As a special education teacher, you are responsible for educating children who have individual special needs due to a wide range of disabilities.
While many of your responsibilities fall under general educator duties, several of your day-to-day tasks include modifications and accommodations specific to the field of special education.
To understand the full scope of the different special education teacher responsibilities, it’s helpful to begin with who these important educators serve.
Who Special Education Teachers Serve
Special education teachers work with students who have a variety of disabilities. While one student may receive special education services because of one disability, such as a speech delay, another student may have several disabilities that require a full team of specialists.
Special education educators often serve kids in multiple grade levels, though many typically work with either elementary students or secondary students at middle or high schools. However, in Texas, special education teachers are certified in grades EC (early childhood) through 12.
While every child is unique, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act breaks disabilities into 13 categories:
Specific learning disability (SLD) - e.g., dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia
It’s important to note that some of the disabilities above are divided into separate categories when they may otherwise be linked together. For example, deafness and hearing impairment have their own categories since they require very different interventions for children with disabilities in a special education classroom.
Special Education Teacher Responsibilities
The primary role of a special education teacher is to work with students who have learning, mental, emotional or physical disabilities. This type of specialized teacher takes general education lessons and adapts them to meet students’ needs.
A special education teacher often teaches these lessons to students who have mild to moderate disabilities, but also may teach basic skills to students with more severe disabilities. Special education teachers are found in both public schools and private schools.
While your responsibilities may place you in a general education classroom working side-by-side with a classroom teacher, you may also have your own classroom that has a lower teacher-to-student ratio. Your responsibilities may also entail tutoring special needs students privately.
Another main responsibility of a special education teacher is to develop and implement a student’s individualized education program, or IEP. This is a legal document that helps determine the exact mix of general and specialized education a student should receive.
You will work with a committee of educators, social workers and other experts, along with the student’s parents, to draft the IEP and update it throughout the year based on the student’s progress. To create and maintain an IEP, you will need to perform routine assessments of a child’s skills, both academically and socially.
In addition to creating and maintaining IEPs, other unique responsibilities of a special education teacher include:
Applying a variety of special education skills and techniques to reach students in different ways
Teach and reinforce socially-acceptable behaviors to students who may struggle interacting with others
Keep accurate information about student progress that can be helpful during routine special education assessments
Collaborate with general education teachers and other specialists like speech therapists, occupational therapists, social workers and physical therapists
Serve as an advocate for a student with a disability
Help promote inclusive classrooms
Providing approved testing assistance during standardized exams
Additional Teacher Responsibilities
In addition to some of the unique special education teacher responsibilities outlined above, educators who work with special education students often have some of the same duties that most teachers have in the classroom.
These responsibilities include:
Creating lesson plans
Providing direct and indirect instruction
Creating a supportive and positive learning environment
Encouraging students to be curious, investigate and explore their own ways of interacting with the world
Meeting with parents to discuss how all parties can support the child
Keeping accurate records of how a child excels and where the child may need additional help
Recording student performance
Performing regular testing and assessments
Researching and developing new teaching methods and materials
Performing daily administrative tasks
To renew a teaching credential in Texas, you also have the responsibility of meeting continuing professional education (CPE) requirements. Examples of continuing education activities should be related to your special education certificate that is being renewed and can include professional development activities like workshops, conferences and in-service or staff development given by an approved registered provider.
How To Become A Special Education Teacher
If you’re considering becoming a special education teacher, it’s important to ACT NOW. In Texas, testing requirements are constantly changing, and in just a year or two it could become significantly more time-consuming and complicated to earn your Texas teacher certification.
A popular option for those who have already earned their bachelor’s degree and want to change careers is enrolling in an alternative teacher certification program. This type of Educator Preparation Program (EPP) offers you a path toward state-issued certification by enrolling in online or in-person courses or a combination of both.
Once enrolled in a teacher certification program, you will:
Set up an account with Texas Education Agency (TEA)
Undergo a background check
Start your training to learn how to work with special ed students (you’ll need a minimum of 300 hours of training)
Take your special education content exam to get your intern certificate
Find and complete a student teaching internship that provides you with real-world experience
Finish up your training and take final certification exams
Apply for a standard special ed certification
Begin job hunting for employment in school districts
Working with a quality teacher preparation program that treats you as an individual and not just a number is key to having a successful journey and completing your teacher certification in a timely manner. Our article, Best Online School For Teaching Credential: 5 Program Musts, outlines what you should look for in a top program so that you can rest assured your teaching future is in good hands.
Scott is the Deputy Executive Director and Program Consultant. Scott earned a Bachelor of Science in Human Biology from Texas Woman's University and a Master of Education from Texas Woman's University. Scott has extensive experience in both the classroom and as an administrator in districts in North Texas.
Connect with ECAP
7166 Baker Blvd., Suite B · Richland Hills, Texas 76118 Phone 817-284-7731 | Fax 817-284-3396