How are special education schools retaining highly qualified teachers?

Special educators stay in their positions for more than five years when supported by colleagues and administrators.
Melissa Holler
Melissa Holler
Melissa Holler has been working as a special education school administrator for more than 20 years. Dr. Holler’s passion for education starts with the support of her staff and the desire to ensure that they have what they need to make the biggest impact on students.

Throughout the United States, there is a persistent shortage of special education teachers. As the population of students with special needs continues to increase, the need to recruit and retain highly qualified special education teachers is imperative to the success of these students. School administrators recognize this phenomenon and the need to work collaboratively to resolve the issue.

Delving deeper into differences

Collaborations with special education teachers reveal that there is a significant difference in recruitment within educational environments. Special educators working in separate special education schools perceive that their schools always have difficulty recruiting teachers (69.0%) to a greater degree than those working in public schools (19.0%). All special educators acknowledged that their schools were challenged with retention.

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Special educators working in separate special education schools report higher job satisfaction levels than those working in public schools and this is attributed to administrator support in several areas. Special educators working in separate schools rated their administrator involvement higher, with 68.9% always involved, compared to those working in public schools, with 42.5% always involved.

Their professional development on individual education programs, behaviors, and progress monitoring were better aligned to their work and as a result, they reported these factors had less of a negative impact on their retention than special educators working in public schools.

Implications for special education

Special educators remain in their positions for more than five years when supported by their colleagues and administration. A study conducted by Billingsley (2004) revealed that special education teachers cite four factors that are important to special education teacher retention: responsive induction programs, deliberate role design, positive work conditions, and professional development.

Administrators can learn from these results by creating responsive induction programs and professional development centered around the needs within their particular school setting and services to students with disabilities.

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Special education teachers in private schools and public schools stated that administrators need to value what they do, boost morale when new staff are hired, encourage and motivate the veteran staff members, communicate with teachers, be more present in special education classrooms, and provide support for clerical work that is mandated by the law.

School administrators may be strong at creating a culture for learning and focusing on the academia of their building however they cannot be afraid of special education. Additional training for school administrators in the area of special education could ease some concerns while also providing insight into the needs of their teachers and bridging the communication gap between administrators and special education teachers.

Special education teacher retention has a direct impact on the education and support for students with disabilities (Billingsley & Bettini, 2019; Mrstik et al., 2019; Young, 2018). Special education teacher retention in both public schools and separate schools continues to be a barrier for school administrators and long-term programming.

School administrators and building principals must find a balance between the recruitment of highly qualified special education teachers and the support needed to maintain the longevity of the those teachers for the duration of their careers. When working collaboratively to address the needs of special education teachers, it is possible to create a better sense of understanding and focus on the training and support that one needs.

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