Special Education Certification

Special education teachers work with individuals who have emotional, physical and developmental disabilities. They can work in a variety of settings including classrooms, hospitals and clinics. A bachelor’s degree is the typical education required along with a special education licensure.

Universities and colleges offer bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees in special education. Special education teachers combine knowledge of disabilities such as visual impairment, autism or Downs’s syndrome with practical procedures for teaching science, math and reading skills to students with special needs. Schools offer specialized courses that may examine topics like low-incidence disabilities and technology for differentiated instruction. Most special education training will also include supervised classroom teaching and curriculum development courses.

Special education teachers require a teaching license from the state Board of Education in order to teach in their field. Traditional teacher licensing programs require a bachelor’s degree to teach grades K-12, but due to the high level of specialization in the field of special education, some states may require additional training – such as a master’s degree – before applying for a professional license.

Coursework in special education certificate programs offers instruction in the techniques and methods necessary for working in the special education classroom. Additionally, students are trained to understand various common types of learning disabilities. Coursework could include topics that are similar to some of the following:

  1. Introduction to student learning disabilities
  2. Theories and strategies for students with learning disabilities
  3. Working with autistic students
  4. Understanding auditory processing disorders
  5. Assessment techniques for children with special needs
  6. Understanding language development and literacy skills

Steps to becoming a Special Education Teacher


All states require special education teachers to obtain a license and bachelor’s degree in education and special education. Some states may offer an alternative special education licensing program for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in a subject other than teaching. Some states and/or employers require even more education, with a master’s degree requirement in special education for all special education teachers.Special needs

Coursework typically includes classes in subjects such as child assessment, educational psychology, behavior support, communication techniques and disabled student instruction. Degree programs in special education on both the bachelor’s and master’s levels are abundant and offered by both public and private colleges and universities both offline and online.

All students completing a special education degree program complete coursework in instructional strategy, classroom management, social-emotional learning, and assessments. They also learn how to use adaptive technology and specialized software programs.


State Certification

All states require special education teachers to be licensed to teach special needs children in a public school, and some private schools may also require licensing. Licensing is typically offered by the state or specific school district jurisdictions. General licenses allow teachers to work with students with a variety of disabilities, while others offer licenses or endorsements in specific disability categories.

Some states offer special education teachers the ability to teach immediately after graduating with a bachelor’s degree under the under the supervision of an experienced teacher, with full certification awarded following completion of the teaching program. Most states require teachers to complete a program of student-teaching, lasting from one to two years. Many colleges and universities offer student teaching programs as part of their special education degree coursework.

Specialization (optional)

Special education teachers can choose to specialize in one of the following areas:

Mild/Moderate Disabilities: Includes mild to moderate mental retardation, traumatic brain injury, emotional disturbance, autism spectrum disorders, specific learning disabilities and other health impairments.
Moderate/Severe Disabilities: Includes moderate to severe mental retardation, traumatic brain injury, multiple disabilities, emotional disturbance, autism spectrum disorders and other health impairments.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Includes deafness, hearing impairment and deaf-blindness.
Visual Impairments: Includes blindness, deaf-blindness and visual impairment.
Physical and Health Impairments: Includes traumatic brain injury and orthopedic impairment.
Early Childhood Special Education: Includes mild to severe disabilities in children from birth to pre-kindergarten.