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Position 5: Certified Teacher - Special Education (Preparation Level 4)

Description: New York State prepares and certifies persons who have a specialty in working with children with special needs. Those special needs may be physical handicaps, visual or hearing impairments, or many different kinds of learning disabilities, affecting cognitive development. Special education teachers design and modify instruction to meet a student's needs. Teachers also work with children who have other special instructional needs including, for example, gifted and talented.

After February 1, 2004 initial teachers' certificates will be issued to candidates in:

Students with Disabilities (Birth-Grade 2)
Students with Disabilities (Grades 1-6)
Deaf and Hard of Hearing (All Grades)
Blind and Visually Impaired (All Grades)
Speech and Language Disabilities (All Grades)
English to Speakers of other Languages (All Grades)

Knowledge, Skills and Dispositions: Special education teachers have knowledge of instructional methods, psychology, therapy and counseling, English language, working with special populations, statistics, and administering and managing processes and procedures.

Special education teachers help develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each special education student, setting goals with the families and school administrators. Where the least restrictive environment for the child is within a regular classroom, the special education teacher may work with the child in the classroom. Other teachers work in a resource room where special education students may spend a portion or all of the school day. The special education teacher may work with infants and toddlers by traveling to the child's home providing early intervention services and would help develop the Individual Family Services Plan (IFSP).

Working with special populations requires dispositions of patience, perceptiveness, cooperation and collaboration, creativity, and confidentiality.

Employment Settings: A NYS Certified Special Education teacher may be employed in:

Public School Settings (see SECTION II, SETTING F) Prekindergarten-12 (depending on certification)
Private School Settings (see SECTION II, SETTING E)
Head Start (see SECTION II, SETTING C)
Child Care and Education (see SECTION II, SETTING A)
Programs/Facilities specifically for Children with Special Needs
Day Treatment or Residential (see SECTION II, SETTINGS E)
Child's Home (see below)

Required Qualifications: New York State requires certification for all public school special education teachers. Certification is granted through the NYS Department of Education. Qualifications include a bachelor's degree (four years), or a master's degree (bachelor's plus at least 30 credit hours) from a registered, approved higher education program, which leads to Initial Certification. Initial Certification is achieved by:

  • Satisfactory completion of the college program
  • Satisfactory levels performance on the New York State Teacher Certification Examinations LAST ( Liberal Arts and Sciences Test), and AST-W (Assessment of Teaching Skills - Written)
  • Child abuse identification and reporting training
  • Completion of SAVE (Safe Schools Against Violence) workshop.

All persons holding this position must be cleared through the NYS Central Registry of Child Abuse and fingerprints submitted to required authorities.

Initial Certification is valid for three years from its effective date. Within 3 years of initial certification, the Candidate must obtain a master's degree for Professional Certification.

Preparation: Initial certification requires a bachelor's degree or higher that includes the following:

General Education: In the liberal arts and sciences

  • Mathematics
  • Natural Science
  • Social Science
  • American History
  • Western Civilization
  • Other World Civilizations
  • Humanities
  • The Arts
  • Language other than English
  • Basic Communication

Content Core: 30 credits in one of the above liberal arts and sciences

Pedagogical Core: Courses that provide knowledge and skills in teaching and learning including field experiences and practicum. Courses include topics of:

  • Historical, social and legal foundations of special education for individuals with disabilities
  • Characteristics of learners with disabilities
  • Managing behavior of students with disabilities and promoting positive social interaction skills
  • Participating in collaborative partnerships for the benefits of students with disabilities, including strengthening family partnerships
  • Assessment, diagnosis, and evaluation of students with disabilities
  • Curriculum development for instructing students with disabilities including methods of teaching reading and mathematics
  • Use of assistive and instructional technology in the teaching of and learning by students with disabilities
  • Planning and managing teaching and learning environments for individuals with disabilities
  • Field Experiences with students with disabilities

Professional Certificate: Within three years from Initial Certificate, the teacher must complete a master's degree (bachelor's degree plus 30 credits) in a content core that includes at least 12 semester hours that links pedagogy and content in each of the areas of the State Learning Standards in English language arts; mathematics, science and technology; and social studies. Three years of teaching experience is required for Professional Certification. Students who obtain a master's degree immediately after their bachelors must obtain 3 years of experience prior to obtaining their professional certificate.

Every teacher preparation college does not offer all certification levels or specialties. Some colleges only offer teacher preparation courses at the master's level. The college selects and has been approved for those that they are best prepared to provide coursework. See individual college catalogs, websites, or college reference books for specific information. For a listing of colleges and universities in New York State offering degrees in early childhood and school-age related topics, see the College and University Database.

Continuing Education: NYS certified teachers have a mandatory requirement to complete 175 clock hours of acceptable professional development within every five years of classroom teaching service.

Alternate Pathways: A person who holds a bachelor's degree and a major in a liberal art, with at 3.0 grade point average or a positive recommendation from college personnel, may enroll in a 200 clock hour pre-service program to provide knowledge of:

  • Rights and responsibilities of teachers and other professional staff, students, parents, community members and school administrators with regard to education
  • Child development and learning
  • Instructional planning and effective teaching strategies,
  • State Learning Standards
  • Teaching children with special needs
  • School organization and classroom management
  • Educational technology
With 20 hours of classroom experience, a candidate may begin teaching while being mentored on a daily basis for at last 180 days, observed by college faculty at least once a month. OR With a bachelor's degree with a liberal arts major or concentration and 3.0 GPA or college recommendation, pass the LAST (Liberal Arts and Sciences Test), a candidate may be granted a transitional certificate for two years. After 360 days of full-time teaching and mentoring and passing the Assessment of Teaching Skills - Writing (ATS-W) test the candidate will be awarded initial certification. (opens in a new window)

The requirement to earn a master's degree in three years from initial certification is then in effect to attain a professional certificate. (See SECTION V, PREPARING TO LEARN)

Teach for America is another mechanism for an alternate route to certification. Teach for America is a national program that selects applicants already holding bachelor degrees or higher to teach in the program. Participants are placed as full-time, paid teachers in urban and rural public schools, and attend summer institutes on curriculum planning, effective lesson design, student assessment, classroom management techniques and literacy development. The alternate route regulations as listed above are then applied. For more information contact (opens in a new window)

Job Outlook: The need for special education teachers is expected to increase because of the continued growth in number of special education students, new legislation and job turnover. Because of medical advances resulting in more survivors of premature births, children born with birth defects, and children with impairments from accidents and illnesses, the number of students requiring special education is increasing. Specialists in speech or language impairments and learning disabilities, early childhood special education, and bilingual teachers are especially needed.

See: National Clearinghouse for Professions in Special Education, Council for Exceptional Children, 1920 Association Dr., Reston, VA (opens in a new window)

Earnings: In 2000, the New York State annual wage range for special education teachers was between $36,857 and $65,834. Salary scales correlate to issues including longevity of service in a specific school district as well as others and continued education.

Opportunity for Advancement: Special education teachers can advance to director of special education programs in schools and private settings.

Related Careers:

Serving Children Directly – Speech language pathologist and audiologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist.

Serving Families Directly – Family advocate, community service agency director, family services social worker, mental health worker.

Providing Information Goods and Services – Author supervising special services for children with special needs, developer, marketer specialized equipment for children with special needs, lobbyist.