Special Needs Teacher

Special needs teachers work primarily with children who require special instructional services to help them learn and develop to their potential.

Also Known As:Educator, Instructor, School Teacher, Teacher, Teacher of Children with Visual Impairment, Teacher of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children, Teacher of Gifted Children, Teacher of Hospitalized, Homebound or Institutionalized Children
NOC Number(s):4142
Minimum Education:4 years post-secondary education/training
Employment Outlook:Job openings: turnover plus new jobs due to above average growth in occupation in Alberta 2013-2017
Interests:S I D

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Special Needs Teacher

Duties | Working Conditions | Personal Characteristics | Education | Employment | Salary | Other Information | Related Occupations | Related School Subjects | Related Field of Study


Special needs teachers spend most of their working day providing instruction and dealing with unexpected as well as routine situations. They work with children who have:

  • physical or developmental disabilities
  • hearing, visual, speech or language disabilities
  • learning disabilities
  • behaviour disorders or mental illness
  • high intelligence or talent.

Special needs teachers must understand the unique characteristics of each student and choose or develop appropriate instructional programs and methods. Teaching techniques and methods vary with the particular disability or special talent but, in general, special needs teachers:

  • work closely with parents and professionals from community agencies
  • perform diagnostic assessments to determine student strengths and areas of need
  • develop educational goals, objectives and individualized program plans
  • choose or develop specially designed instructional methods and materials
  • prepare and present lessons
  • monitor student performance and assess each student's progress
  • work with teaching assistants.

Their working environments and responsibilities may vary considerably. For example, special needs teachers may:

  • teach all or most subjects for a class of children who have a variety of disabilities or a particular type of difficulty
  • meet with students from regular school classrooms on an individual basis or in small groups, and work in co-operation with classroom teachers to help children who have learning disabilities, language deficiencies or academic deficiencies
  • travel from school to school providing tutorial services for students who are hearing or vision impaired, and provide consultative services for classroom teachers
  • work with therapists in special clinics which children visit for assessments, therapy or instruction
  • work with other teachers to adapt educational programs for students with special needs in regular classrooms.

Special needs teachers also may work in:

  • special schools with many classes of children with disabilities
  • hospitals for children with short and long term disabilities or illnesses
  • the homes of children who are homebound due to sickness, rehabilitation needs or severe physical disabilities
  • institutional schools for children who have neuropsychiatric, emotional or social disabilities.

Working Conditions

Working with children who have special needs requires considerable physical, mental and emotional energy. Other working conditions for special needs teachers vary depending on student needs, the type of facility and the philosophy of the facility. For example, some special needs teachers may lift over 20 kilograms when helping children move to and from wheelchairs.

Personal Characteristics

In addition to the qualities required by other teachers, special needs teachers must be able to:

  • work closely and co-operatively with other teachers, parents and consultants
  • maintain a positive attitude and focus on student capabilities, not limitations.

They should enjoy finding different ways to solve questions and present information, and organizing and co-ordinating the work of others.

Educational Requirements

Special needs teachers may need specific skills for working with children who have particular types of disabilities. For example, teachers of deaf and hard of hearing children must be able to use various sign languages, techniques and aids to communicate with their students.

In Alberta, special needs teachers generally have a bachelor of education (B.Ed.) degree with a specialization related to special education. The minimum qualification is a four year B.Ed. degree in elementary education, or a university degree in another area and a teaching certificate. For a list of Alberta post-secondary institutions that offer B.Ed. degree programs in elementary education, see the Elementary School Teacher occupational profile.

In Alberta, the following post-secondary institutions offer programs specifically related to special needs teaching:

  • Athabasca University and the University of Alberta offer a one year (24 credit) University Diploma program in Inclusive Education for teachers interested in the area of special needs. Learners can take distance education courses from Athabasca University or courses offered on campus, part-time and online at the University of Alberta. The admission requirement is a four year B.Ed. or equivalent.
  • The University of Lethbridge offers a specialization in special/inclusive education as an option within its B.Ed. degree program.
  • The University of Alberta and the University of Calgary offer B.Ed. and master's degree programs in special/inclusive education and doctoral (PhD) programs in special education. The master's program is available part-time and online.

For current information about programs, admission requirements and mature student admission policies, please check post-secondary calendars or websites.

Employment and Advancement

Special needs teachers are employed in public and private schools, and in hospitals and other institutions. With experience and additional training, they may advance to positions in school administration or consulting services.

Special needs teachers are part of the larger National Occupational Classification 4142: Elementary School and Kindergarten Teachers.  In Alberta, most people employed in this classification work in the Educational Services industry.

The employment outlook in this occupation will be influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • trends and events affecting overall employment (especially in the Educational Services industry)
  • location in Alberta
  • employment turnover (work opportunities generated by people leaving existing positions)
  • occupational growth (work opportunities resulting from the creation of new positions that never existed before)
  • size of the occupation.

Over 17,400 Albertans are employed in the Elementary School and Kindergarten Teachers occupational group which is expected to have an annual above average growth of 3.3 per cent from 2013 to 2017 in Alberta. It is forecasted that about 574 new positions will be created each year in addition to job openings created by employment turnover. (Note: Since special needs teachers form only a part of the larger occupational group on which this forecast is based, only a portion of the new positions created will be for special needs teachers.)

Employment turnover is expected to increase as members of the baby boom generation retire over the next few years. The Alberta Teachers' Association estimates that about 900 teaching positions will become vacant each year due to retirement.

Section revised November 2013


Salaries vary from one school board to another because wages and benefits are determined by collective agreements between boards and their teachers. However, all teachers are paid according to a grid system based on the number of years of training and experience a teacher has.  

According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans in the Elementary School and Kindergarten Teachers occupational group earned on average from $25.27 to $48.34 an hour. The mean wage for this group was $36.12 an hour.

For more detailed information, see WAGEinfo.

All teachers employed in Alberta's publicly supported schools are members of the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) and are automatically included under the Alberta Teachers Pension Plan Act. Holidays and pensions are specified by provincial legislation. However, teachers often use the summer break period of July and August, or Christmas and spring break holidays, for professional development or for fulfilling additional professional responsibilities.

Other Sources of Information

Post-secondary institution calendars and websites (see Educational Requirements above)

EDinfo website:

Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) website:

Related Occupational Profiles
Career and Technology Studies Teacher
Educational Counsellor
Elementary School Teacher
Secondary School Teacher

Related High School Subjects
English Language Arts; Health, Recreation and Human Services (Human and Social Services); Languages (other than English); and Science

Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
Education and Library Studies

Produced February 2012
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For more information on career planning, occupations and educational programs, visit the Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS) website at, call the Alberta Career Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-661-3753 or 780-422-4266 in Edmonton or visit an Alberta Works Centre near you.

The information contained in this profile was current as of the dates shown. Salaries, employment outlook and educational programs may change. Please check the information before making any career decisions.

Government of Alberta, Human Services