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Boost Your Career With a Master’s in Special Education

Are you a devoted special education teacher, or would you like to become one? If so, you likely care about improving the lives of students with disabilities and exceptionalities. Earning a master’s degree in special education will amplify the positive impact you have on your students and prepare you for advancement into administrative and other leadership positions.

What Are the Purposes and Challenges of Special Education?

According to the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), “The fundamental purposes of special education are the same as those of regular education: the optimal development of the student as a skillful, free, and purposeful person, able to plan and manage his or her own life and to reach his or her highest potential as an individual and as a member of society.” Outstanding special education teachers provide the students they serve with individualized, high quality education, specific to their needs and equal to that received by all children.

Yet students with disabilities, exceptionalities and diverse backgrounds have unique academic and social/emotional needs, challenges and strengths. Special education teachers are tasked with identifying and addressing each student’s needs and adapting their educational services appropriately. Accomplishing this is challenging and requires consistent collaboration between teachers, special education professionals, family members and others.

The framework for planning and executing the education of a student with disabilities is determined by national and state legislation. And the competencies of special education teachers are defined by state certification processes. But optimizing each student’s education and potential requires much more than legislation and certification guidelines. As the CEC puts it: “The quality of educational services for children and youth with exceptionalities resides in the abilities, qualifications, and competencies of the personnel who provide the services.”

How Can Earning a Master’s Degree Help Me Improve As a Special Education Professional?

Improving special education for students relies on advancing research in the field and the expertise and education of professionals involved.

Special education teachers must understand how the development and challenges of exceptional children interact with and affect learning. This understanding directly impacts how proficient educators are in adapting, modifying and differentiating educational functions to address and accommodate individual student needs. Preparing for the role of special educator involves intensive study of many issues and concepts, such as:

  • Curriculum design, instruction and assessment methods
  • High-leverage practices and intensive intervention
  • Response to Intervention (RTI) and Multi-Tier Systems of Student Support (MTSS)
  • Positive behavioral interventions and supports
  • Adaptive technologies
  • Socioeconomic and cultural differences
  • Social and behavioral principles

In focusing on these areas from both the theoretical and the practical perspectives as applied to the culturally responsive classroom, teachers can incorporate what they learn directly into their work. The program offers courses dedicated to MTSS for reading, MTSS for mathematics, and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Tiers Two and Three. The curriculum also includes high-leverage practices and intensive intervention instruction. This immediate, experiential application of master’s level studies can help special education professionals become better at what they do and improve student learning every day.

How Can a Master’s Degree Help Me Advance My Career?

According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, the career earning potential of special education teachers with master’s degrees is substantially higher than those who have earned a bachelor’s degree. But the benefits afforded by a master’s in special education reach further than an increase in pay.

An advanced degree will also help special education professionals pursue careers outside the classroom. Graduates are qualified to work in administrative capacities as supervisors or directors of special education programs. Effective administrators expand their potential impact by elevating entire special education programs through improved curriculum and instruction design, assessment, adaptive technology integration, and teacher training.

Administrative positions also generally command higher level pay. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual salary for special education teachers in 2019 was $61,030. In comparison, PayScale reports the average 2020 salary for supervisors of special education programs to be $75,498.

A master’s degree program will also prepare graduates to pursue terminal degree graduate education. Upon completion of the program, you may qualify to teach at the collegiate level and train future special education teachers, conduct essential research and strengthen the profession as a whole.

Choosing a Degree Program

The University of Southern Maine (USM) offers an online Master of Science in Special Education with a Concentration in Effective Instruction and Assessment for Students with Suspected and Identified Disabilities. This degree program helps students develop the knowledge, skills and competencies necessary to be effective special education teachers and administrators. Earning such a degree will prove to be a crucial step in advancing your career in special education.

Coursework in USM’s online master’s in special education covers these and other topics in depth. The degree program highlights the interrelationships between student development and learning differences, educational and adaptive methodologies, culture, and the classroom environment. Coursework also emphasizes the importance of collaboration in building a unified community of support and cohesive education for each child.

The USM master’s degree in special education will help you improve as an educator and bring you closer to your career aspirations.

Learn more about the University of Southern Maine’s online Master of Science in Special Education with a Concentration in Effective Instruction and Assessment for Students with Suspected and Identified Disabilities.


Council for Exceptional Children: CEC Initial and Advanced Preparation Standards

Council for Exceptional Children: Special Education in the Schools

Council for Exceptional Children: What Every Special Educator Must Know

National Council on Teacher Quality: How Do School Districts Compensate Teachers for Advanced Degrees?

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Special Education Teachers

PayScale: Average Supervisor of Special Education Salary

Council for Exceptional Children: Selected Job Profiles in Special Education

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