photo of woman working with two children at a table in a classroom

Within the United States, one in six children ages three to 17 have a disability. More than 60 percent of those students with disabilities spend at least 80 percent of their school day in general education classrooms, according to the US National Center for Education Statistics.

Developing more inclusive classrooms and meeting the needs of students with disabilities nationwide requires the expertise of special education teachers, who provide academic assistance and facilitate social support systems.

What Does a Special Education Teacher Do?

Special education teachers work with students who have documented learning, mental, emotional, or physical disabilities. Individuals in these roles are characterized as patient, adaptable, creative, intuitive, nurturing, and organized. They not only provide academic assistance, but also support and mentor their students and facilitate environments where students feel empowered, seen, accepted, and supported.

Today, the role of a special education teacher goes beyond providing support in the classroom. Teachers now stand as influential advocates for students with disabilities. By gaining familiarity with special education legislation, they often provide guidance to families with children who have disabilities to help them understand and navigate the educational system.

Often, to address particular challenges with students, special education teachers conduct research into best practices and tactics to support the education and development of their students.

What is an Inclusive Classroom?

Special education teachers play a big role in facilitating inclusive classroom environments in schools. An inclusive classroom is a classroom where students with and without disabilities learn together in the same environment.

The Benefits of Inclusive Classroom Strategies

Research studies confirm that inclusive classroom environments have numerous, widespread benefits for all students. They promote individuality and greater social connections, while also providing new learning opportunities.

Studies show that inclusive classrooms improve academic performance and social development across the board. Researchers point to better social competencies and communication skills, fewer school absences and incidents of disruptive behavior, and increased empathy and compassion towards peers.

Eight Benefits of Inclusive Classrooms:

  1. All children have equal access to education.
  2. Education focused on children’s abilities, not disabilities.
  3. Children learn to be accepting of and compassionate towards one another’s unique abilities, personalities, and challenges.
  4. Children develop strong friendships with their peers through shared classroom and extracurricular experiences.
  5. Students develop confidence in their interactions with peers and their academic skills.
  6. Students receive additional support from specialists when needed.
  7. A wide variety of assistive technological and educational resources are made available for all students.
  8. Teachers develop the ability to identify individual students’ strengths and challenges and adapt curriculum and instruction methods appropriately.

To create more inclusive classrooms and foster the benefits of these positive environments, we need more special education teachers.

The Demand for Special Education Teachers

Nationwide, demand for special education teachers is expected to grow by four percent by 2031. This growth will continue as developmental disabilities become more easily identified and more students enroll in special education programs.

There is consistent high demand for special education teachers, with about 500,000 open positions nationwide in 2021. New Hampshire is among the top five states in the nation with high demand for special education teachers and has one of the highest concentrations of available jobs. 

"It’s meaningful work to teach. If you have a heart for special education, you should pursue it. Our non-traditional model helps make it possible. Unlike traditional teacher prep programs, many of which have a full-time student teaching component, our programs allow you to work full-time in a role such as a paraprofessional or teaching assistant."

– Jenny Masana, UNH CPS Academic Advisor, Faculty, and Certified Teacher

Become a Special Education Teacher

To become a special education teacher, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and a state-issued certification.

Bachelor’s Degrees Leading to NH Certification:

Initial Post-Baccalaureate Teacher Certifications:

Additional Certifications (For Already Certified Teachers):

Advanced Endorsements (For Special Education Teachers):

The Benefits of a Certificate in Special Education

Even if you don’t plan to specialize in the subject, a certificate in special education can improve and develop your skillset as an educator and prepare you to handle a diverse range of classroom situations. You’ll learn how to better identify the unique learning challenges of individual students and provide innovative learning opportunities to meet the needs of a class. 

"Earning a special education certification allows classroom teachers to gain better understanding of the challenges their students with special needs face each day. Becoming familiar with different special education strategies and approaches to learning can help you set up every student for success."

Holly Bross, UNH CPS Field Placement Faculty

Making a Difference in the Classroom

If you’re passionate about education and want to better the experience of learning for students in the classroom, then you should strongly consider exploring a career in special education. Whether you’re already an educator looking to get your special education certification, or whether you’re just beginning to consider a career as a teacher, special education is an impactful, fulfilling field that makes a difference in the lives of children everywhere.


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