How to Become a Special Education Teacher in NY

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New York Special Education

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) and its Office of Special Education employ over 38,500 special educators to serve the state’s 728 public school districts. New York has 4,768 public schools, 140 charter schools and 1,991 private schools. New York City is home to the country’s largest public school system, serving 1.1 million students, and operates its own New York City Department of Education website with a section devoted to its Division of Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners. The U.S. Department of Education gives New York one of its lowest ratings, “Needs Intervention,” in regard to its ability to provide special education services. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 16.6 percent of New York students hold Individualized Education Programs, which is significantly higher than the national average of 13 percent.

Licensure Requirements

For Undergraduates

Undergraduates can pursue a bachelor’s degree through a state-approved teacher preparation program that includes all the pedagogical and content area classes necessary for licensure. They must also pass state-mandated tests to qualify for a New York certificate. Consult the NYSED’s Preparation Pathways guide to learn about the exact requirements for licensure in each subject area.

For Graduates

The typical path to New York educator licensure for college graduates entails enrolling in an approved educator preparation program that includes an internship at a K-12 public school. Individuals pursuing this option can focus on a specific area of education, such as special education, to earn an endorsement on their certificate.

License Types

The NYSED issues several types of certificates and licenses to educators. Entry-level candidates apply for the five-year Initial Certificate, while experienced classroom teachers who have completed an approved path of professional development qualify for the five-year Professional Certificate. The NYSED also awards several types of temporary and emergency certificates for candidates who do not meet all requirements for their subject area, including a Conditional Initial Certificate, an Internship Certificate, a Supplementary Certificate and several categories of Transitional Certificates.


Educators who have teaching degrees and licenses from other states can apply to the NYSED for interstate reciprocity, with a few stipulations. These candidates must have completed teacher preparation coursework and earned any certificates through an approved program that is equivalent to a New York Teacher preparation program. In some cases, an educator can replace the certification requirement with three years of classroom teaching experience. Candidates who completed preparation programs but do not hold a license can apply for reciprocity after passing state-mandated exams. The NYSED grants qualified out-of-state candidates reciprocity in the following categories of special education:

  • Students with Disabilities (Birth-Grade 2)
  • Students with Disabilities (Grades 1-6)
  • Students with Disabilities (Grades 7-12 Generalist)

Candidates who earned degrees and licenses outside of the United States can apply for reciprocity as well. They must submit notarized copies of their credentials directly to the NYSED for analysis of equivalency as determined by the Office of Teaching Initiatives. Applicants must also pass state-mandated exams. The Preparation Pathways guide to Individual Evaluation of Non-U.S. Credentials summarizes the guidelines for applying.

Special Education Teaching Programs in New York

For individuals interested in pursuing an accelerated track to licensure and working in New York City schools, there are many residency programs at New York City educational institutions that combine preparatory coursework with apprenticeship and other forms of mentored and supervised teaching. These include the New Visions for Public Schools Urban Teacher Residency, the I-START Urban Teacher Residency Program and the American Museum of Natural History’s Master of Arts in Teaching Urban Residency Program. Those seeking a graduate degree can consider the Master of Arts in childhood or adolescence special education at Saint Joseph’s College. This well-regarded program results in both a master’s degree and eligibility for several certifications depending on students’ qualifications before entering the program. The NYSED’s website features an interactive tool that helps would-be teachers determine which colleges they should attend. Candidates can select the type of degree, certification, endorsement, subject area or grade level they at which they desire to teach, and the custom search engine produces a list of NYSED-approved options.

For profiles of all the schools in New York that offer master’s in special education programs, click here.

Alternatives to Certification

The NYSED’s alternative preparation program webpage describes its ideal candidate as a professional seeking a career change. Participants engage in an accelerated training program and enter classrooms with paid teaching positions as they continue with their coursework and receive mentoring and support from both the school district and the college at which they study. Subsets of this alternative pathway include Transitional B for candidates with bachelor’s degrees and Transitional C for those who hold graduate or professional degrees. The New York City Department of Education website lists several additional alternative licensure programs for people interested in working in the city’s schools with the highest need and in teacher shortage areas. For example, the New York City Teaching Residency is for those who want to teach in low-performing secondary schools, while NYC Teaching Fellows recruits and prepares educators to fill slots in teacher shortage subject areas, which include special education.

Special Education Teaching Jobs in New York

Professional Development

New York Special Educator Professional Organizations

  • The state teacher’s union, the New York State United Teachers is an AFL-CIO affiliate consisting of over 600,000 public educators, retired educators, public school staff and healthcare workers.
  • The federally-mandated Commissioner’s Advisory Panel for Special Education Services consists of people with disabilities, families of people with disabilities, special educators and community stakeholders who advise the state on matters concerning special education.

New York News: Special Education Blogs

  • Mo Lo’s Speech Blog: Monica Locascio writes about her daily life working as a preschool speech language pathologist in Lindenhurst, New York.
  • From the Desk of Mr. Foteah: The frustrations and triumphs of teaching and testing are the themes of this elementary special education teacher’s blog.