Pursuing a career in special education can be one of the most rewarding choices for those educators who value one-on-one instruction and thrive in environments where each student’s abilities are assessed and documented individually. Because the stakes are higher in special education scenarios, many states require specialized education in addition to professional certificates before a teacher can pursue a job in special education classrooms or support settings. While requirements vary between each state, there are some general guidelines to follow in order to become highly qualified in this capacity.
- Online MSEd in Special Education (Ranked #11 Best Online Master’s in Special Education Program by U.S. News & World Report 2021)
- Online Master of Science in Special Education
- M.Ed. in Elementary Education and Special Education (ITL); M.Ed. in Special Education: Moderate to Severe (ITL); M.Ed. in Special Education: Cross Categorical (Leads to initial teacher licensure)
Collegiate Education: A Bachelor’s Degree Comes Before Certification
Virtually all states across the country require special education teachers to obtain a degree in the field before they can sit for the Praxis certification examination. This degree should be either in special education itself or in a related field, including majors that focus on psychological development, exceptional children, and the broader themes of both group and individualized instruction.
In many states, teachers who aspire to any career in education at the primary or secondary levels will need to follow their bachelor’s degree with a graduate-level education within 5 or 10 years. This graduate degree should be obtained in a field related to the needs of exceptional students and specialized instruction. To learn more about the opportunities for earning a graduate-level Special Education degree, read Top 20: Ranking the Best Online Master’s in Special Education Programs.
Certification: Professional Certificates Available for Post-Graduate Students
After a bachelor’s degree and, in many cases, a graduate degree, students can pursue a professional certificate in the field by taking additional courses. Known as the “Instruction I” and “Instruction II” certificates at most universities, these programs are designed to further enhance an educator’s understanding of everything from writing an IEP to managing both gifted and disadvantaged students in streamlined classroom settings.
Typically, certificate programs at this level require about 36 credits on average. Because the courses are offered much the same as graduate-level courses are, students can expect this sequence of courses to last about two years. The certificate of completion will follow after completion of the program, though some universities do require a comprehensive exam beforehand.
Teaching Certificates are the Last Piece of the Puzzle
Teaching has become highly specialized and quite scrutinized in recent years, and that has led to the development of even more rigorous teacher certification programs. While it was once satisfactory to have simply graduated from college with an education major, today’s students must meet state requirements and pass the Praxis II examination in order to receive their official license. If they cannot pass this exam, states will not offer licensure and educators will not be able to be hired for classroom positions.
Before pursuing this final certificate, prospective special education teachers should look into their own state’s score requirements for passage. Some states require relatively low scores, while others have much higher expectations of candidates who sit for the exam. Furthermore, teachers should check into college GPA requirements, graduate degree requirements, and criminal background checks, all of which must meet certain standards in order for the state to award a teaching license to a new educator.
A Long Process, But a Good One for Teachers and Students
Though teacher licensure and special education certification both take years to complete, this extensive process that ranges from undergraduate coursework to certification and licensure helps ensure that today’s educators are more highly qualified than ever. For students who depend on the work of special education teachers to comprehend difficult material and remain on par with their peers, this can only be a good thing.