While a special education teacher’s salary is usually not the main reason that educators venture into the niche career field of special education, compensation is important.
It is well known that the educational levels in which special education teachers work impact job opportunities and their salaries.
Here are some other factors to consider for special education career prospects as well as information about entering the career field.
Types of Special Education Concentration Areas for High Job Prospects and Top Pay
The type of special education concentration area that is chosen by a teacher is a factor that affects career opportunities and pay. Most people do not realize the depth of special education offerings that are now available in today’s school systems unless they have loved ones who require these services. Some of the concentration areas within special education are behavior disorders, autism and developmental disabilities, high ability, deaf and hard of hearing, learning disabilities and blindness and visual impairments. Because of the dramatic increase of autism cases in children over the last few decades, special education in that particular niche category is in higher demand than other special education areas, and it is a concentration area in which a teacher may garner a higher salary.
Academic Preparation for Careers in Special Education
The minimal academic requirements for special education teachers who are generalists are undergraduate degrees in elementary education, special education, or a content area like science or English. However, many states require advanced degrees in special education with a concentration in autism or a professional development certificate in autism for special education teachers who are autism learning experts.
The annual mean salary for generalist special education teachers who are only required to have undergraduate degrees was $61,520 in 2014 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). According to a salary report from Indeed, $63,000 is the average salary for a special education teacher with an advanced degree. Salaries for special education teachers can rise to $92,030 depending on education, experience, and job location according to the BLS.
Licenses and Certifications for Special Education Teachers
Earning a degree that matches one’s chosen special education category is only the first step in gaining access to teaching jobs. Special education teachers also must take state certification tests and gain their teaching licenses in the states in which they plan to teach. Each state has different licensing requirements, but most states require licensing candidates to have a certain number of student teaching hours in their specialty areas. Special education teachers who want to go abroad to teach often can transfer their state licenses to meet the requirements of international schools.
Where to Teach
While there is a demand for special education teachers throughout the world, teachers who want to gain employment opportunities domestically are interested in the states with the highest numbers of great paying jobs. New York and California have some of the highest numbers of special education positions in the nation, and their annual mean salaries for special education teachers of all types are $76,760 and $70,900 respectively (BLS). These two places are both high cost of living areas, and economics minded special education teachers may want to take their skills to Illinois where they pay an annual mean wage $68,620 which is equivalent to a six-figure salary in New York.
How Much do Special Education Teachers Earn?
Preschool Special Education Teacher Salary By State
Teacher salaries in special education vary by the age of the students taught and the state where the job is located. Nationwide, preschool special education teachers earn a median wage of $55,840 per year. The top-paying state for preschool special education teachers is New York, where the median annual wage is $89,930. Oregon is the second-highest paying state for preschool education teachers, with a median annual wage of $77,370. Rounding out the top five paying states are Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Montana.
State-specific Kindergarten and Elementary Special Education Teacher Salaries
Across all states, the median annual wage of kindergarten and elementary special education teachers is $59,390. This includes teachers up to grade five or six, depending on the school district. The top-paying state for kindergarten and elementary school special education teachers is New York, with a median annual wage of $81,660. Oregon is the second-highest paying state, with these teachers earning a median annual wage of $78,910. The other places in the top five include California, Washington, D.C., and Connecticut, with median annual salaries between $77,000 and $78,500.
Middle School Special Education Teacher Salary By State
Middle school special education teachers earn a median annual wage of $60,250. This is the average across all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and territories of the United States. New York is the highest-paying state for middle school special education teachers, with a median annual wage of $96,040. Delaware is the second-highest paying state for middle school special education teachers, with a median annual wage of $89,250. Other states in the top five are Oregon, Connecticut, and Illinois.
State Secondary School Special Education Teacher Salaries
High school teachers have the most rigid educational and professional requirements. As a result, their salaries tend to be higher than for other teachers of other grades. The median annual salary of secondary special education teachers is $60,600. The highest-paying state for high school special education teachers is New York, with a median annual salary of $100,460. The second-highest paying state for these teachers is California, with a median annual salary of $93,740. Rounding out the top five highest-paying states for high school special education teachers are Connecticut, Oregon, and Alaska.
Top-paying Metropolitan and Rural Areas for Special Education Teachers
The cost of living tends to be higher in cities compared to rural areas, even within the same state. Leading the pay for special education teachers in metropolitan areas is Merced, California, with a median annual wage of $93,990. Other cities in the top 10 salaries for special education teachers include San Jose, Fresno, Kingston, El Centro, Los Angeles, New York City, Riverside, Portland, and Hartford. The top-paying rural areas for special education teachers in the United States are north-northeastern Ohio, East Kentucky, Southwest New York, Central Kentucky, and west-northwestern Ohio. All of those non-metropolitan areas have median annual wages of $50,350 to $63,520 for special education teachers across all grade levels.
Private Versus Public Special Education Teacher Salaries
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public special education teachers earn a median annual wage of $60,430 as of May 2018. Those employed at private schools earned a median annual salary of $52,390. Private schools often have lower professional requirements, and their teachers are typically not unionized. Union membership and minimum education requirements of at least a master’s degree in public schools gives a boost to teacher salaries.
Another excellent resource: Best Schools for a Master’s in Special Education Online
Educators who teach special education face unique challenges that require a great deal of patience, problem-solving abilities, and organizational skills. Most experts advise against entering the career field based on the special education teachers’ salary alone, but it is an area of teaching that is highly regarded, reasonably well-compensated, and full of personal and professional growth opportunities.