Top Special Education Degree Specializations to Consider in 2018

Here’s some guidelines to help you figure out exactly what it takes to earn your special education degree and explore some of the possible special education degree specializations that you should consider in 2018.

In Demand Special Education Degree Specializations

While most master’s program do not require students to select an area of specialization, there are significant benefits to doing so. Specializing your education not only makes you more valuable — it also makes the education you provide to students and clients more valuable. 

Here are several specializations that have especially gained popularity for students beginning their degrees in 2017 & 2018:

Special Education Degree SpecializationsMild/Moderate Disabilities

This area will allow you to serve children with specific learning disabilities. These include things such as ADHD/ADD, Dyslexia, and other more common learning differences.

You will also be taught how to help children with moderate to serious mental health issues. You’ll be able to help students from kindergarten through 12th grade, up to the age of 22.

You’ll likely take courses in:

  • Linguistic diversity
  • Academic assessment
  • Language development
  • Methods of education
  • Collaboration within special education

Typical curriculum includes classroom control and design, data analysis, how to properly assess student performance, and practicing ethics in teaching special needs students.

The core curriculum of the online MSEd in Special Education from Purdue University focuses on mild intervention for high-incidence conditions to  intense intervention. The program offers several options to meet your career needs.

Students That Are Deaf/Hard Of Hearing

In this specialization, you will focus on learning sign language, lip reading, and other forms of communication with children who are hard of hearing or deaf.

Typical certificate and degree programs cover:

  • how to operate hearing aids
  • study the impact of cochlear implants
  • understand apps and other tech tools you can use to better reach your students
  • how to use visual techniques to reach students
  • how to use FM systems and telecommunications devices for the deaf

Additional focus often covers techniques to improve the classroom learning environment such as how to light your room, the distance you should keep from your students so that they can be certain to read your lips/signing, and even how the acoustics of your classroom will impact your students.

The curriculum of Saint Joseph’s University’s Online Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing PK-12 certification program is specifically designed to strengthen and expand your teaching capabilities, prepare you for certification, and to develop the competencies specifically needed to support learning and development in children with hearing loss.

Early Childhood Special Education

You’ll assist children with both mild/moderate and severe emotional or learning difficulties. You’ll also learn how to teach children who have suffered brain injuries/damage.

However, unlike the other areas, you’ll only be able to teach children from birth to pre-kindergarten.

Throughout your coursework, you’ll study several forms of developmental psychology, learn how to assess different needs and disorders, and even learn how to arrange your classroom so that it can best benefit your students.

You’ll likely also spend a lot of time learning the basics of child psychology, and undergo on-the-job training so that you can handle emergency health situations and behavioral issues in the classroom.

The online Master’s Degree in Special Education from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota focuses on developing the ability of students to:

  • Create an inclusive environment in a mainstream classroom, allowing each student to learn to their full potential
  • Reach students across all levels and types of disabilities by developing understanding of various student backgrounds and disabilities
  • Every course touches upon intercultural competence

Children With Blindness/Visual Impairments

Here, you’ll learn how to read braille and teach children suffering from blindness or near blindness. As in the deafness specialization, you’ll learn how to teach children who suffer from deaf-blindness.

You can also expect to study the anatomy of specific visual impairments, as well as which forms of assistive technology you can make use of to better teach your students.

Applied Behavior Analysis

In this final specialization option, you’ll learn about how to better help children with Autism and other behavioral challenges.

You’ll understand how Autism and other behavioral disorders are diagnosed, take courses in retention theory, and study up on methods to increase impulse control in your students.

You’ll also learn how to properly administer punishment/consequences to your students, and study up-and-coming teaching methods.

Finally, you’ll be required to study the ethics behind applied behavior analysis, so that you can be sure to give your students as much autonomy as is possible.

Saint Joseph’s University offers an online Applied Behavior Analysis Concentration that prepares individuals to address the demands of challenging behaviors seen in Special Education settings. The courses are intended to prepare students for the BCBA certification exam.


How Much Can You Expect To Earn?

While salaries vary county-to-county and state-to-state, here is a quick breakdown of the (national) median annual special education salaries across different tracks now:

  • Preschool Special Ed Teachers: Roughly $50,000
  • Elementary Special Ed Teachers: Roughly $50,000
  • Middle School Special Ed Teachers: Roughly $53,000
  • High School Special Ed Teachers: Roughly $55,000

Ready To Become A Special Education Teacher?

More than 6.6 million children in the United States alone rely on special education teachers to give them the tools they need to succeed.

Special educators tend get into the field because it’s incredibly emotionally rewarding — but also choose to get a special education degree because they want to help students that are often underserved by the traditional educational system feel empowered.

Click here to find a special education program or use our job finder board to connect with the right opportunity for you.

The Art of Special Education Administration

Looking for career advancement? Becoming a special education administrator is one way of taking your career to the next level.

Characteristics of an Effective Administrator

There are some general qualifications employers look for when seeking someone in administration. Some of these qualities are:

  • Overseers. An administrative role requires strong managerial skills. Special education administrators oversee teachers and principals from various schools. They can also be responsible for the oversight of members in a school district to ensure they are complying with federal, state and local regulations.
  • Leaders. Strong leaders create an environment for success. Leaders set a positive vision of direction for their employees. They invest in developing people and help them utilize their strengths and skills.
  • Experienced Teachers. To become an administrator, it is important to have experience in the classroom. Good teachers are at the core of a solid and successful school system. Walking in another’s shoes is a great way to understand what employees face daily. Being in the classroom also provides hands-on experience in understanding students and learning.
  • Problem Solvers. Special education administrators are faced with a variety of challenges. So having strong problem-solving skills is critical to their role. Problems solvers can look at issues in unique and innovative ways. They shape the environment by using resources creatively so plans can be carried out effectively.
  • Decision Makers. Being an administrator requires complex decision making. Decisions on how to spend money, productivity, training, and the effectiveness of programs are all things a special education administrator may face. Taking an active role and being confident in decision-making abilities creates a more secure workplace.

Education and Wages

A higher level degree is required for those seeking an administrative role. But with today’s technology, furthering one’s education is easier than ever. Online programs offer flexibility for the working student. Students can easily work when it is convenient for them while still receiving the support and guidance of professors in their degree program.

Getting this higher level degree can pay off when it comes to salary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, the median salary of an educational administrator was $92,510, well above that of a special education teacher.


Administrators in special education have a range of duties. At the center of all those duties is making sure student’s needs are being met. Other duties include:

  • Strategic planning. Each school has a mission and a vision. Strategic planning is simply the roadmap of how to accomplish this. A special education administrator will help create measurable goals in order to meet the mission and vision of the school. This helps ensure the program’s success along the way.
  • Monitoring budget. Administrators are responsible for planning the budget and making sure the program is operating within those limits. They think of ways to operate more efficiently as well.
  • Compliance. Special education is held to rules and regulations set by federal and state governments. Funds are allocated for specific areas and purposes. The role of administration is to make sure the way the money is used is documented and used properly and resourcefully.
  • Improving academic outcomes. It is critical to the success of a school system to make sure improvement is happening. A special education administrator can look and see if standards are being met academically. This analysis can be used to encourage change or continue to implement strategies that are working on a wider platform.
  • Guidance. Support is critical for teachers, principals and other administrators. Effective special education administrators will help mobilize others. As they travel to various schools, they will offer encouragement, help troubleshoot problem areas, and carry out plans.

Special Education Career Profile: Teacher of the Deaf

Teaching in the field of special education can give you a variety of career options. You can choose age/grade level, type of disability, or even the type of program you teach in. Being a teacher of the deaf can be a very rewarding, yet challenging, career choice.

What Does A Teacher of the Deaf Do?

The role of the teacher of the deaf can vary depending on the setting. According to American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the Council on Education of the Deaf (CED), the teacher’s role is to:

  • Establish a classroom or other learning environment to meet the physical, cognitive, cultural, linguistic, and communicative needs of the child;
  • Plan and utilize strategies, appropriate materials, and resources for implementing educational experiences that support the development of communicative competence;
  • Provide consistent comprehensible language(s) appropriate to the needs of the child regardless of the modality or form;
  • Apply first and second language teaching strategies to teaching English (e.g., through ASL appropriate to the needs of the child and consistent with the program philosophy);
  • Facilitate and support communication among deaf and hard of hearing children and adults, hearing children and adults, including family/caregivers;
  • Monitor and evaluate the child’s communicative competence on a regular basis in academic and nonacademic contexts including the child’s use of signs, cues, speech, and/or assistive technologies;
  • Provide instruction and/or support for effective use of communication supports such as interpreting, transliteration, note-taking, real-time captioning, telecommunications, and computing.

Teacher of the Deaf Responsibilities, Knowledge and Skills

As a teacher of the deaf, you should have a working knowledge of hearing aids, cochlear implants, FM equipment, as well as understand and be able to interpret audiograms. You may have to share this information with school staff members or families. You may also have to and supervise paraprofessionals and sign language interpreters.

As with any special education teacher, you will have to develop and maintain compliant IEP‘s as well as assess students in the areas of academics, language, and communication.

Where Teachers of the Deaf Work

Young elementary school student signing the letter I for the class.There are a few educational options to where a teacher of the deaf can teach. All fifty states have schools for the deaf, as well as District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Students with hearing loss may also attend public schools. In areas where there is a high population of deaf students, there may be center schools for the deaf. Students are bussed in from several areas to one specific school.

A teacher of the deaf may either provide instruction and support in a separate class or as a resource teacher in a general education or special education classroom.

Deaf students may also attend their neighborhood school. If this is the case, the student may be the only deaf student at the school. Here, an itinerant teacher may be utilized. Itinerant teachers generally cover several schools in an area and provide one on one support to the student as well as collaborate with the classroom teacher.

Classroom or resource teachers serve students in a specific age range, where itinerant teachers tend to cover students pre-k through 12th grade.

Salary, Education and Certification

Certification for a teacher of the deaf varies from state to state. There are several colleges that offer bachelor and master degrees in education of the deaf. While you don’t have to have a degree in deaf education, you must be able to pass the state certification test. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary is $53,220.

If you are looking for a career where you can support students’ communication needs, as well as their academic, social, and independent functioning needs, work with parents and professionals on understanding hearing loss, and have a variety of classroom settings to work in, then you should consider becoming a teacher of the deaf.