Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

How Can We Prepare and Retain Effective Special Education Teachers?

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

How Can We Prepare and Retain Effective Special Education Teachers?

Article excerpt


The severe shortage of special educators requires innovative solutions. An internship credential program, based on comprehensive collaboration, was designed to recruit and retain special education credential candidates. Recruitment and preparation were successful; however, a survey of graduates indicated that retention in the field of special education was in jeopardy. Follow-up interviews with those who indicated they might leave the profession revealed that, while these teachers feel positive about their students, they are disillusioned with their jobs and, specifically, lack respect and support. Their responses may lead us closer to improving special education teacher retention.


There is a severe special education teacher shortage nationwide, reaching crisis proportions (Miller, Brownell, & Smith, 1999). Critical shortages demand attention to the issues of preparing and retaining qualified special educators. Perhaps the experiences of one University will provide valuable information that can be applied in other places. Our efforts to recruit and prepare special education teachers have been largely successful, however, when we surveyed our graduates about retention, we learned that a high percentage considered leaving the profession.

The purpose of this report is twofold: (1) to present the facets of our program that have been successful in preparing effective special education teachers; and (2) to examine some of the influences that create uncertainty among novice special educators about their commitment to stay in special education. What are the factors that lead to job uncertainty and teacher attrition? If commonalties which cause teachers to question their commitment can be identified, then this information may be utilized to design more effective retention strategies.

Why the Special Education Teacher Shortage?

Since the inception of the Education for all Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142) in1975 and its reauthorization, now titled the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), in 1990 and in 1997, the number of students nationwide receiving special education services has increased continually. In California, between 1993 and 2000, the number of special education students increased 41%. At the same time, the number of qualified special education teachers has decreased. Since 1989, there has been a 209% increase in the number of personnel teaching in California without the appropriate credentials. It is believed that one third of the State's approximately 30,000 special education teachers work on either emergency credentials or as long term substitutes (California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, 1997; California Department of Education, 2000). Informal conversations with teacher educators in other states indicate similar problems. Another factor contributing to the special education teacher shortage relates to the completion of university credential programs. The rapidly increasing special education student population has not been matched by comparable completion of special education teacher training programs (CTC, 1994; Special Edge, 1993; Miller, Brownell, & Smith, 1999.)

Teacher vacancies are three times greater in central cities than in suburban or rural districts and, due to poor retention, some urban classrooms are staffed with many different teachers in the same school year (Special Education Report, 1994,). Over 37% of urban schools in CA have more than 20% uncredentialed teachers in their classrooms (Center for Future Teaching and Learning, 1999). Compounding this is the fact that most new special education job openings are in inner city schools and inner city teachers are the most likely to consider leaving teaching (Boe, Bobbitt, & Cook, 1997). Darling-Hammond reports that 30% of new inner city teachers leave their jobs in the first five years (1999) and Doorlag (1993) reports a 20-24% annual attrition rate of special education teachers. …

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