excellent way to go. I had every bit of support I needed. I think WGU has every advantage." Genevieve Prahasto
B.A. Special Education (K–12)

Job market forecast.

For a number of reasons, the demand for special-needs teaching is steady. Better screening for disabilities in children is leading to an increased need for qualified educators in earlier grades, and many new opportunities also arise from the need to replace teachers who retire or leave the occupation each year. Overall, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates employment of special education teachers in the United States to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026.

Job growth 2016–2026.

Work environment.

As you might imagine, most Special Education and Elementary Education teachers work in schools and typically during school hours. Some work in hospitals, residential facilities, or in students' homes, requiring travel to and from these locations. Those working a traditional 10-month school year will typically have a 2-month break during the summer, while teachers employed in districts with year-round schedules usually work 8 weeks in a row, followed by a one-week break, in addition to a 5-week winter break. When not directly engaged with students, teachers spend a significant amount of time grading papers, updating student records, and meeting with parents and other educators.

Professional organizations.

Many professional organizations are dedicated to the field of teaching and careers in Special Education and Elementary Education. If this is your calling, here are a few places to learn more about the profession.

Job search resources.

There are over 400,000 Special Education teachers in the United States. If you have the knowledge, skills, and specialized training to make a difference in the lives of special needs children, your quest for a satisfying career can start right here.

Salary stats.

Overall, the median annual wage for a special education teacher was $57,910 in May of 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Salaries can differ based on the state where you live, years of experience you have, and level of education you've achieved. A special-ed teacher salary can also vary depending on whether you teach preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle, or secondary school.

Average salary of jobs with related titles.


Teaching Special Education requires a serious commitment; working with children who have a wide range of disabilities can be taxing, but it can also be extremely rewarding. Each student must be treated individually, since some students in your classroom may be highly functioning, while others may lack even simple motor or communication skills. It takes patience and understanding, and you'll need specialized training to learn how to prepare an effective education plan for each of them.

With the right education and preparation, you can become highly qualified and ready to make a difference in the lives of those who need it most. Generally, you'll be expected to have your bachelor's degree, and as you begin to look for an accredited program designed to help you become a Special Education teacher, look for a curriculum that includes a supervised teaching practicum. You may also consider a bachelor's degree program that prepares teacher candidates to pursue dual licensure in Special Education (K–12) and Elementary Education (K–8).

Your career’s next step: Earn a degree.

Ready to jump-start your career in special education? The next step could be earning your B.A. in Special Education and Elementary Education. Accredited, competency-based WGU offers this degree online for at a surprisingly affordable flat-rate tuition. Flexible enough for a working adult’s schedule with the option to accelerate, your degree may be closer than you think!