Special Education Teacher, A Dying Breed

Special Education Teacher, A Dying Breed

Special Ed is my job,
People think it’s really hard,
To work with kids who throw big fits,
Teaching them to read and sit.
It’s not the kids who make it rough, you see,
It’s scheduling groups from 8-3.
30 minutes, daily, it’s on the IEP,
But not during reading, math or PE.
It’s only the beginning of the year,
But I can’t wait till Christmas is near.
Our consultant said, “It’s the 3rd grade laws and testing I fear,
Making special ed teachers cry this year.”
It’s true, I don’t like to see my 3rd graders fall apart,
Saying, “I don’t get this, I’ll never be smart.”
Yes, that’s one reason, but there are many more,
Hold that thought, my student won’t get off the floor.
Some people complain this kid’s too loud, always fussin’ in a crowd,
What they don’t know is how far he’s come, and that when he’s happy, he’s so much fun!
I have a meeting, I almost forgot, I’d like to teach, but I cannot.
Do I have all the papers that I need? Parent’s rights, IEP, Written Notice, (I need to pee),
Parent survey, oh that’s right, I need to leave those lesson plans I made last night.
Paras made of gold, they are patient, helpful and sometimes bold,
Especially when people’s hearts are cold.
They complain to me about this one’s mother, the teachers, and each other.
How can I deal with all of that, when I need to teach how to spell cat.
In comes the psychologist, more kids need you, I have no control when MEEGs are due.
So I cry about the staff, lack of time, testing and all of that,
But what really bothers me, is that I don’t know,
How to help my students grow.
So I read and learn, more and more each day,
Hoping to finally, find the way,
To help kids read, and make me say,
“Yes! It’s worth it to stay!”

Additional resources on attrition of special education teachers:

The Top 10 Challenges of Special Education Teachers
1. Lack of appreciation
2. Parent support
3. Public support
4. Pape work
5. Scheduling
6. Training and supervising paraprofessionals
7. Collaborating with general education teachers
8. Data collection
9. Evidence of student growth
10. Variability of student’s needs

Caseload in Special Education: An Integration of Research Findings
“Increase in caseloads = increase in meeting times and paperwork demands
Researchers suspect that large caseloads contribute to the high attrition rate among special educators
10% of all special educators left teaching within 6 years”
(Russ, Chiang, Rylance, Bongers, 2001) Retrieved from:

Widespread Attrition for Special Ed Teachers (Retrieved from: http://www.advantagepress.com/newsletters/mar05news.asp)
Reasons for leaving
When special education teachers are asked about why they left or intend to leave they site a variety of reasons. Here are a few:
• Large caseloads
• Burdensome paperwork
• Problems with behavior management
• Lack of administrative support
• Difficulties relating to general education colleagues, and parents.
Often a combination of these factors leads to a final decision not to stay in the field.


4 thoughts on “Special Education Teacher, A Dying Breed

  1. Excitement is pouring out of me
    First day of school! First day of school!
    Do I have everything?
    What if they don’t like me?
    I hope I find a best friend
    I wonder if they will have chicken for lunch
    Ms. T! What a nice name
    I love her already!
    Found my seat
    Gosh I’m excited!
    “Steven?” HERE! I say, jumping out of my chair
    “Oh great.” Her face says it all
    She isn’t happy I’m in her class
    “Why do I always get the IEP kids?”
    IEP? What’s IEP?
    She’s talking slowly now
    “Why…don’t…you…go…see…Ms. Powell…..”
    Why is she talking like that?
    I look at her confused
    She rolls her eyes
    “Can someone walk him down to the special ed room?”
    And so it begins
    Broken from the first day of school
    I’m the special one…
    but not in a good way
    My teachers see me that way
    And so do the students
    I may do things that aren’t “normal”
    But who decides what normal is anyways?
    I’m me
    Too young to hear about the legal paperwork
    Too innocent to be exposed to such serious topics
    Too aware to miss your rude comments
    Too naïve to question those comments
    Too vulnerable to hear you don’t want me
    Too unstable to feel rejection
    Don’t see me as one of “those kids”
    See me as me
    Who needs you

  2. My brother’s academic journey has shown me the many flaws in our education system. My brother was born with Down syndrome. He is caring, funny, and smart. Despite these qualities, my brother was not given the same opportunities as other students growing up in school. Throughout his life many educators dismissed my brother’s academic potential due to his disability, but my family has overcome obstacles to provide him with the education we know he deserves. Having Down syndrome has never defined my brother, or what he can achieve.

    Students with disabilities need strong teachers who are willing to fight for them when no one else will. Everyday I see parents confused about how they can advocate for their special needs student. It’s not that the parents don’t care; they simply don’t know how to help. My brother was lucky because my mom happens to be a special education teacher. As a family we knew how to maneuver the system to help my brother get what he needed to thrive in school.

    The education system is not set up to make life easy on parents or teachers. The day-to-day chaos can make it seem like teaching is impossible. It is important to remember the caring, funny, and smart children that rely on their teacher to help them succeed everyday in school.

  3. Viable Solutions to Reduce Special Education Attrition

    As I review the subject of special education teacher attrition, I am compelled to look for solutions. I love working with special needs children and feel that we need more high-quality teachers in this field. The re-emerging themes seem to be that some teachers have negative attitudes towards our special needs students, and that special education teachers feel overwhelmed.

    Through my experience, and in reviewing the research on special education teacher attrition, the core problems seem to be: increased caseloads, paperwork demands, lack of evidence of student growth and lack of support from others (administration, general education teachers and parents.)

    First, I would like to address lack of appreciation and understanding. I think that understanding and support come naturally from parents, teachers and administration when special education teachers and teams (paras) are seen working in effective ways with IEP students. If others can see the work that we are doing, and can see growth in our students, then they will support and appreciate us. Of course, there are always those who are not able to see past a label to see a child. We all need to work together to increase awareness in our communities.

    Of course, hiring more special education teachers and reducing caseloads for current teachers would go a long way in helping reduce the paperwork load and the overwhelm that teachers feel. But, this paper will focus on very feasible solutions that we can implement now.

    I believe that it is cost effective to hire administrative support staff to assist special education teachers and administrators in reducing the paperwork load. In my district, we have a special education department administrative assistant that is very helpful in scheduling IEPs, delivering and filing IEP files, arranging IEP meetings and helping our administrator with state regulations. I think that we should have more help in this department that can take more paperwork responsibilities off of the special education teachers that are directly responsible for teaching our students. Of course, teachers need to be directly involved in setting and monitoring IEP goals for students, but there are many other, time consuming projects that others could assist with. These could include writing MEEGs and IEPs (except for the goals), archiving, and organizing files. If this solution is not viable, then setting aside certain days to do paperwork could be another solution. This suggestion takes special education teachers away from teaching, but is better than teachers feeling overwhelmed and not able to focus on the demands of effective lesson planning and teaching.

    Assistance with meetings has been very helpful, but meetings are so abundant, and such a disruption, that it would be nice to have set days for meetings. This would allow special education teachers to better plan for their own absence. We could possibly use professional development days for this purpose.

    I believe that if special education teachers had smaller caseloads, or at least, more help with caseload management, then they would spend more time teaching and would have more energy to focus on better teaching practices, collaboration with general education teachers, parent participation and professional development. Less interruptions for meetings would mean increased instructional time. All of these factors could increase student achievement and reduce teacher stress.

    Vannset, et al (2010) states:
    “New studies have indicated that special education teachers spend small amounts of their day in instruction and nearly equal amounts of time completing paperwork and performing support roles (Vannest & Hagan-Burke, in press; Vannest, Hagan-Burke, & Parker, 2006; Vannest, Hagan-Burke, & Parker, 2007; Vannest & Parker, in press). Teacher time use (TTU) is important to schools and policy-makers because of its direct and indirect effects on student achievement (Coates, 2003). Teacher instructional time is directly related to student performance outcomes (Berliner, 1990; Carroll, 1963, 1989; Stallings & Kaskowitz, 1974) and may be even more important to students with disabilities (Harn, Linan-Thompson, & Roberts, 2008).

    Caseload in Special Education: An Integration of Research Findings (Russ, Chiang, Rylance, Bongers,(2001) Retrieved from: http://www.isbe.net/spec-ed/pdfs/work_load_plans.pdf

    The Top 10 Challenges of Special Education Teachers Retrieved from: http://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2012/02/01/the-top-10-challenges-of-special-education-teachers/

    Vannest, K.J., Soares, D.A., Harrison, J.R., Brown, L., & Parker, R.I. (2010). Changing Teacher Time. Preventing School Failure. 54(2), 86-98.

    Widespread Attrition for Special Ed Teachers (Retrieved from: http://www.advantagepress.com/newsletters/mar05news.asp)

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