Most of the students that special education teachers have to deal with have mild to moderate disabilities. These students can be helped by using the existing general education curriculum and modifying it to meet the student's education requirements. But there are special education teachers who teach students with severe emotional, cognitive or physical disabilities. In the latter case, the main goal of the teacher is to teach basic life skills and basic literacy.
Special education teachers can further specialize in any one of the special education programs such as specific learning disabilities (dyslexia and dyscalculia), speech and language impairments, emotional disturbance, autism, mental retardation and other physical impairments.
Being a special education teacher requires licensure in all fifty states and D.C. Most state universities offer undergraduate, graduate and other professional certifications for people interested in becoming special education teachers. Many states offer alternative certification routes to attract people into the special education field. These programs require at least an undergraduate degree. These courses are generally taken by people already in the educational field who want more qualifications or want to move into special education.
Special education teachers have to spend a lot of time in documentation. This is to make sure that the students that they are responsible for are meeting their targets and are on track. The reason for this is to follow federal guidelines and also to avoid lawsuits against the school district. Because of this, even in college, a lot of course work done by special education majors is related to law as it pertains to their field.
Special education teachers are supposed to work with the student, his family, school psychologist and other professionals in the school district to work towards the educational goals that have been identified in the IEP (Individual Educational Plan). Not all special education teachers have to deal with students having learning disabilities and behavioral disorders. There are special education teachers who deal with academically gifted children. The teachers in such situations have to ensure that the students have a curriculum that is interesting and relevant.