Academic journal article Education

The Implications of Demographic Variables as Related to Burnout among a Sample of Special Education Teachers

Academic journal article Education

The Implications of Demographic Variables as Related to Burnout among a Sample of Special Education Teachers

Article excerpt


Attrition rates of special education (SpEd) teachers in the United States have historically been high. Plash and Piotrowski (2006) wrote that attrition rates among SpEd teachers were 13% annually. The 2013 listing of teacher shortages published by the United States Department of Education evidenced that since 1990, SpEd has been identified as a critical shortage area in the state of Alabama and in most other states as well. High attrition rates of SpEd teachers make it difficult to provide qualified teachers to teach special needs students. Many school systems are forced to hire "out of field" in order to fill SpEd teacher positions.

Mitchell and Arnold (2004) wrote that SpEd teachers leave the classroom at approximately twice the rate of their general education (GenEd) colleagues. Hale-Jinks, Knopf, and Kemple (2006) conducted a literature review and found that high levels of job stress have been linked to decreased job satisfaction and job turnover among teachers.

Retaining qualified SpEd teachers in the Nation's schools has been an established problem for decades. Particularly problematic is the fact that SpEd teachers are increasingly reporting perceptions of burnout. The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, released in 2014 included the statement that 51% of teachers surveyed reported feeling under a great deal of stress several days a week.


The Job of the Special Education Teacher

As in other helping professions, the SpEd teacher has hourly contact with special needs students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 6.5 million children and students with disabilities are currently receiving educational and other support services in federally supported programs nationwide. The majority of those individuals are served by public schools.

Although GenEd teachers have various duties associated with their jobs, the SpEd teacher has many more additional duties and responsibilities. In addition to teaching in some type of setting, the SpEd teacher is assigned a caseload. Caseload is generally defined as the number of special needs student files the teacher is responsible for. In other words, the number of Individualized Education Programs (IEP's) the teacher is responsible for writing, maintaining, and implementing. Due to Federal and State mandates and additional paperwork required at the local level, the amount of paperwork a SpEd teacher is tasked with is daunting.

The SpEd teacher must complete all reevaluations, functional behavioral assessments, behavior intervention plans, and IEPs on a computer program. That workload is doubled, because in spite of the argument that technology has streamlined the process, the SpEd teacher must maintain a hardcopy file of the IEP and all supporting documents. Each piece of paper in the student file must be placed in a specific order. The hardcopy files are subject to administrator, school system, or State Department of Education scrutiny at any time. Additionally, the electronic paperwork is subject to scrutiny by the school SpEd department chair, resource consultant, the Special Services Coordinator, and the State Department of Education. Most SpEd teachers agree that the volume and standards for the paperwork are at best, unreasonable, and at times ludicrous. It is common for paperwork to be redundant or unnecessary.

The SpEd teacher is responsible for conducting all meetings pertaining to implementing the IEP and maintaining student files in the manner prescribed by the local school system and State and Federal guidelines. The special educator is charged with teaching the GenEd curriculum to SpEd students in a variety of settings. More often than not, the students have a variety of disabilities. The SpEd teacher has to teach or assist in teaching every subject that a student could possibly take with the expectation that the special needs students will perform on standardized tests at the same proficiency level as their GenEd peers. …

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