Special education teachers may be going onto the endangered list. Their numbers have declined more than 17 percent in the decade leading to 2016. Why? There are many factors, but all have aligned to limit a special education teacher’s time in the classroom -- the sole reason many got into teaching in the first place.
A special education teacher’s job can be filled with struggles resulting in Eiffel Tower-high stress, burn-out and an eventually departure from the teaching profession. This is not good for the students who need them.
Factors in their departure
Here are the common factors that have led to so many special education teachers to throw up their hands in frustration and leave the profession:
- Lack of support from principals and administration
- Difficulty balancing competing priorities from various supervisors
- Ignorance and disrespect of the job from teaching peers
- A workload that limits their time in the classroom
- Lack of understanding of the job by teachers, administration, parents
- Difficult parents
- A nearly non-existent work-life balance
Special person for special education
It takes a special person to be a special education teacher. They must be caring, compassionate, patient, knowledgeable and tenacious when working with students who have various disabilities including autism, Down syndrome and emotional disturbances.
A special education teacher has a variety of responsibilities including helping students off the bus, guiding after-school groups and completing mountains of paperwork, which often is more time-consuming than classroom work. Typically, they spend about one-third of their time teaching, and the rest of their time devoted to administrative and supervisory tasks.
Working after hours not uncommon
For example, special education teachers must write Individual Education Program (IEP) reports for each of their students, plan meetings, check schedules, finalize and send out reports, and arrange testing accommodations. Working through prep-time, lunchtime and after hours is not uncommon for a special education teacher. Eventually, it becomes all too much for some.
With fewer special education teachers, the student-to-teacher ratio has climbed to 17 students per teacher in 2016 from 14 students per teacher in 2006. This job will never be easy.
That’s why some school districts are seeking solutions such as introducing mentorship programs to help early-career special educators, and making special efforts to connect special educators with other teachers in the school. Every little bit can help.