No! In Texas, you do not need a special education teaching degree in order to teach special education.
However, you must earn a teacher certification, and while earning a bachelor’s degree in special education is one way to accomplish this, there are other options available to you as well.
A career in special education is rewarding and fulfilling for many educators who choose this path.
What is a special education teacher? A special education teacher works with students who have a variety of disabilities. Special education teachers typically work with and instruct kids in grades preschool through 12th who have mental, learning, emotional or physical challenges. They serve a vital role in a school district, providing the extra support children need to learn and thrive.
In the state, there is a significant need for special education teachers, as this field is routinely listed as one of the Texas Education Agency’s most in-demand teaching jobs in Texas.
If you have already earned your bachelor’s degree, but that degree is in a different field than education, there is a path to certification for you in Texas. Let’s dive into what is required and the process behind earning your Texas teacher certification.
One of the most popular ways to earn your Texas teacher certification is through an educator preparation program. In fact, nearly half of all new teachers in Texas school districts earn their certification through these alternative programs. They are a great pathway to earning your certification if you have a bachelor’s degree in another field besides education.
The state of Texas approves all educator preparation programs, so it’s important that you double-check that the program you are considering is on this list of approved EPPs.
Among educator preparation programs are online Texas teacher alternative certification programs, which are steadily rising in popularity as the option of choice for candidates switching careers or those who have graduated from college but did not go through university education programs. In fact, 49% of all new teachers in Texas are prepared through alternative certification programs.
To be eligible for an educator preparation program, you must meet a list of criteria. 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 some alternative teacher certification programs are fully in-person, others are 100% online. Both offer a number of benefits. In-person programs offer the opportunity to collaborate with other interns and develop professional relationships with teachers. Yet online programs can’t always replicate the type of experiences and opportunities for immediate feedback that in-person programs offer.
On the other hand, online programs typically offer better course availability, more flexibility around your work hours or personal obligations, and overall greater convenience.
Your learning style may better align with one option over the other, but choosing a certification program that offers instruction BOTH online and in-person can offer the best of both worlds. You get the convenience of online courses that allow you to study on your own time, while the in-person aspect of learning offers an invaluable experience that you simply can’t get over the computer.
Once you have established which educator preparation program is right for you and you have enrolled, you will need to establish an account with the Texas Education Agency, which oversees primary and secondary public education. You must set up a TEA Login (TEAL) account to do this. This will give you access to your profile located in the Educator Certification Online System (ECOS).
Important note: Use the first and last name that matches your Texas driver’s license or state identification.
The TEAL online portal will also be helpful down the road when you need to access any certification information. You can read more about how to access this part of the site in our article, Texas Teacher Certification Lookup Directions.
You will also need to complete all required background checks. As part of a national criminal background check, you must complete a fingerprinting process. Applicants must submit fingerprints electronically by using an approved vendor.
The next step is to begin your teacher training. Your training will consist of courses either online or in-person, and you will need to complete field experience. Here is a breakdown of the training you will need to complete to earn your certification:
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
The 30 hours of observation by a teacher advisor is a very important component of the 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.
As part of the certification process, you must pass certain exams. Currently, all student interns must take and pass at least one content exam in the subject area you want to teach.
The TExES content exams are available in more than 60 specialties and are generally broken down by subject or grade level. You can explore the different exams in our article, List of Texas Teacher Certification Tests: What You Must Take To Teach.
If your goal is to become a special education teacher, you should take the Special Education (Grades EC-12) content exam.
However, you may want to take more than one exam, which will earn you a multiple subject teaching credential. Additional content exams may make you eligible for other teaching positions, or they may complement the Special Education content exam, making you a more well-rounded candidate. For example, content exams that would help showcase your knowledge include American Sign Language or Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments.
Additional certification exams you may need to pass as well include:
The teaching reading exam depends on your certification area
The PPR, or Texas Examinations of Educator Standards Pedagogy and Professional Responsibilities (everyone must take this)
Keep in mind that there may be some changes to certification requirements in regard to testing down the road.
The Texas State Board of Education tried to replace the PPR with a new requirement called the edTPA, a more strenuous exam that would have made it more difficult and costly to become a teacher. The board ultimately rejected this testing requirement, but there could be additional testing changes in the pipeline.
If you are considering becoming a special education teacher, now is the time to take advantage of the current certification requirements in place. If you wait another year or two, you may face more difficult barriers to earning certification.
Once you pass the PPR, you can apply for your standard certification using the TEAL login account you created.
You will also use the TEAL site to renew your standard certificate, which must be done every five years. To renew your standard certificate, you must complete continuing professional development courses.
While this may seem like a long journey, you’ll likely be in the classroom much faster than you thought since the best teacher training programs embrace a full-circle approach. In other words, all three components required for certification (training, testing and teaching) are completed simultaneously. Most teacher interns complete their educator preparation program requirements in about 6 months.
Now that you know what you need and don’t need to teach special education let’s dive into what’s helpful to know before you begin.
Ideal candidates to become special ed teachers normally have the following attributes:
Organization: Students need a solid structure within the classroom where they clearly understand their goals and expectations.
Calm nature and composed in challenging situations: A quality 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 react in the classroom.
Attention to Detail: 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 Desire to Learn: Evolving changes in teaching techniques make these positions challenging and require a great deal of preparation for continued learning.
Along the way, during your training, you’ll also want to pay special attention to the tools and strategies you will learn, including:
Special educational strategies and techniques during instruction to improve the development of sensory- and perceptual-motor skills, language, cognition and memory
Support techniques at the grade level you plan to teach, whether it’s elementary school, middle school or high school, in order to promote a positive environment
Methods to teach socially acceptable behaviors and employing an overall positive behavioral support system
How to create and maintain an IEP, or individualized education program
Methods to modify the general education curriculum in a school district for students with disabilities
Techniques to develop lesson plans based on modified elementary education or secondary education curriculum
Collaboration tools for working with general education teachers since you may be working in a general education classroom helping individual students side-by-side.
The skills you learn in your training will also help you instruct students in academic subjects using a variety of techniques, from phonetics to multi-sensory learning. Each student will have varying needs and interests, and it’s critical as a special education teacher to be able to adapt your curriculum to meet the unique needs of each student.
While becoming a special education teacher does not require a special education teacher degree, this career step does require a certification and a significant amount of training. An experienced educator preparation program can help you through this process and ensure you are ready to meet the challenges that lie ahead as you embark upon your journey to make a difference in the lives of special needs students.
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.