Special education focuses on how to assess and create learning programs for special needs students, including how to care for students with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, communication difficulties, developmental disorders, and emotional or behavioral problems. If you are patient, organized, and passionate about helping others, special education could be a rewarding career choice. Students studying special education will learn about different instructional techniques, methods of provision, and models for assessing special needs students. Students interested in majoring in special education should also anticipate completing field work and student teaching assignments in addition to their regular courses.
Classes and Assignments of a Special Education Major
Special education covers a wide range of topics. Typically, first year students can expect to complete a set of foundational courses, followed by more advanced subjects and student teaching courses in the second half of their degree. Classes may include topics such as assessment and instruction of special needs students, childhood learning and development, curriculum and instruction, communication in special education, classroom management, behavior management, and school organization. Special education majors will gain the knowledge and skills to assess and develop learning programs for special needs students, including those with autism and other developmental disorders. In addition, students will cover all the main educational areas, such as mathematics, language arts, and reading, typically with a particular age group as the focus. If fact, some schools may have separate degrees for those interested in instructing different age groups, such as elementary or secondary education.
Students studying special education should be prepared to complete survey courses, seminars, classroom observations, and student teaching courses. In addition to their field work, students may be required to write papers and give presentations regarding their experiences. Depending on a professor's preference or curriculum requirements for a specific school, some courses may require exams.
Degree Levels for a Special Education Major
- Associate. Earning an online associate special education degeres can be a great introduction to the field and even serve as a launching point to continue on to a bachelor's degree program. In addition, if you already work in education but are interested in focusing your efforts on special education, an associate degree may be a great start. Graduates of an associate degree program in special education are qualified to work as teacher's aides or entry-level administrative assistants at schools.
- Bachelor's. Students pursuing online bachelors special education degrees will continue their studies beyond introductory courses. This will include classroom observation and student teaching courses as part of the curriculum. Teacher certification is also incorporated into most bachelor's degrees in special education. This licensure is required to become a special education teacher in any state. In addition to the required course work for their major, students earning their bachelor's degree will complete general education requirements for a more well-rounded learning experience. Earning a bachelor's degree in special education and receiving teacher certification will qualify graduates to fill teaching positions in their state. It will also prepare students for online masters special education degrees.
- Master's. While most individuals with a bachelor's degree and the required state licensure can secure a teaching position, an increasing number of special education programs are requiring teachers to complete graduate-level work. Students in a master's degree program will typically choose an area of specialization. These specializations can include early childhood, middle grades, or secondary education. Self paced online masters degree programs in special education are available for current teachers looking to further their education or working adults interested in switching career fields. Graduates of a master's degree program in special education who are properly licensed are qualified to teach in schools in their state, work in curriculum development, education policy, or school administration.
- Doctoral. Individuals interested in becoming college professors or occupying top school administration positions will most likely need a doctoral degree. Students will typically already have an area of specialization from their master's program, and will conduct further research in this area in preparation for a thesis or dissertation. Doctoral students may also have the opportunity to present their work at conferences or participate in grant programs. Graduates of a doctorate program in special education are qualified to teach as college professors, work in curriculum design, school administration, or education policy.
A Future as a Special Education Major
Special education teachers must be licensed in all states. However, many bachelor's degree programs incorporate this certification into their programs. Special education teachers at the elementary level earned a median annual wage of $50,020 in 2008 according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While most individuals with a bachelor's degree and proper certification can secure a teaching position, more and more special education programs are requiring master's level work as well. Sometimes, this additional education requirement can be satisfied through online post graduate certificate programs.
Special education majors might also pursue employment as school administrators. In 2008, elementary and secondary school administrators earned a median salary of $83,880, reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those who earn their doctorate in education are prepared to teach at the college level or possibly fill high-level positions in education policy. However, keep in mind job openings and salaries for all special education careers can vary based on your location, level of experience, and the general job market.