- Though special education teachers are leaving the classroom at higher rates than their general education peers, the problem extends beyond inherent challenges like the wide variety of student challenges, parental issues and crushing amounts of paperwork, Education Week reports.
- Lack of support from principals, unclear and conflicting priorities from supervisors, a heavy workload, and lack of understanding and respect from peers have contributed to a decline of more than 17% between 2006 and 2016, with rural areas, urban areas and schools for students with severe disabilities seeing the largest shortages.
- District and school leaders can help address the issue through mentorship programs, especially of early-career special education teachers and by making a greater effort to support special education teachers and encourage connections with general education peers.
According to the Education Week Research Center, in 2016 2016, there were about 348,000 special education teachers for 5.9 million students ages 6-21 with disabilities in the United States.
While increased pay is always an incentive to recruit and retain great teachers in a competitive market, fewer than 6% of teachers mentioned salary, benefits, remote locations, or paperwork as reasons they planned to leave the field, according to "Issues in Special Education Teacher Recruitment, Retention, and Professional Development: Considerations in Supporting Rural Teachers." Dr. Nathan Jones, a specialist in the implementation of education policy, has studied the issue of retention of special education teachers and offered, in the journal “Exceptional Children," the following observation: “For special education teachers in particular, perception of colleague support was a strong predictor of retention plans.”
Jones and his research colleagues recommended that schools improve relationships within the school setting as a way to increase retention. “There is increasing evidence that for beginning teachers,” Jones said, “the quality of one’s relationship with the principal is a key factor in making plans to stay in teaching.”
Jones also recommends that schools give special ed teachers a customized induction, spelling out clearly the curricular expectations, increase mentorship of new teachers and strengthen the relationships between special and general education faculty.
With the reduction of available teachers, schools also need to look at aggressive recruitment of special education teachers and the development of “grow your own” special education programs. Administrators also need to understand the special challenges of the profession. Additional support for special education teachers in the form of trained paraprofessionals may also help relieve the stress of the situation and allow special education teachers to spend less time on paperwork and attending to personal needs of students and more time on teaching.