High school special education teachers play an important role in preparing students for life after school.
As an advocate for students with disabilities and special needs, a high school special education teacher develops and implements strategies to help them succeed. While some teach in their own classrooms, some high school special education teachers also assist in other general education classrooms.
While some special education teachers specialize in working with certain students, such as those who have speech delays, hearing disorders or physical disabilities, others provide support at high school resource centers, work alongside social workers or even teach in online schools.
If your career goal is to become a high school special education teacher, there are a couple of paths you can take to earn your Texas teacher certification. One is to take the university pathway and earn your bachelor’s degree in education from an accredited institution. Through your college program, you will take the appropriate coursework and exams to become certified to teach special education in Texas.
However, many Texas teachers today didn’t begin their careers in education. They may have earned their bachelor’s degree in another field or retired from a career in the military. In fact, nearly 50% of all new teachers in Texas earn their teaching license through an alternative teacher certification program.
If you already have your bachelor’s degree and are considering a career change, here are the steps you can take to achieve your goals and become a high school special education teacher.
Educator preparation programs provide a pathway to certification for individuals who have already earned their bachelor’s degree, but in a different field. These programs, also called alternative teacher certification programs, offer the training necessary to help you acquire the skills that you need to become a teacher in Texas.
It’s very important to note that while some programs might tout the ability to get you certified to teach, you MUST enroll in an EPP that has been approved by the state. Otherwise, all of your work will be for nothing and you’ll have to start fresh with an approved program.
To be eligible for an educator preparation program, Texas Administrative Code says you must:
Earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university
Have a minimum 2.5 GPA on an official transcript or in the last 60 semester hours of courses completed
Be at least in the final semester of your bachelor’s degree program in which you need to provide a copy of your final semester schedule of classes, a letter from an academic advisor indicating you are eligible for graduation and an official transcript through the previous semester
While teacher preparation programs must all meet certain requirements, they can vary in how they are offered. For example, some may promote 100% online instruction, which can be a great option for those with tight schedules. Online programs offer flexibility and better course availability, while in-person programs provide the benefit of building professional relationships and hands-on training.
For many, the best educator preparation programs offer a combination of both in-person and online training. This option allows you the flexibility you need, especially if you are currently employed or have other life obligations, while providing the hands-on training that will make you a more well-rounded teacher.
Once you are accepted into an educator preparation program, you will begin your training. In Texas, you must complete the following:
A minimum of 300 hours of training to receive a standard teaching certificate
Of these 300 hours of training, 30 must be dedicated to observation by a teacher advisor or in a classroom environment
It’s important to note that the 30 hours of observation by a teacher advisor is a very important part of your certification process. These certified teachers send a recommendation to your credential program that you are ready or not ready to teach in the classroom.
Here is where the program you choose makes a difference. ECAP has former principals, vice principals and teachers who have extensive experience to help you through this process. Not all programs do this. Some simply send past teachers who are ex-students of their program to evaluate you, so it is important to contact the program you are considering to ensure that you are going to get the best advisor to help you.
One of the most important certification examinations you must take is a content exam. The content exam you take will depend on the subject area or grade level you wish to teach.
To become a high school special education teacher and work with students who have disabilities, you will likely need to take the Special Education (Grades EC-12) content exam.
However, you may want to broaden your appeal and knowledge as an educator and earn a multiple-subject teaching credential. While a single-subject teaching credential focuses on becoming certified to teach in one area, a multiple-subject teaching credential allows you to have more options when it comes to what and who you teach.
While you can choose among the different exams listed in our article, List of Texas Teacher Certification Tests: What You Must Take To Teach, you can also choose subject areas that complement special education, such as American Sign Language or Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments.
At ECAP, we ask our interns to immediately take a practice content test to establish a baseline of where your knowledge base is at. This way, each intern will have a good understanding of their current knowledge level in each subject area and know which areas they need further training in.
Then, we strongly encourage each intern to take 40 hours of online training before they take the actual exam. While the content test currently has a passing score of 240, we instruct our candidates to aim for a score of 270. Once you score a 270, ECAP will give you permission to take your content exams. Hitting a score of 270 gives you a buffer zone for your final content exam test. Just hitting the 240 score leaves you no room for error.
In addition to your content exams, you may also need to take the Science of Teaching Reading. This teaching reading exam is required if you plan to get certified in one of the following areas:
Early Childhood: EC - Grade 3
Core Subjects with Science of Teaching Reading: Early Childhood - Grade 6 or Grades 4-8
English Language Arts and Reading with Science of Teaching Reading - Grades 4-8
English Language Arts and Reading/Social Studies with Science of Teaching Reading - Grades 4-8
Finally, you must take the PPR as well. The PPR, or Texas Examinations of Educator Standards Pedagogy and Professional Responsibilities, “is designed to assess whether a test taker has the requisite knowledge and skills that an entry-level educator in this field in Texas public schools must possess,” according to the TEA.
The Texas State Board of Education has weighed removing the PPR from the state’s list of requirements and replacing it with another exam. In fact, the state recently tried to replace the PPR with a new requirement called the edTPA, but the initiative failed after it was determined the new requirement wouldn’t help solve the state’s teacher shortage.
No one is certain what future testing requirements are in the pipeline, so if you’re considering earning your teacher certification, NOW is the time to act while current certification requirements remain in place. If you wait until as soon as the 2023-24 or 2024-25 school year to begin your program, you may face more difficult barriers to earning certification.
Once you have completed your training and examinations that are needed to become a high school special education teacher in Texas, you must now apply for your teaching license.
To apply, you must set up a Texas Education Agency Login (TEAL) account, which will give you access to your profile located in the Educator Certification Online System (ECOS). Make sure you use the first and last name that matches your Texas driver’s license or state identification.
You’ll also need to complete a fingerprinting process as part of a national criminal background check. Applicants must submit fingerprints electronically by using an approved vendor.
Even after you earn your certification, keep note of any professional development classes you must take to renew your certificate. You must renew your standard Texas teacher certification every five years.
Renewal requirements include:
Completing 150 continuing professional education (CPE) hours (200 if you hold an administrative or student services certificate)
Providing documentation that you have completed each CPE activity or required course
Completing a renewal application
Continuing education material should be related to your certification being renewed or the services that you provide.
Now that you know the requirements needed to become a high school special education teacher in Texas, it’s also helpful to know some additional skills necessary to be successful. While you may meet all of the requirements outlined above, making a difference in students’ lives often takes special qualities.
These qualities that make a great special education teacher include:
Organization: Students need a solid structure within the classroom where they clearly understand their goals and expectations. Organized teachers are also better able to keep records of student behavior and track their learning progress.
Calm Demeanor: A good special education teacher should be able to maintain a calm and composed environment that reduces stress and anxiety among special education students and others in the classroom.
Creativity: Teachers should be willing to try new ideas and different teaching styles in response to how students are reacting in the classroom.
Detail-oriented: Candidates who pay attention to detail can identify changes in the behavior of students and identify a problem that the student may be having.
A Love For Learning: Changes in teaching techniques and specialization for specific learning disabilities make special education teacher positions challenging. They require a great deal of preparation or continued learning.
Professional: Working in a high school involves teaching students who are less than a few years away from becoming adults. You’ll also work with other educators, staff and parents to ensure students are receiving the best education possible. A high level of professionalism is needed to excel in this position.
Good Listening Skills: Great teachers are individuals whom students turn to for advice and help when needed. By listening to the unique needs of students, you can also better create a plan that will help them succeed.
Perhaps one of the most important skills a high school special education teacher should have is compassion. While you may master your exams and become a pro at creating individualized education programs (IEPs) and lesson plans for each student you work with, if you don’t have compassion, it will be difficult to succeed as a special education teacher.
Students react positively when you show them love and respect. Working with students who have special needs and unique disabilities requires being able to reach out to them on different levels. To do that, you have to have a deep understanding of what they go through on a daily basis, including the challenges they face. Having that compassion will provide you with a unique perspective and opportunity to make a difference in their lives … now and in the future, as they grow.
Topics: Becoming A Teacher
Micah is the Director of Curriculum & Technology. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in British Literature, from the University of North Texas and a Master of Arts in Teaching, from Louisiana College. In his previous career, Micah served for 14 years as a banker and bank manager. For the majority of this period, Micah managed the Downtown Fort Worth location of Frost Bank. In 2005, Micah finally surrendered to his true calling to be an educator. After a brief, but fulfilling term teaching high school English at Flower Mound High School in Lewisville ISD, Micah went to work for the family business, training teachers.