What can you do with a special education degree?

September 21, 2018

Today’s classroom teachers frequently work with students who have learning disabilities.

Many teachers seek out professional development opportunities in special education to improve their practice, says Catherine Pulkinen, PhD, a faculty member in Capella University’s School of Public Service and Education. But teachers aren’t the only professionals who seek training in special education. Paraprofessionals, school counselors, and school psychologists can benefit from coursework in special education, too.

Many times it’s a personal connection that drives people toward a special education focused master’s degree, Pulkinen says. “People often pursue a career in special education because they have been touched by a person who has a learning disability,” she observes. Many individuals who seek degrees in special education are parents of children who struggle with ADHD, autism, or some other learning challenge. “Once people have had to deal with the systems that exist to serve children with disabilities, they often become passionate advocates for change and progress in this area,” according to Pulkinen.

What kind of education is required to work with special education students? And what kind of career paths are related to a special education degree? Here’s what Pulkinen has to say.

Specializing in special education

To work with special education students, individuals typically must complete a bachelor’s in education, counseling, psychology, or a related field, followed by a master’s in education, with a specialization in special education. Additionally, state licensure may be required to work with special education students. Requirements vary by state.

In Capella’s master’s program, students learn how to:

  • Teach with compassion and understand the role and structure of special education within the educational system.
  • Create effective curriculum by planning, implementing, and evaluating curriculum and instructional strategies to enhance and promote learning.
  • Implement specialized teaching by applying policy and procedures for individuals with special needs.
  • Support and encourage collaboration through effectively working with others to support students with learning challenges.

Special education career paths to explore

Many people who seek a master’s in education with a special education focus are traditional classroom teachers. But counselors and school psychologists can also benefit from an additional degree in the specialty, Pulkinen says. And some individuals who pursue the degree choose to work in the private sector, for example, assisting in job hunting for those with learning challenges.

Regardless of where they work, there are certain characteristics possessed by many individuals employed in the field of special education. “People who work in special education need to have patience, flexibility, and empathy, and they need to understand that people learn differently,” Pulkinen says. “They have to have a good understanding of the fundamental ways that people behave in most classroom situations, and they need to understand what drives variations in behaviors.”

Learn more about Capella’s MS in Education, Special Education Teaching degree.*

*This specialization does not lead to license, endorsement, or other professional credential. For more information, see the Licensure section for this program on Capella’s website ( Teachers are advised to contact their school district to determine whether a program may qualify for salary advancement.

You may also like

Innovating to help solve the K-12 achievement gap

October 16, 2019

Earning an MEd degree the FlexPath way

October 2, 2019

Start learning today

Get started on your journey now by connecting with an enrollment counselor. See how Capella may be a good fit for you, and start the application process.