Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Working Conditions and Induction Support of Early Career Special Educators

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Working Conditions and Induction Support of Early Career Special Educators

Article excerpt

Careful attention to the working conditions and the induction of early career special educators is needed if we are to build a committed and qualified teaching force. Recent reports have documented increasing special education teacher shortages and high attrition rates (McLeskey, Tyler, & Saunders, 2002), as well as a high proportion of uncertified beginning special educators entering teaching (Billingsley, 2002a). Although many certified beginning teachers leave, a higher percentage of these uncertified teachers leave (Miller, Brownell, & Smith, 1999; Singer, 1992). This suggests the need to focus attention on retention, particularly during the early years. As Ingersoll (2001) suggests, the teacher shortage will not be solved by recruiting thousands of new people into teaching if they leave after a few short years.

Various reasons have been posited about the high rates of attrition among beginning teachers, including personal reasons (e.g., childrearing), other opportunities, and dissatisfaction with teaching. Grissmer and Kirby (1987) suggest that younger teachers have fewer debts and are less invested in their work and the community, which makes it easier to depart. Others suggest that many beginners leave because of the frustrations and initial difficulties that they experience (Grissmer & Kirby; Singer). In a review of literature on attrition, mentoring, and induction, Gold (1996) reports that many teachers do not receive the intrinsic rewards of teaching that they expected early in their careers. This dissatisfaction leads to disillusionment, burnout, and finally, attrition.

Providing responsive support systems during the beginning years will not only reduce teacher attrition, but also help improve the quality of services that students receive. Murnane, Singer, and Willett (1989) suggest that teachers make marked gains in effectiveness during the first teaching years; therefore, "reducing the frequency with which children are taught by a successive stream of novice teachers" (p. 343) is important to improving educational quality.


Understanding what beginning teachers experience is important to creating environments in which they can be supported and nurtured. A large body of literature spanning several decades addresses the needs and experiences of beginning general educators (Fuller, 1969; Gold, 1996; Weinstein, 1988). Beginning teachers experience a "survival" stage, in which they focus on being liked by students, being in control of the classroom, and being evaluated (Fuller). These teachers often underestimate the time that teaching tasks require, overestimate their abilities (Weinstein), and hold unrealistic expectations (Gold). Beginning teachers also struggle with a range of issues, such as problems with student behavior and discipline, difficulty working with parents, insufficient support, and apathy from colleagues (Gold; Veenman, 1984).

Although the beginning teaching years are often difficult, these teachers are often given the most challenging assignments and the least desirable courses and classrooms (Feiman-Nemser, 2003). The challenges of the first teaching years, coupled with difficult assignments and inadequate supports, contribute to high levels of teacher attrition and migration in the beginning years (Darling-Hammond, 2003; Gold, 1996; Grissmer & Kirby, 1987; Odell & Ferraro, 1992).

Induction programs are built around the premise that regardless of how well teachers are prepared, beginning teachers need support to learn to teach. Goals for induction programs should go beyond short-term support to help new teachers survive during the first year (Feiman-Nemser, 2003). Induction support should be multifaceted and involve a range of goals, including (a) facilitating teacher learning, growth, and student achievement; (b) reducing the stress that many beginning teachers experience; and (c) improving retention (Feiman-Nemser; Gold, 1996). …

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