Become a Special Education Teacher and Create an Inclusive Classroom
Teachers are vital for the future, and this is especially true for special education. Students in special ed programs need teachers who are well trained and who care about their success. This online special education master's degree program prepares you to become a teacher who can make a difference in the lives of your students. This degree program is perfect for current teachers who already have their license and want to add special education certification, and for those with a bachelor's degree who want to become a licensed teacher. Whatever your current career, this degree program can prepare you to become licensed in special education and get started in the classroom.
In this online master's degree program you will be trained in special education and prepared for teacher licensure in your state. In this cross-categorical program, you’ll be trained to teach students with varying disabilities (from mild to moderate) and learning needs, with ages ranging from grades K–12.
The special education program includes coursework, carefully designed assessments, and completion of clinical experiences. While you’ll study and submit your coursework online, you’ll also complete Demonstration Teaching (student teaching).
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COURSES & COMPETENCIES
Special Education Courses
Curriculum that ensures you’ve mastered the skills you’ll need as a special ed teacher.
This online master's degree in special education provides you with the essential skills, knowledge, and field experience needed to become a special education instructor for students with mild to moderate disabilities. This degree program is also AAQEP and CAEP accredited and recognized.
The WGU special education master’s degree program was designed (and is regularly updated) with input from the experts on our Education Program Council. These experts know exactly what it takes for a graduate to qualify for a successful career teaching elementary school students with diverse learning abilities and styles.
The M.A. Teaching–Special Education program at WGU is a mostly online degree program that you will complete by working and studying independently with support and instruction from WGU faculty. You will be expected to complete at least twelve competency units each six-month term. (One course is typically three or four units.)
This program comprises the following courses. You will typically complete them one at a time as you make your way through your program, working with your Program Mentor each term to build your personalized Degree Plan. You’ll work through each course as quickly as you can study and learn the material. As soon as you’re ready, you’ll pass the assessment, complete the course, and move on. This means that you can finish as many courses as you're able in a term at no additional cost.
Washington students, please note that you will be required to complete one additional course that is not listed below: Survey of Pacific Northwest History for Educators. View the Washington program guide.
Special Education Practices: Professional, Ethical and Legal Guidelines prepares candidates to apply practice within ethical and legal guidelines in day-to-day teaching, stakeholder interactions, and other complex situations. This course provides an overview of the professional ethics and standards from the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), which guide candidates to act in a professionally conscientious manner. This course also explores the transition planning requirements in IDEA, which include development of an individualized transition plan and ensures that planning is initiated in elementary (such as from K to elementary), middle school and continued through high school and post-secondary education. Candidates will explore the legal foundations and case laws related to special education to gain understanding of how legislation influences teaching and learning. Candidates will advocate for improved outcomes for students with exceptionalities and their families while addressing the unique needs of those with diverse social, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. Candidates will engage in three hours of preclinical experiences, which include an interview with a special educator to gain insight on how these topics affect and inform teaching practice. This course is designed to be taken after successful completion of Essential Practices for Supporting Diverse Learners.
Management Strategies for Academic and Social Behavior prepares candidates to work effectively with students exhibiting behavior in the classroom that is below age and cultural norms. This course provides an overview of behavior disorders and their causes, and appropriate research-based intervention strategies, including positive behavior intervention and supports, multitiered systems of support (MTSS), applied behavior analysis, replacement behavior and reward strategies, culturally responsive practices, and data collection and assessment methods. Candidates emerge prepared to strategize and recommend adjustments to the learning environment that support positive behavior and student success in the classroom and beyond. This course also examines behavioral assessment and analysis, including the creation of a functional behavior assessment (FBA) and the creation and monitoring of behavioral improvement plans (BIPs) in an authentic learning environment. The candidates will determine effective strategies to promote active student engagement, increase student motivation and opportunities to respond, and enhance self-regulation of student learning. This course is designed to be taken after successful completion of Creating and Managing Engaging Learning Environments.
Assessment and Evaluation Procedures in Special Education prepares candidates to use multiple methods of assessment and data sources in making educational decisions about the student and the learning environment. This course is designed to help provide an understanding of how assessment data is used during screening in multitiered systems of support (MTSS), the eligibility process, the evaluation process, progress monitoring, and data-based instructional decision making. Candidates analyze informal assessments to determine how students access and demonstrate knowledge in the core curriculum. This course is designed to be taken by candidates after they have completed Special Education Practices: Professional, Ethical, and Legal Guidelines.
Collaborative Techniques with Partners for Effective IEPs prepares candidates to apply team processes and communication strategies to collaborate in a culturally responsive manner with families, paraeducators, and other professionals (within the school, other educational settings, and the community) to plan programs and access services for students with exceptionalities and their families. The course introduces ways to enhance parental involvement and family engagement while teaching families and students advocacy throughout the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and transition planning processes. Candidates will develop plans for transition services that focus on a coordinated set of student-centered activities designed to facilitate the student's movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education. This course also focuses on the components of the IEP and how the practice of effective communication and collaboration skills is key to the program's development and implementation. The candidates will actively seek information from and about families and take primary responsibility for maintaining respectful, ongoing, open communication to jointly identify and meet learning goals that are informed by assessment data. Candidates will engage in three hours of preclinical experiences that includes a simulated collaborative experience in which skills learned can be applied. This course is designed to be taken after successful completion of Special Education Practices: Professional, Ethical and Legal Guidelines.
Special Education Methods of Instruction and Intervention introduces candidates to a repertoire of evidence-based instructional strategies to advance the learning of students with exceptionalities. The course focuses specifically on strategies for intensifying and individualizing instructional interventions; making instructional decisions based on progress-monitoring data; collaborating with general education teachers and paraeducators; teaching to mastery; promoting generalization of learning; and teaching students with exceptionalities how to use self-assessment, problem solving, and other cognitive strategies to organize critical content and meet their needs. This course will also focus on the interrelationship between curriculum, instruction, and assessment, with emphasis on the role of assessment and student data in planning, designing, delivering, and modifying instruction in accordance with diverse learner needs. Candidates will know and understand how learning occurs, how students construct knowledge, acquire skills, and develop disciplined thinking processes. This course is designed to be taken after successful completion of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, Mathematics Methods and Instruction for Students with Mild/Moderate Disabilities, and Language Arts Instruction and Interventions.
Designing Instruction for Elementary Learners with Mild to Moderate Exceptionalities prepares candidates to use evidence-based instructional practices appropriate for elementary students receiving special education services. The course includes cognitive and metacognitive strategies that elementary students can use to acquire new content knowledge and generalize skills across learning environments. It also provides opportunities for candidates to incorporate intensive instructional strategies and practice making accommodations to elementary math, reading, and language arts lesson plans based on learner characteristics, performance data, and individualized education program (IEP) goals. In addition to discussing how to make appropriate accommodations, the course teaches candidates how to assess student learning through progress monitoring and apply intensive interventions when warranted. Candidates apply their understanding of academic subject content specifically focusing on reading, writing, and math curricula of the general curriculum to inform instructional decisions for individual with exceptionalities. Candidates design appropriate learning and performance accommodations and modifications for individuals with exceptional learning needs in academic subject matter content of the general curriculum curricula. This course is designed to be taken after successful completion of Special Education Methods of Instruction and Intervention.
Educational Psychology and Human Development of Children and Adolescents is a key component of WGU’s Professional Core and is a required course for all Master of Arts in Teaching candidates. This course introduces candidates to research-validated theories of human development and psychology, spanning from early childhood through adolescence, and their applications in teaching practice. Candidates will explore how linguistic, physical, cognitive, and social development influence the learning process and inform educational approaches. This course will also cover appropriate instructional and assessment strategies that can be used to support learning for developmentally diverse student populations. The course will culminate in analysis of learning theories related to educational psychology in order to develop a personal educational philosophy. Candidates will engage in four hours of preclinical experiences, which include virtual classroom observations from the perspective of educational psychology and learner development. Cross-cutting themes of technology and diversity are interwoven for further development.
Mathematics Methods and Instruction for Students with Mild/Moderate Exceptionalities helps candidates learn how to implement effective math instruction in today’s diverse classrooms in both the elementary and secondary settings. Topics include differentiated math instruction, mathematical communication, mathematical tools for instruction, assessing math understanding, integrating math across the curriculum, critical thinking development, standards-based mathematics instruction, and mathematical models and representation for students with mild to moderate exceptionalities.
Language Arts Instruction and Intervention helps students learn to implement effective language arts instruction and intervention in the elementary classroom. Topics include written and spoken English, student knowledge expansion, literature-rich environments, differentiated instruction, technology for reading and writing, assessment strategies for reading and writing, and strategies for developing academic language. This course is designed to be taken after successful completion of Introduction to Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment OR Instructional Planning and Presentation in Elementary Education.
Elementary Reading Methods and Interventions provides students seeking initial teacher licensure in elementary education with an in-depth look at best practices for developing the reading and writing skills of all students. Course content examines the stages of literacy development, the balanced literacy approach, differentiation, technology integration, literacy-assessment, and the comprehensive Response to Intervention (RTI) model used to identify and address the needs of learners who struggle with reading comprehension. This course is designed to be taken after successful completion of Introduction to Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment OR Instructional Planning and Presentation in Elementary Education.
Schools as Communities of Care is a key component of WGU's Professional Core and is a required course for all Master of Arts in Teaching candidates. This course introduces candidates to strategies for providing a culturally inclusive learning environment that meets the social and emotional needs of learners while taking into account theories and philosophical perspectives on child and adolescent development and learning. Emphasis is placed on fostering a collaborative relationship with families, caregivers, and community stakeholders, and on leveraging community resources to support each learner’s growth and well-being to build a strong foundation for their academic and personal success. Topics addressed include culturally responsive practice, social and emotional learning (SEL), youth mental health, substance abuse, suicide awareness and prevention, abuse within families, and professional responsibilities to ensure student wellbeing. The course will culminate in evidence-based, practical application of strategies that support the whole child in a community of care. Candidates will engage in seven hours of preclinical experiences, include virtual observations of learning environments that involve parents and families in their children's education and an interview with an educational professional. Cross-cutting themes of technology and diversity are interwoven for further development.
Fundamentals of Diverse Learners is a key component of WGU's Professional Core and is a required course for all initial licensure candidates. This course prepares candidates to consider and address the wide range of learning needs in the classrooms of today. This course teaches candidates to identify and support the needs of diverse populations of learners, including, for example, students with disabilities (Including Dyslexia), students who are English language learners, and students who are gifted and talented. Practical strategies for differentiating instruction while creating a safe, inclusive, and culturally responsive learning environment are explored. This course helps candidates develop skills for partnering with parents and advocating for all students, particularly those impacted by provisions of IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Multitiered systems of support are addressed to prepare candidates for their future classrooms as they seek to select appropriate instructional practices and interventions to best serve their students. Candidates will engage in four hours of preclinical experiences that include a simulated teaching experience in which skills learned can be applied. Cross-cutting themes of technology and diversity are interwoven for further development.
Creating and Managing Engaging Learning Environments is a key component of WGU's Professional Core and is a required course for all Master of Arts in Teaching candidates. This course provides candidates with research-based strategies and approaches to establishing and maintaining a safe and productive learning environment that supports the success and well-being of all P-12 learners. Topics addressed include consistent routines and expectations, student engagement, positive behavior support, motivation and its effect on student achievement, active learning and self-direction, and fostering a sense of community through collaboration. Candidates will design a classroom management plan for their future classroom based on theory and high-leverage practices for meeting the diverse needs of learners in a productive and collaborative learning environment. The course will culminate in evidence-based, practical application of current strategies to motivate and engage students in specific content areas. Candidates will engage in seven hours of preclinical experiences that include both virtual observations of classroom settings and time in a simulated classroom environment where theory can be put into practice. Cross-cutting themes of technology and diversity are interwoven for further development.
Curriculum, Instruction, & Assessment is a key component of WGU's Professional Core and is a required course for all Master of Arts in Teaching candidates. This course provides candidates with theoretical foundations and strategies for creating engaging and standards-aligned lessons that meet the needs of all learners in the P-12 classroom. This course focuses on the interrelationship between curriculum, instruction, and assessment, with emphasis on the role of assessment and student data in planning, designing, delivering, and modifying instruction in accordance with diverse learner needs. This course will culminate in the application of evidence-based strategies related to the interdependence of and alignment among curriculum, instruction, and assessment in student-centered P-12 teaching and learning. Candidates will engage in three hours of preclinical experiences, which include conducting virtual classroom observations and recording a short teaching segment. Cross-cutting themes of technology and diversity are interwoven for continued development.
Using Educational Technology for Teaching and Learning is a key component of WGU's professional core and is a required course for all Master of Arts in Teaching candidates. This course presents strategies for integrating technology into classroom practices to improve instruction and student learning according to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards. Candidates will evaluate digital tools and their potential classroom applications such as enhancing curriculum, enabling communication with students and families, and increasing student engagement. Topics covered include ethics, equity and access to technology, and appropriate use of technology by P–12 students. Assistive technologies to meet the needs of a diverse learner population also will be addressed. The course will culminate in evidence-based, practical application of current standards, strategies, theories, or philosophical perspectives related to the use of technology in teaching and learning. Candidates will engage in three hours of preclinical experience that include virtual observations of classroom practices incorporating technology to support educational goals. Cross-cutting themes of technology and diversity are interwoven for further development.
Secondary Reading Instruction and Intervention explores the comprehensive, student-centered Response to Intervention (RTI) assessment and intervention model used to identify and address the needs of learners in middle school and high school who struggle with reading comprehension and/or information retention. Course content provides educators with effective strategies designed to scaffold instruction and help learners develop increased skill in the following areas: reading, vocabulary, text structures and genres, and logical reasoning related to the academic disciplines. This course has no prerequisites.
Disciplinary Literacy examines teaching strategies designed to help candidates to develop the literacy skills necessary to read, write, and think critically while engaging content in different academic disciplines. Course content highlights strategies to help candidates distinguish between the unique characteristics of informational texts while improving comprehension and writing proficiency across the curriculum. Strategies to encourage inquiry and cultivate skills in critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity also are addressed. This course is designed to be taken after successful completion of the Introduction to Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment course OR Introduction to Instructional Planning and Presentation AND Instructional Planning and Presentation in Special Education.
Pre-Clinical Experiences in Special Education provides candidates the opportunity to observe and participate in a wide range of in-classroom teaching experiences in order to develop the skills and confidence necessary to be an effective teacher. Candidates will reflect on and document the 75 hours of in-classroom observation and experience in their performance assessments. Prior to entering the classroom for the observations, candidates will be required to include a cleared background check, passing scores on the state or WGU required basic skills exam and a completed resume.
Supervised Demonstration Teaching in Special Education, Obs 1 and 2 involves a series of classroom performance observations by the host teacher and clinical supervisor that develop comprehensive performance data about the teacher candidate’s skills.
Supervised Demonstration Teaching in Special Education, Obs 3 and Midterm involves a series of classroom performance observations by the host teacher and clinical supervisor that develop comprehensive performance data about the teacher candidate’s skills.
Supervised Demonstration Teaching in Special Education, Obs 4 and 5 involves a series of classroom performance observations by the host teacher and clinical supervisor that develop comprehensive performance data about the teacher candidate’s skills.
Supervised Demonstration Teaching in Special Education, Obs 6 and Final involves a series of classroom performance observations by the host teacher and clinical supervisor that develop comprehensive performance data about the teacher candidate’s skills.
Teacher Performance Assessment in Special Education course is a culmination of the wide variety of skills learned during your time in the Teachers College at WGU. In order to be a competent and independent classroom teacher, you will showcase a collection of your content, planning, instructional, and reflective skills.
Professional Portfolio requires candidates to create an online teaching portfolio that demonstrates professional beliefs, growth, and effective teaching practices from the Demonstration Teaching experience. The portfolio includes reflective essays (educational beliefs, professional growth, and collaboration with stakeholders) and professional artifacts (resume and artifacts with commentary on academic language, systems of student support, education technology, and professional communication with families) developed and acquired during Demonstration Teaching.
Cohort Seminar in Special Education provides mentoring and supports teacher candidates during their demonstration teaching period by providing weekly collaboration and instruction related to the demonstration teaching experience. It facilitates their demonstration of competence in becoming reflective practitioners, adhering to ethical standards, practicing inclusion in a diverse classroom, exploring community resources, building collegial and collaborative relationships with teachers, and considering leadership and supervisory skills.
Program consists of 26 courses
At WGU, we design our curriculum to be timely, relevant, and practical—all to help you show that you know your stuff.
Special requirements for this program
Your portfolio will include your résumé and Philosophy of Teaching Statement and serve as a way to showcase the skills you have acquired throughout your degree program and Demonstration Teaching.
You Aren't On Your Own
WGU has Program Mentors who work with you from the day you start, all the way through graduation. They help you set up your Demonstration Teaching, learn about teaching certification in your state, and more. You're not alone when you choose an online degree at WGU.
On Your Schedule
Students choose WGU for their online teaching degree program because of its flexibility. Whether you already have a full-time job, have responsibilities as a parent, or just have a busy schedule, WGU can work for you.
Licensure In Any State
WGU's online special education degree prepares you for a teaching license in any state in the United States. It's valuable to learn the other requirements in your state to know the full process for gaining licensure.
One important measure of a degree’s value is the reputation of the university where it was earned. When employers, industry leaders, and academic experts hold your alma mater in high esteem, you reap the benefits of that respect. WGU is a pioneer in reinventing higher education for the 21st century, and our quality has been recognized.
A Master's Degree Is Within Reach
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A Different Way to Learn: Degree Programs Designed to Fit Your Life—and All the Demands on Your Time
Professional responsibilities. Family obligations. Personal commitments. At WGU, we understand schedules are tight and often unpredictable for adult students. That’s why we offer a flexible, personalized approach to how education should be. No rigid class schedules. Just a solid, career-focused special ed teaching program that meshes with your current lifestyle. You'll be challenged. You'll work hard. But if you commit yourself and put in the hours needed, WGU makes it possible for you to earn a highly respected degree as a busy working adult.
With a Master’s in Special Education, You’ll Be a Vital Resource for Students with Disabilities
Find a rewarding career teaching students with diverse challenges. You’ll gain expertise in instructional design, IEP development, and behavioral management. Graduates of this program work in a variety of school settings, including inclusionary K–12 classrooms or resource rooms. Grade-level eligibility will depend on your state’s requirements.
The courses in M.A. Teaching–Special Education—based on effective instruction and national and state standards—are designed to help you efficiently teach kids from diverse backgrounds with a variety of learning disabilities. A special education teacher should be patient, engaging, supportive, and bright. If you possess these qualities, the next step is a proper education. You've come to the right place. You're on the fast track to the gratifying job of your dreams.
WGU's Alumni Teach Across the Country
Graduates of WGU's online Teachers College have found meaningful, rewarding teaching careers in classrooms at:
- Inclusionary K–12 classrooms
- Middle/junior high schools
- High schools
- Private and charter schools
Impressive Class of Graduates
Graduates of the WGU Teachers College include recipients of many professional honors, including:
- Gates Millennium Scholars
- Intel Grant for Mathematics and Technology
- Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction Award
- Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award
- Association of Public Charter Schools Educator of the Year Award
Focused on Equity and Accessibility
The WGU Teachers College is in the top 1% for granting degrees for Black and Hispanic/Latinx educators at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. It is second in the nation for combined graduate and undergraduate degrees and credentials for students of color, according to the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).
Master of Teaching, Special Education Admission Requirements
To be considered eligible for enrollment into this M.A. in Teaching, Special Education (K-12) degree program, you must provide official transcripts that demonstrate you have earned a bachelor’s degree from a recognized, institutionally accredited (also known as regionally accredited) university and earned a GPA of at least 2.5 (or higher, depending upon your state), or the competency-based equivalent, in that program. Applicants with a GPA lower than a 2.5 but a 2.0 or above may seek admission by submitting passing scores from the WGU program required basic skills test (e.g. Praxis CORE).
Students who are seeking initial teacher licensure in a bachelor’s, post-baccalaureate, or master’s program must also pass a state-specific basic skills test for the state in which they live as a prerequisite to Demonstration Teaching (student teaching). (Registering and paying for the test is the student’s responsibility.) This requirement can be met either prior to admission or before beginning the Foundations of Teaching subject area once you are in your WGU program.
WGU’s teacher licensure programs also include Demonstration Teaching (student teaching). You must be at least 18 years of age before you may begin the application process or participate in Preclinical Experiences and Demonstration Teaching. You must also submit to a criminal background check prior to entering the classroom for this component of your program.
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Becoming a Licensed Teacher
State-specific licensure requirements: Each state in the U.S. has specific testing requirements that must be met or completed in addition to completing your teaching degree program at WGU. Teacher licensure requirements vary depending on state laws and may include a number of factors, such as:
- Completion of a bachelor’s degree program
- Submission of transcripts
- Completion and clearance of a background check
- Passing of required entrance exams and basic skills tests
More About the M.A. in Teaching, Special Education
- More About Teacher Licensure
- More About Paying for School
It depends on your state and which Teachers College program you complete, so it is best to ask your Enrollment Counselor. Typically, teachers with an elementary education license can teach anywhere from kindergarten through 8th grade, and secondary teachers in math, English, or science can teach anywhere from 5th to 12th grades. K–12 special education licenses typically enable teachers to work with students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
It depends on your state and your program, but for most Teachers College programs, Demonstration Teaching is typically about the length of one full traditional school semester. DT is a minimum of 12–16 weeks, but it can be longer in other programs.
WGU has a team that works with you to connect you with schools in your area, and with host teachers that will support you through your Demonstration Teaching.
Your Enrollment Counselor can provide more details about your specific situation. While you can provide recommendations of a school you want to be placed in, generally, our Field Placement Office will be selecting and setting up the placement in the end.
Your Enrollment Counselor has access to an up-to-date database that tracks requirements and eligibility for all WGU programs and all US states and territories, so a conversation with your Enrollment Counselor can quickly verify this for you based on where you live and your desired program.
Scholarships are available for new WGU students and returning graduates. This video shows more about scholarship opportunities and how they can help you pay for school. Get information on:
- How to apply
- Eligibility requirements
- Examples of scholarships
- What happens after you apply
- Other financial aid options
WGU's tuition is a flat rate that is charged every six months. You can take as many courses as you are able in that six-month term—with no extra cost. You simply pay for the term and do as much work as you can or want to during that time. This means that finishing faster helps you save money—a major benefit you won't find at most other schools.
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