8 Great Alternative Careers for Special Needs Teachers

Let’s face it — although teaching students, especially students with disabilities — can be extremely rewarding, it can also be physically and mentally draining.

Whether you are a veteran or a rookie special education teacher, you may want to explore alternative careers, and this article is here to help you navigate some non-classroom options. First, you should know that you are not alone. There are many special education teachers (just like you) who want a change of pace, different setting, or new outlook on the world of education.

For those who are intrigued, here is a short list of careers that still will satisfy your need to help children while not working you from bell to bell in a school setting.

1. Tutoring

Tutoring is a great career alternative (or supplement!) for a special education teacher because of the variety of work it entails. There are tutoring jobs spanning all levels, subjects, and standardized tests. Parents may look for a study skills tutor, or for someone to help their child get organized, form positive study habits, and break down long-term assignments (all of which are right up a special education teacher’s alley!).

Some parents also look for tutors who have special certifications, such as Wilson or Orton-Gillingham. Completing these certification programs typically requires some time and money, but many teachers point out that having an additional certification increases their tutoring earning potential.

One of the hardest parts of tutoring is networking, which is essential to building your client base. To find new clients, select the location you want to work in, keeping in mind that wealthier communities tend to have more private tutoring opportunities. Then, start getting your name out there. Provide business cards to guidance counselors, create an ad on Craigslist, or place an ad at the local library or grocery store. If you get your name out there (and as you start working with students), word of mouth will help you build up your client base in no time.

2. Homeschooling

Homeschooling is an educational trend that has become more and more popular over that past few years. Although some parents like to take on the homeschooling challenge themselves, others are looking for experienced teachers to take the reins. Special education teachers are considered a great fit for this position because we are known as differentiated instruction masters. We can reach students on many different levels, a skill that can be very appealing to some parents. In addition, we are adept at following a curriculum and providing necessary materials to optimize student learning.

By working closely and patiently with parents, and incorporating your own activities into a homeschooling curriculum, you can help students flourish in this setting. Although you already have a teaching degree, it is likely that parents will want to see that you also have a homeschooling certification, which can completed online for a minimal fee.

3. Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant (LDT-C)

Some school districts have learning disabilities teacher consultants who diagnose learning difficulties and plan instructional programs for students with disabilities. In general, LDT-Cs are case managers for special education students. To obtain the necessary certificate to become an LDT-C, you must complete a 24-credit program. Not all school districts have LDT-Cs, so before finding a program in your area, research the staff and services in your district and surrounding districts.

In this role, you would complete education testing with students, develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), and help implement an optimal educational program for the student. If you enjoy working with children in a school setting but just need to get out of the classroom, then this may be a career option.

4. Reading Specialist

Becoming a reading specialist is another great alternative for a special education teacher who no longer wants to be in front of a classroom full of students. Reading specialists often supplement and extend classroom instruction by working with students one-on-one or in small groups. Many special education teachers gravitate toward this career because it offers just enough of a change from classroom instruction — while preserving the most fulfilling parts of a teaching career. You are still teaching, but the instruction is more individualized and specialized.

Becoming a reading specialist requires a master’s degree in educational literacy, a credential that typically entails completion of a 36-credit program. This is a substantial undertaking, and leaving the classroom is a major alteration, so be sure to do your research before diving into a master’s in educational literacy.

5. Guidance Counselor

An even bigger commitment than a master’s in educational literacy is a master’s in school counseling. To become a school counselor, you must take a 48-credit program that consists of both courses and fieldwork. Special education teachers have a passion for mentoring students, and becoming a school counselor means applying that passion in a new capacity.

School counselors are needed at all levels of the educational system and work with students on character education, socialization, academic achievement, and college and career readiness. A school counselor is an integral part of every student’s development because she gets to know the student on a personal level. Finding the time to complete all the required courses and fieldwork can be a challenge, but if you want to work with students on a more personalized level, then school counseling could be an excellent choice.

6. Special Education Advocate

As a special education advocate, you work closely with parents, the school, and the student to plan and implement the best educational program for the student. If you still want to be a voice for the student, but are not necessarily interested in teaching in the classroom, then this is a career path you may want to pursue.

As testing and classifying students becomes increasingly prevalent, parents may want some assistance in the process, and an advocate is the perfect person to guide them along the way. There are no additional certifications needed to become a special education advocate, and training courses are available all over the country. To prepare for this role, you will need to brush up on special education regulations and curriculum standards in your state.

7. Educational Consultant

Although your desire to teach in a special education classroom may be waning, you may still want to teach in some setting. If a certain educational program or special education advocacy is of particular interest, then use your knowledge to offer seminars and professional development for current teachers. Given the growing popularity of inclusion, districts are often looking for consultants to educate their staff on differentiated instruction, co-teaching models, and avenues to meet the needs of special education students.

Being an educational consultant does not require any further certifications or degrees — just expertise! So if your desire is a change of audience from students to teachers, then consulting may be the right path for you to explore. Create a course or lecture based on your knowledge and advertise it to teachers in your area.

8. Publishing

Depending on how long you have been teaching, you probably have an endless supply of self-made teaching materials for students with special needs. Why not put your resources to good use? There are many educational publishers (both in print and online) that seek former teachers to produce their textbooks and workbooks. Taking this path is a true alternative to teaching, so keep in mind that you will not be working with any students at a publishing company — but students will reap the benefits of your knowledge!

Being in the classroom for 35 years or longer is not in the cards for every special education teacher, so consider the options above, do your research, and plan an alternative career that utilizes your skills and suits your needs!

Still curious about other career paths? Check out Beyond Teaching: The World of Jobs in the Education Field.