A top consideration of applying to any job is how much you're able to make in the position—and teaching is no exception. However, data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that teachers are among the most educated workers but aren't compensated at the level they should.

While there are several reasons a special education teaching career is rewarding, it's important to be prepared with realistic salary expectations. Here's an overview of how much special education teachers make, as well as the factors impacting salary.

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How Much Do Special Education Teachers Make?

According to our analysis of job postings data, special education teachers in the United States earn a median annual salary of approximately $52,500. This represents a positive trend, with a 19.4 percent growth rate over the past three years.

Like most professions, states offer different salary ranges for special education teachers. For example, special education teachers in the New England area earn an annual median salary of $61,600—with the top 24 percent earning $78,000 per year or higher. In Massachusetts specifically, they earn an average salary of $62,300 per year.

There are a variety of factors that influence how much you can make as a special education teacher, which prospective teachers can take advantage of.

5 Factors That Impact a Special Education Teacher’s Salary

1. Education Level

Master's-level education is required for special education teachers in several states—including Massachusetts. Even in states where it isn't required, advancing your education can increase your salary potential.

For example, special education teacher job postings in the United States that require a master's degree offer higher median wages—averaging $60,300 per year.

It’s important to note that several states are now also requiring general teachers to obtain a master's degree in education. As a result, if you’re getting a master’s degree in teaching special education, you’ll be able to teach in regular classrooms and become more marketable in special education classrooms.

“Going into additional education for yourself and getting different degrees can make you more marketable and increase your earning potential,” explains Priscilla Boerger, program director of Regis College’s Master’s in Teaching Special Education. “But so can going into the field of the degree.”

2. Previous Work Experience

In addition to educational background, you can leverage your previous work experience to obtain a higher salary.

However, if you don't have experience in teaching special education, it may also be possible to leverage other relevant experience, including:

  • Volunteer experiences
  • Internships
  • Assistant teaching positions
  • Substitute teaching positions
  • Experiences working with children with learning differences

While these positions alone won't satisfy the requirements for becoming a special education teacher, you may be able to leverage them to negotiate a higher starting wage for yourself.

3. Location

Different states—as well as regions within states—have a wide range of median salaries for special education teachers. While searching for high-paid positions based on the employer alone is a good idea, it's also important to consider long-term goals.

For example, if you're hoping to stay in the same area but are open to working at more than one school, you'll want to examine your location’s wage data to ensure you'll be able to maintain the same salary throughout your career.

Before moving to a different state, however, it's important to consider the following:

  • Cost of living: States/regions have different expenses you'll want to consider, such as taxes, groceries, utilities, and health care. Consider using a cost of living calculator to determine your approximate expenses before applying to teaching jobs in another state.
  • Housing market: If you're hoping to purchase a home in the state you move to, make sure the housing market is affordable before accepting any job offers. It's also a good idea to ask prospective employers whether they offer relocation assistance.
  • Licensure requirements: Every state has its own unique set of licensing requirements for special education teachers. It's important to ensure you contact the appropriate state department of education to review licensure qualifications.
  • Other considerations: Remember to review other considerations in the area, such as local attractions or seasonal climate to ensure you’re going to be comfortable living in this new area.

While switching locations for a higher salary is a valid option, it's important to also ensure that your resume presents a consistent record of experience. Job hopping can be a red flag employers look for when considering applicants. However, this doesn't mean you're stuck in the first role you obtain.

“Do the time so that your resume doesn't look so choppy,” Boerger advises. “But move around if you need to.”

4. Relevant Skills

Improving your skill set is another way you can increase your earning potential. Having demonstrable relevant skills on your resume can impress prospective employers and also help you stand out from other applicants.

According to our analysis of job postings data, the top skills required for special education teaching positions include:

  1. Special education
  2. Teaching
  3. Individualized education programs (IEP)
  4. Communication
  5. Planning
  6. Writing
  7. Mathematics
  8. Progress reporting
  9. Working with individuals with disabilities
  10. English language

Many of these skills—such as communication—aren't specific to teaching special education positions, but are critical to the role. “Sometimes teachers can feel intimidated or frustrated by parents,” explains Boerger. “So I think communication skills are key.”

Consider what relevant skills you can currently demonstrate and whether they'd be beneficial to a teaching special education position. Including some of these skills on your resume can make a huge difference when bargaining for a higher salary.

5. Other Qualifications

Your qualifications can also impact your potential salary. According to our analysis of job postings data, top qualifications for special education teachers include:

While these additional qualifications might not be required for your role, they can significantly improve your marketability.

How To Increase Your Earning Potential

If you're interested in teaching in this field, there are several steps you can take to increase your earning potential.

  • Volunteer: Seek out local volunteer or teacher's assistant opportunities.
  • Improve your skill set: Familiarize yourself with the skills required for these teaching positions—not only the job-specific ones but soft skills as well.
  • Advance your education: Obtaining a master's degree not only increases the number of states you're eligible for licensure in but also increases your earning potential.

It's also important to keep in mind that if your salary prospects aren't ideal, there are other benefits you can look for in teaching positions, such as stipends.

“Some schools have given teachers stipends for supplies,” says Boerger. “Teachers typically pay about $700 a year out of pocket for supplies. But there are schools and districts that do give funds for that.”

It's also important to consider what other resources the school has available for teachers, such as mental health support or vacation policies. It may be worth sacrificing a higher salary if the school has resources to help you avoid burnout.

Take the Next Steps in Your Teaching Career

Teaching won’t make you a millionaire, but it can earn you a comfortable living wage that provides incredibly rewarding experiences in many other areas. The ability to make a difference in the lives of children with learning differences is highly fulfilling. Following the steps listed in this article can go a long way in ensuring you can make a positive impact without worrying about your finances.

If you're ready to take the next step in your teaching career, consider applying to Regis College's Master's in Teaching Special Education. Our program fulfills the licensing requirements for teaching in Massachusetts, and prepares you with the education and skills you need to succeed.

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