California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Special Education Teachers, Preschool, Kindergarten, and Elementary School* in California

May also be called: Mildly Disabled Student Special Education Teachers; Preschool Special Education Teachers; Resource Program Teachers; Severe Emotional Disorders Teachers; Teachers of Developmentally Delayed; Teachers of Emotionally Disturbed; Teachers of Students with Learning and Behavior Disabilities

What Would I Do?

Special Education Teachers work in elementary schools and preschools, giving specially-designed instruction to children who have a variety of disabilities. They work to ensure that students with disabilities reach their learning potential. The majority of these Teachers work with children with mild-to-moderate disabilities using a modified curriculum to meet each child's individual needs. A small number work with students with mental retardation or autism, teaching them life skills and basic literacy.

These Teachers usually work in classrooms or resource rooms in elementary schools, with a few working in special schools, homes, hospitals, and correctional facilities. Typically, they are assisted by teacher aides. Class sizes tend to be much smaller, typically fewer than 12 students.

There are six areas of specialty in this teaching field in California:

Mild/Moderate Disabilities (M/M) includes teaching students who have specific learning disabilities, mild-to-moderate mental retardation, attention deficit and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, and serious emotional disturbance.

Moderate/Severe Disabilities (M/S) includes teaching those with autism, deaf-blindness, moderate-to-severe mental retardation, multiple disabilities, serious emotional disturbance, and authorizes teaching grades K–12.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) includes teaching those with deafness, hearing impairment, and deaf-blindness.

Visual Impairments (VI) includes teaching students with blindness, visual impairment, and deaf-blindness.

Physical and Health Impairments (PHI) includes teaching students with orthopedic or other health impairments, multiple disabilities, and traumatic brain injury.

Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) includes teaching children ages birth to pre-Kindergarten with both mild/moderate and moderate/severe disabilities. Early identification of a child with special needs is an important part of a Special Education Teacher's job. Early intervention is essential in educating children with disabilities.

Depending on the disability, teaching methods can include individualized instruction, problem-solving assignments, and small-group work. When students need special accommodations, Special Education Teachers see that appropriate ones are provided, such as having exam questions read orally, or lengthening the time allowed to complete a test. They teach multiple subjects, including language arts, history, science, and mathematics.

Special Education Teachers help to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for each special education student. The IEP sets personalized goals for each student and is tailored to the student's individual needs and ability.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Prepare objectives and outlines for courses of study, following curriculum guidelines or requirements of states and schools.Instructing
Meet with parents to provide guidance in using community resources, and to teach skills for dealing with students' impairments.Active Listening
Administer standardized ability and achievement tests, and interpret results to determine students' strengths and areas of need.Oral Expression
Supervise, evaluate, and plan assignments for teacher assistants and volunteers.Time Management
Attend professional meetings, educational conferences, and teacher training workshops in order to maintain and improve professional competence.Education and Training
Develop and implement strategies to meet the needs of students with a variety of handicapping conditions.Learning Strategies
Teach socially acceptable behavior, employing techniques such as behavior modification and positive reinforcement.Persuasion
Guide and counsel students with adjustment and/or academic problems, or special academic interests.Psychology
Organize and supervise games and other recreational activities to promote physical, mental, and social development.Speech Recognition
Teach students personal development skills such as goal setting, independence, and self-advocacy.Problem Sensitivity
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Special Education Teachers typically work in a modern, comfortable classroom or school setting. Their work, which can be highly rewarding, can also be emotionally and physically draining due to the heavy workload of teaching students at many levels, behavioral issues, and administrative tasks such as the paperwork and documentation needed on each student's progress. Most Teachers work 40 hours per week in a traditional 10-month school year, with some opting to teach year-round.

Teachers who work in public school districts usually belong to a union, such as the California Teachers Association.

Will This Job Fit Me?

Special Education Teachers can have an opportunity to have a positive, lasting effect on the lives of children with special needs. This occupation will appeal to people who are social and who enjoy helping or providing service to others.

Special Education Teachers must be patient, able to motivate students, understanding of their students' special needs, and accepting of differences in others. Teachers must be creative and apply different types of teaching methods to reach students who are having difficulty learning. Communication and cooperation are essential skills, because Special Education Teachers spend a great deal of time interacting with others, including students, parents, school faculty, and administrators.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Special Education Teachers sometimes earn extra pay for having advanced degrees or for completing programs in specialized areas such as restraint training.


The median wage in 2020 for Special Education Teachers, Preschool, Kindergarten, and Elementary School* in California is $0 annually. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Annual Wages for 2020Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2020 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


Special Education Teachers who work in public and private schools generally receive full benefit packages that include medical, dental, and vision insurance, as well as vacation, sick leave, and retirement plans.

What is the Job Outlook?

Job prospects should be good for Special Education Teachers in California preschools and elementary schools. New positions for these workers will be created by continued increases in the number of special education students needing services. Legislation emphasizing training and employment for individuals with disabilities and educational reforms requiring higher standards for graduation will also fuel the demand for new workers.

In addition, growth is expected due to the improvements in identification and diagnoses of learning disabilities at earlier ages. Many school districts report difficulty finding sufficient numbers of qualified Teachers. Additionally, many job opportunities will arise as Teachers retire or leave for other types of work. As a result, Special Education Teachers should have excellent job prospects.

Job opportunities may be better in certain specialties, such as Teachers who work with children with multiple disabilities or severe disabilities like autism, due to large increases in the enrollment of special education students classified under those categories. Legislation encouraging early intervention and special education for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers has also fed the need for early childhood Special Education Teachers.

Projections of Employment

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

The State of California requires Special Education Teachers to obtain credentials through the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. To teach special education in California, you must have the Education Specialist Instruction Credential. It authorizes the holder to teach in the area of specialization listed on the credential. The following is required to earn the Preliminary (Level1) Credential:

  • Obtain a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited college or university.
  • Complete an accredited Education Specialist Credential training program in an education specialist category, including student teaching
  • Demonstrate subject matter competence by taking and passing the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET)
  • Meet the Basic Skills Requirement by passing an exam
  • Pass the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA) exam
  • Complete a U.S. Constitution course
  • Complete developing English language skills courses
  • Receive an offer of employment from a California school

All Special Education Teachers are required to obtain an electronic fingerprint (LiveScan) and criminal background clearance prior to their employment.

The Preliminary Credential is valid for five years. Within that time, in order to earn the Professional (Level II) Credential applicants must complete a Commission-approved Professional Teacher Induction plan, complete courses in health and computer education, and obtain National Board certification after their California Preliminary Multiple Subject Teaching Credential is issued.

The Education Specialist Instruction Credential authorizes Teachers to instruct students in one of six areas of specialization: Mild/Moderate Disabilities (M/M), Moderate/Severe Disabilities (M/S), Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH), Visual Impairments (VI), Physical and Health Impairments (PHI), and Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE).

Education Specialist training programs generally take between 18 and 24 months beyond the bachelor's degree. Most candidates take a year of graduate courses at an accredited Teacher training institution, usually with practice teaching. An alternative path is a one- or two-year university internship in which the candidate teaches while still taking classes. Some school districts establish their own internships that include a two-year professional development plan for the Teacher.


Teachers are required to have student teaching experience prior to employment. Many new Teachers start as substitute Teachers to gain classroom experience and district recognition.

Early Career Planning

Students who are interested in a teaching career in special education should take the necessary courses required for admission into college. Students can also gain valuable experience by tutoring or mentoring students with special needs, which will help them decide whether teaching is a desired career choice. In addition, Troops to Teachers is a Department of Defense program that provides tuition reimbursement, career counseling, and monetary bonuses for current and prior members of the Armed Services who agree to teach in economically disadvantaged urban and rural schools.

Continuing Education

Continuing Education requirements vary by school district. However, all Teachers need to regularly update their knowledge and skills in order to learn new material and tools. Many also learn new subject matter to add to their Multiple Subject Teaching Credential.


Credential exam information, such as fees, locations, and frequency are found at the link below.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

Finding a Job

Special Education Teachers find job leads through their college training programs or career centers. Newspaper classified ads and the Internet provide additional sources for job listings. School districts list job openings on their Web sites as well. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Special Education Teachers, Preschool, Kindergarten, and Elementary School*.

  • Elementary Schools
  • Elementary and Secondary Education
  • Private Schools (K-12)
  • Public Schools
  • Religious General Interest Schools
  • Schools

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Special Education Teachers can advance to become school administrators. They may also earn advanced degrees and become instructors in colleges that prepare others to teach special education. In some school districts, highly-experienced Teachers become mentors to less experienced ones, providing guidance while maintaining a lighter teaching load.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Special Education Teachers, Preschool, Kindergarten, and Elementary School* with links to more information.

Clinical, Counseling, and School PsychologistsProfile
Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational CounselorsProfile
Elementary School Teachers, Except Special EducationGuide
Special Education Teachers, Secondary SchoolGuide
Special Education Teachers, Middle SchoolGuide

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification25-2041
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Special Education and Teaching, General 131001
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Special Education080900