Special Education Teacher Vs General Education Teacher Salary

Education plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of individuals and societies. In the complex ecosystem of education, teachers serve as the foundation, guiding students towards achieving their full potential. Both special and general education teachers contribute significantly to this noble endeavor, albeit in different teaching environments and with distinct responsibilities.

Special education and general education teacher roles differ, each fulfilling unique needs in the educational system. However, an aspect that often sparks curiosity and debate is the variation in their salaries. In general, special education teachers often earn more than their general education counterparts, reflecting the specialized skills and training they require.

This disparity is not without reason. Various factors, including the nature of the teaching environment, the complexity of responsibilities, and the requisite skills, contribute to the differences in their salary ranges. The intricacies of these factors are examined below.

Special Education Overview

Special Education caters to students with diverse learning needs and disabilities. It aims to provide customized teaching strategies that adapt to the unique learning abilities of these students.

Essential Duties of Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers are tasked with creating Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), closely monitoring student progress, and modifying teaching strategies as necessary. Additionally, they often collaborate with other educators and professionals to ensure a well-rounded learning experience for their students.

General Education Overview

General Education is designed to offer foundational knowledge and skills to a broad spectrum of students. It follows a more standardized curriculum that aligns with the general educational requirements of the state or district.

Essential Responsibilities of General Education Teachers

General education teachers teach fundamental subjects like Math, Science, English, and Social Studies. They design lesson plans, assess student understanding, provide feedback, and communicate progress to parents.

Comparing Teaching Environments

The environment in which education is delivered significantly influences a teacher’s roles, responsibilities, and consequently, their remuneration. A comparison of the teaching environments between special and general education provides a deeper understanding of their distinct nature.

Special Education Classroom

A special education classroom is designed to cater to students with unique learning needs. These can range from physical disabilities to emotional and intellectual challenges. As a result, the classroom setup, teaching aids, and resources are typically customized to facilitate learning for these students. Examples may include:

  • Assistive technology such as text-to-speech software or Braille devices
  • Customized desks and chairs for physical comfort and accessibility
  • Specialized learning materials designed for hands-on learning
  • Sensory tools like noise-canceling headphones or fidget tools for students with sensory processing issues

This personalized teaching environment necessitates additional resources, which, in turn, can influence a special education teacher’s salary.

General Education Classroom

A general education classroom, on the other hand, serves a broader range of students. The teaching environment follows a more traditional format, with resources geared towards standard curriculum goals. While there may be students with unique learning needs, these classrooms do not typically require specialized equipment or learning aids.

The teaching aids in a general education classroom usually include:

  • Standardized textbooks and digital learning resources
  • Traditional classroom setup with standard desks and chairs
  • Common teaching aids such as whiteboards, projectors, and computers
  • General curriculum guides and lesson plans

The relative simplicity and broader nature of the general education classroom can result in a different salary scale for general education teachers compared to their special education counterparts.

Challenges in Each Field

Both fields present unique challenges that teachers must navigate, influencing their roles and, by extension, their salaries.

Challenges in Special Education

Special education teachers often work with students with diverse learning needs, including cognitive, emotional, and physical challenges. This role demands patience, empathy, and specialized skills. Some challenges include:

  • Designing and implementing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)
  • Managing behavioral issues and emotional disruptions
  • Collaborating with other professionals such as therapists and counselors
  • Constantly adapting teaching strategies to accommodate each student’s unique needs

These complex and demanding responsibilities often justify the higher average salary earned by special education teachers.

Challenges in General Education

General education teachers face a different set of challenges, primarily managing larger class sizes and ensuring the progress of all students while addressing individual learning needs. Some common challenges include:

  • Adapting lesson plans to suit a variety of learning styles
  • Maintaining classroom discipline while fostering a positive learning environment
  • Communicating with parents about student progress and potential issues
  • Keeping up-to-date with curriculum changes and standard testing requirements

While these challenges are different from those encountered in special education, they are equally demanding and require a strong set of skills.

Education and Training

Education and training requirements significantly differ for special and general education teachers. A bachelor’s degree in education or a related field is common to both, but special education teachers often need additional qualifications.

Special Education Teacher Requirements

Special education teachers typically require licensure or certification in special education. The prerequisites for these certifications vary by state, but generally include:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
  • Completion of a student teaching internship in special education
  • Passing a competency examination in the fundamentals of special education
  • Ongoing professional development to maintain licensure

Some states also demand a master’s degree or specialized training in a specific area of special education. These advanced qualifications often lead to higher salaries.

General Education Teacher Requirements

General education teachers require a bachelor’s degree and a state-issued certification or license. This certification generally involves:

  • Completion of a bachelor’s degree program from an accredited institution
  • Successful completion of a student teaching internship
  • Passing a state examination on general education content knowledge
  • Ongoing professional development to maintain certification

For higher grades or advanced subjects, some states might require a master’s degree. Though less specialized than in special education, advanced degrees can lead to higher salary scales in general education as well.

Special Education Teacher Salary

Salaries for special education teachers vary widely, depending on several factors. On average, these teachers tend to earn more than general education teachers.

Factors Influencing Salary

Factors such as geographical location, school district, level of education, years of experience, and specific area of expertise can greatly influence a special education teacher’s salary.

Average Salary Across the U.S.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for special education teachers in the U.S. was $61,030 as of May 2020.

Salary Growth Potential

The potential for salary growth in the field of special education is generally favorable, especially for those with advanced degrees and significant experience.

General Education Teacher Salary

General education teacher salaries also vary widely, influenced by several factors. Despite the lower average, there are opportunities for growth and advancement.

Factors Affecting Pay

Similar to special education, factors such as location, school district, education level, and years of experience impact a general education teacher’s salary.

Average U.S. Salary

The median annual wage for elementary school teachers, excluding special education, was $60,660 in May 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Salary Progression Possibilities

While the average salary is slightly lower than that of special education teachers, general education teachers can enhance their earning potential with advanced degrees, certifications, and years of experience.

Factors Impacting Salary Differences

The difference in salaries between special and general education teachers is not arbitrary. Several factors contribute to this difference.

Teaching Environment and Complexity

The complexity and demands of the teaching environment significantly influence the pay scale. Special education teachers often deal with more challenging teaching scenarios, which is reflected in their higher average salary.

Location and Demand

Geographical location and demand for special education services play a crucial role in determining salary. Areas with high demand for special education services often offer higher compensation.

Years of Experience and Education Level

Like any profession, the level of education and years of experience significantly impact salary. Special education teachers, given their specialized training and the complexity of their roles, generally command a higher salary.

Perks Beyond Salary

Beyond salary, both special and general education teachers have access to benefits that can enhance their overall compensation package.

Health Benefits and Retirement Plans

Teachers typically have access to comprehensive health benefits and retirement plans, which can significantly add to the overall compensation package.

Teachers also enjoy paid time off during the summer and other school breaks. The teaching profession also offers a certain level of job security and flexibility.

Job Satisfaction and Impact

The opportunity to make a lasting impact on students’ lives and contribute to their growth and development brings a level of job satisfaction that goes beyond monetary compensation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do special education teachers always earn more than general education teachers?

No, not always. While on average, special education teachers tend to earn more, factors like location, experience, and level of education can influence individual salaries.

What additional qualifications do special education teachers need?

Special education teachers often require additional certification or licensure in special education. Some states also require a master’s degree or specialized training in a specific area of special education.

Are there opportunities for salary growth in both fields?

Yes, both fields offer opportunities for salary growth. Further education, certifications, and experience can all contribute to higher earning potential.


The teaching profession, regardless of the area of focus, offers a rewarding career with the opportunity to make a significant impact on students’ lives. Special and general education teachers each play a vital role in this respect.

The salary discrepancy between special and general education teachers reflects the different challenges and requirements of their roles. It’s important to consider these factors when choosing a career path in education.

Ultimately, the choice between special and general education should hinge on one’s passion, aptitude, and commitment to making a difference in the field of education. The satisfaction derived from empowering students to achieve their full potential is, after all, priceless.

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I am Dwight Hughes Sr., your specialist in Special Education and Preschooler topics at EduEdify.com. Holding a PhD in Early Childhood Education, I bring a depth of knowledge and experience to guide parents and educators in nurturing the younger minds. My mission is to share evidence-based insights, cultivated from years of academic and field research, to help every child flourish during their formative years.

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