Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Supporting Professionals-at-Risk: Evaluating Interventions to Reduce Burnout and Improve Retention of Special Educators

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Supporting Professionals-at-Risk: Evaluating Interventions to Reduce Burnout and Improve Retention of Special Educators

Article excerpt

Critical staff shortages in special education are forcing increased attention to the issues of recruitment and retention of qualified special education teaching staff. A growing sense of urgency surrounds these issues, and as the shortages become increasingly chronic and severe, they are creating a condition of crisis nationally (National Association of State Directors of Special Education, [NASDSE], 1990). Declining enrollments in special education teacher preparation programs compose one facet of the problem by reducing the available supply of new teachers. The 37% reduction in special education graduates between 1984 and 1988 (NASDSE) is one of several alarming indicators of current and future impairments of schools' abilities to provide quality services to students with disabilities. Another indicator is the high number of special educators who are emergency certified. Up to 30% of special educators, compared to 10% of general educators, are on emergency certification (Schrag, 1990). As a result, a host of teachers come to the job lacking the training required to adequately prepare and equip them for the challenges they will encounter.

At the same time as the supply of qualified personnel has been shrinking, the demand for special education teachers and other related service providers has been growing (National Clearinghouse for Professions in Special Education, 1992; U.S. Department of Education, 1992). The population of school-aged children is increasing, and in particular, the population of children and youth who require special education services is on the rise due to a variety of medical, social, and economic trends. That is, more and more children from a widening diversity of cultural backgrounds are born into poverty, suffer abuse and neglect, are born to teenage or drug dependent mothers, survive severe accidents, and become infected with AIDS or HIV (Hodgkinson, 1992; Schrag, 1990).

Staff shortages currently exist for both special education teachers and related service providers (The Council for Exceptional Children, 1994). At first glance, it can be tempting to attribute the problem to an inadequate supply of professionals, addressable by greater recruitment efforts. However, as was pointed out as early as 1983, the more critical problem appears rather to be one of retention:

To understand the difficulties schools now have

in recruiting and selecting academically able

people to teach, one must understand that

schools are not organized to retain the services of

these people after they are recruited .... To concern

ourselves with recruiting and selecting

high-ability people for schools without first

making schools more attractive to these people is

likely to be dysfunctional. (Schlechty & Vance,

1983, pp. 477-478)

The national context of shrinking supply and growing demand for special educators both contributes to and is affected by the high rate of attrition among this group of professionals. Special educators have been and continue to be at higher risk of leaving the field than are their general education counterparts (Boe, Bobbitt, & Cook, 1993). Whereas some amount of turnover in any field is to be expected, annual turnover rates among special educators have reached excessive proportions - as high as 30% in certain urban locations (Federal Register, May 6, 1991, p. 21226).

In response to the growing awareness and concern about retention issues, researchers have conducted studies and literature reviews in recent years to help shed light on the factors that both contribute to and inhibit the retention of special education professionals (e.g., Banks & Necco, 1990; Billingsley, 1993; Billingsley & Cross, 1991; Brownell & Smith, 1992; Singer, J. D., 1993). Moreover, in 1991 the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs funded three large-scale projects (Cegelka & Doorlag, 1991; Morvant & Gersten, 1991; Pyecha & Billingsley, 1991) to collect data on factors associated with attrition and retention in urban areas, and then to use those data to begin the process of strategic planning to improve staff retention in high-risk areas. …

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