How To Become a Special Education Teacher (With FAQ)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 17 January 2023

Published 12 October 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Special education teachers play an integral role in a school system, helping provide special needs students with the resources and support they need. There are different pathways to obtain the training needed to learn the essential skills for working with a diverse group of students, but a bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement. By reviewing some key details about this profession, you can better determine whether it appeals to you. In this article, we discuss the core responsibilities of this role, list the steps for how to become a special education teacher and provide some answers to frequently asked questions, including salary information.

How to become a special education teacher

Follow these steps to become a special education teacher in your state or territory:

1. Pick a specialisation

Determine which age group you prefer to teach, as educational programmes differ between primary and secondary school education. If you choose an alternative route, this decision can help you narrow your employment options during a future job search. It may be helpful to consult with a family member or academic advisor to discover which option aligns best with your overall goals.

Related: Interview Question: ‘What Is Your Teaching Philosophy?’

2. Complete relevant coursework

Develop your core teaching skills and knowledge in an academic programme so you can become an accredited special education teacher. Depending on your preferences, you can complete a bachelor's degree in teaching at a university or TAFE. Some examples of coursework you might learn include how to conduct assessments, prepare a teaching strategy or create an effective learning environment. When choosing a university, consider attending an accredited initial education (ITE) programme that adheres to a state or territory's education policy.

Here are some examples of university courses that can help you become a special education teacher:

  • Early childhood education: You can learn how to instruct special education students in pre-school and primary school and assess their needs. You can also gain practical experience as a student-teacher under the supervision of a licensed teacher.

  • Secondary education: You can learn how to teach special education students in secondary school and evaluate their needs, also gaining student-teaching experience.

  • Vocational education: While earning a degree in secondary education, you can learn how to help qualified students prepare for a career path and develop professional skills.

Consider the following pathways to becoming a special education teacher:

  • Bachelor of Education with a major in special education: This entry-level track gives you the minimum required qualification to become a special education teacher.

  • Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood/Primary/Secondary) and post-graduate certification in special education: This track gives qualifies you for teaching at the education level of your choice, along with the specific training for working with students with learning issues and developmental disabilities.

3. Gain practical experience

Find a special education position at a school or institution so you can gain enough practical experience to gain teacher registration/accreditation and receive proper verification from a supervising special education teacher. Many states and territories allow teaching students to apply for a provisional accreditation that can help widen their job search options. On this track, it can take at least a year of consistent work to complete an experience prerequisite for full teaching registration.

Here are some positions you could consider during this phase of your education:

  • Teacher's assistant: You can support a leading special education teacher in conducting all required tasks and preparing educational materials. Depending on the position, you might also instruct students with supervision.

  • Teacher intern: Some institutions offer recent graduates an internship position so they receive additional mentorship before becoming registered and assuming the responsibilities of a full special education teacher.

  • Education support officer: If you prefer to work in a special education resource centre, you can apply for a support position at an organisation, helping provide administrative and teaching support to instructors.

Related: How To Become a Teacher's Aide

4. Apply for teacher registration

Each state and territory in Australia has its own teacher registration system, so it's important to review your local government's website for specific eligibility criteria. For example, in Queensland, in addition to meeting requirements for classroom practice and professional standards, a blue card proving eligibility to work with children is required. As some private institutions may have additional requirements, it may be helpful to decide whether you prefer to work at a public or private school while completing your qualifications.

Here are some common eligibility requirements:

  • Completing academic coursework

  • Verifying your practical work experience

  • Taking assessment exams

  • Participating in an interview process

  • Passing a background check

  • Having Australian or New Zealand citizenship or a working visa

5. Consider a graduate degree

Depending on your preference, you can complete a Master of Education degree in special education to further your academic knowledge and skill sets. This can allow you to further specialise in teaching a specific student group, such as children with attention-hyperactivity deficit disorder (ADHD) or autism. Many employers value candidates who earn a postgraduate degree, as it can demonstrate both your expertise and dedication to the field. This option may be especially relevant if you're interested in conducting research and developing new special education theories.

What does a special education teacher do?

A special education teacher typically works with children who have disabilities or learning differences, including physical, developmental, sensory or behavioural issues. They design lesson plans to combine individualised care with the learning needs of specific students. When working in a school, they can either serve in a specialised classroom or assist students in a school for specific purposes (SSP), providing one-on-one attention to help them succeed. They can also serve special needs students in merged classrooms alongside their peers from general education programmes.

Here are the key duties for a special education teacher:

  • Incorporating special education techniques and technology in the classroom, such as assistive learning devices

  • Developing a student's unique education plan for their learning goals and support needs alongside school administrators, general education teachers and families

  • Modifying and teaching year-level curriculums for specific students to better suit their requirements

  • Advising general teachers on learning approaches to help students outside a special education environment

  • Preparing reports and collecting data on how students perform academically and which techniques are effective

  • Communicating with families about a student's overall progress and providing them with critical resources

  • Helping students identify their core strengths and discover their aspirations for the future

Related: How To Become a Teacher (Including FAQs)

FAQs about becoming a special education teacher

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about becoming a special education teacher.

What is the average salary for a special education teacher?

According to Indeed Salaries, the average salary for a special education teacher in Australia is $85,522 per year. Multiple factors may alter this figure, including the location of a job position or an applicant's level of education and work experience. Public schools, private institutions and learning resource centres may also have different salary ranges.

What are the top skills for a special education teacher?

Here are some important skills for this role:

  • Communication: It's essential for special education teachers to understand how to instruct children with a variety of different communication styles and needs. They also require strong interpersonal skills to discuss a student's progress with general teachers, families, school administrators and health care professionals.

  • Knowledge of teaching theory: Special education teachers typically learn key teaching theories while completing coursework. It is important to focus on these theories while studying to help you develop an informed educational practice.

  • Active listening skills: Students often rely on special education teachers for mentorship and advocacy, meaning it is important to listen to their perspectives. This skill can also help you boost their confidence and enhance their social skills.

  • Adaptability: Special education teachers often manage unpredictable factors in their classrooms, as students may have needs that change on a day-to-day basis. As a result, it is important they know how to create flexible plans and maintain optimal teaching standards.

  • Patience: To be a successful special education teacher, it's important to remain patient and understanding in classroom situations so you can handle challenges and help students achieve their goals.

  • Organisation: Special education teachers understand how to manage their classroom environments and prepare well-structured lessons so they can better address student needs.

  • Observation skills: Special education teachers help school psychologists assess the behaviour and academic performance of students to determine whether they need additional support. As a result, it is important to have keen observation capabilities.

Related: 13 Transferrable Skills That Employers Love

Where can special education teachers work?

Besides traditional classroom settings and resource centres, special education teachers can also work in many different environments. Some additional options may include:

  • Preschools

  • Residential facilities

  • Hospitals and clinics

  • Universities

  • Government agencies

Read more: What Does a Special Educator Do? (A Comprehensive Guide)

What is the work environment of a special education teacher?

In a school environment special education teachers work either part-time or full-time positions for at least ten months per year. Full-time special education teachers in most job locations work five days per week, and some may work on weeknights to prepare lesson plans and assess student requirements. Temporary positions may also be available, meaning you can move around more frequently.

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