Special Education

Teacher in front of classroom

The Special Education Program at the University of Memphis is designed to facilitate the development of professional practitioners and leaders with skills specific to meeting the diverse needs of individuals with exceptionalities. Special Education programs include both educator preparation and continuing education opportunities. Additionally, advanced terminal degrees are offered for those seeking leadership roles in this field.

Teacher licensure in Special Education is offered in one of two concentration areas. Those seeking to teach students with learning disabilities may seek a license in Modified Special Education. Those seeking to teach students with intellectual disabilities may seek licensure in Comprehensive Special Education. 

Learn more about the SPED program

The central mission and vision of the College of Education, the Department of Instruction and Curriculum Leadership, and the Special Education undergraduate and graduate programs align. The Special Education program's mission values the preparation of Educational Leaders who demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the learning process, skill in instructional planning and delivery, and a disposition to create dynamic learning environments that incorporate multicultural knowledge into instructional design and delivery. The primary goal of teacher education programs in the Department of Instruction and Curriculum Leadership is to prepare educational leaders who will, through knowledge, skills and disposition, conduct themselves in ways that command respect for themselves and the profession and inspire others to take positive action. Similarly, the Special Education teacher education program is designed to prepare educational leaders who are able to maximize the development and learning of individuals with diverse and exceptional needs in a variety of multicultural program settings.

Students graduating from the Department's Special Education undergraduate and graduate degree programs will find themselves well prepared for a variety of careers in the field of disability services especially teaching. State licensed preK-12 teachers will typically deliver special education curricula in public and private schools while many will take on school leadership roles. There are also careers available in the technical support and adult service fields. There is an extreme shortage of licensed special educators in the field today. Students graduating from the Special Education Program at the University of Memphis are highly sought after and typically have little problem securing teaching positions in area schools. For students interested in career choices in supervision or higher education, the advanced masters and doctoral programs will provide the stepping stones for such undertakings.

Certifications and Endorsements:

Bachelor of Science in Education

  • Degree: BSEd in Teaching All Learners
  • Leading to Dual Licensure in Elementary Education AND Special Educator
  • The 'Teaching All Learners' or TAL(N) program is an undergraduate bachelor's degree plan leading to teacher licensure in both Special Education and K-6 Elementary Education.

Master of Arts in Teaching 

  • Degree: MAT
  • Leading to Licensure as a Special Educator
  • The MAT program offers those without a bachelor's degree in teaching the option to further their education while obtaining an initial teaching license. Programs leading to Special Education teacher licensure in:
    • 459 Special Education PreK-3
    • 144 Interventionist K-8 (Online option) 
    • 145 Interventionist 6-12 (Online option)
    • 461 Special Education Comprehensive (Online)

Master of Science 

  • Degree: MS
  • Leading to Licensure as a Special Educator with elective focus in:
  • The MS degree offers those with a teaching license the ability to further their education while obtaining a specialty in a specific area of special education.
  • Alternately, the MS is available as an initial program of studies leading to Leading to Behavior Analyst Certification as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), see ABA Program for details.

Doctor of Education 

Instruction and Curriculum Leadership
  • Degree: EdD
  • Leading to Licensure as a Special Educator
  • Leading to Behavior Analyst Certification
  • The Ed.D program offers a specialized set of courses leading to a terminal degree in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership. Those seeking advanced research skills have the option of specializing in Special Education (General Studies) or Applied Behavior Analysis (Initial or Advanced Certification)


Licensure options

Special education encompasses a wide variety of children and thus three licensure programs are available.

  • Special Education Early Childhood (SPED EC) Licensure: This licensure is designed for students interested in teaching infants and young children from birth through age 6. The training emphasizes working specifically with infants, young children, and their families to identify and provide early evidence-based interventions. Programs may be delivered in the children’s homes or in special or integrated preschool environments.

  • Special Education Comprehensive (SPED Comp) Licensure: This licensure is designed for student interested in teaching children whose disabilities are more severe in nature such as moderate/severe intellectual disabilities, ASD, and/ or physical disabilities. The training emphasizes inclusion but also offers courses in general curriculum access, evidence-based instructional strategies for this population, behavior and classroom management, augmented and alternative communication, and medical issues.

  • Special Education and Elementary Education Dual Licensure: This licensure is designed for students interested in teaching children with mild/moderate learning disabilities and/or Emotional Behavioral Disorders (EBD) within the general education setting, as a co-teaching model, or in a resource room setting and will receive dual licenses. At the undergraduate level we offer Elementary Education (K-6) and Special Education Interventionist (K-8) OR Interventionist (6-12) through the TALN undergraduate program. At the graduate level we offer Elementary Education (K-6) and Special Education Interventionist (K-8) OR Interventionist (6-12).

  • ABA Certification: We have a board certified program to become a certified Applied Behavioral Analyst (BCBA) through our ABA program (see ABA program for details).


Research Projects, Grants, Scholarships Service

The faculty of the Special Education Program conducts research initiatives that target community outreach, cutting edge teaching methodologies, and teaching with technology. The faculty averages about eight externally funded grants per year that bring in over $4,500,000. Most of these research endeavors focus on community outreach in areas such as inclusion, positive behavior supports, paraprofessional training, early intervention, literacy, assistive technology, and teacher recruitment/retention. The faculty and graduate assistants involved in these projects are committed to improving the conditions for persons with disabilities and their families in the Mid-South region. There is also a commitment to carry out research and publish the highest quality research. Special Education faculty members are key national contributors in the areas of applied behavior analysis, cultural diversity, video self-modeling, preschool inclusion, teacher recruitment and retention, family involvement. The program faculty members have developed a history of securing external sponsorship to support a variety of significant research agendas that is second to none. Students leaving our doctoral program have filled professorship positions at colleges across the country as well as becoming leaders in the local special education community.

 For more information please contact sped@memphis.edu

Council of Exceptional Children Student Organization

The Council of Exceptional Children is the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving the educational success of individuals with disabilities and/or gifts and talents. CEC advocates for appropriate governmental policies, sets professional standards, provides professional development, advocates for individuals with exceptionalities, and helps professionals obtain conditions and resources necessary for effective professional practice. SCEC is the student chapter of CEC that promotes professional development and advocacy opportunities for pre-service teachers and any stakeholder interested in improving the lives of persons with disabilities.
Advisor: Dr. LaSheba Hilliard
Co-Advisor: Professor Keishana Barnes
More information will occur during Fall 2023


SPED Faculty

Keishana L. Barnes
Assistant Professor of Teaching, Secondary Education
Ed.M. Education, Risk & Prevention, Harvard University

Virtual Office Hours:

Monday, 12:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Appointments can be made by email.

Barnes profile picture

LaSheba W. Hilliard
Assistant Professor of Teaching, Site Coordinator and Residency Supervisor
Doctoral Degree from Grand Canyon University, 2019

Virtual Office Hours:

By Appointment Only

Appointments can be made by email. 

Hilliard photo

William Hunter
Professor, Special Education
EdD, University of Cincinnati

Virtual Office Hours:

Tuesday, 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.

Appointments can be made by email.

Hunter photo

Suman Rath
Assistant Professor of Special Education
PhD, Special Education University of Kansas

Suman Rath