Academic journal article Behavioral Disorders

Teachers of Children with Emotional Disturbance: A National Look at Preparation, Teaching Conditions, and Practices

Academic journal article Behavioral Disorders

Teachers of Children with Emotional Disturbance: A National Look at Preparation, Teaching Conditions, and Practices

Article excerpt


Maintaining an adequate supply of qualified special education personnel is a major challenge. In particular, serious shortages of teachers of children with emotional disturbance (ED) jeopardize delivery of appropriate special education and services to this population. This article reports data from the national Study of Personnel Needs in Special Education on the quality of personnel who teach children with ED. Teachers of children with ED are compared with other special education teachers in terms of experience, working conditions, credentials, preservice preparation, instructional skill, and future plans. Teachers of children with ED are less experienced and worked in more restrictive settings than their special education teacher colleagues. They were less credentialed and more likely to have been credentialed via alternate certification programs. Teachers of children with ED judged themselves to be more skilled in assessing and addressing behavior but less skilled in other instructional tasks.

Teachers of children and youth with emotional disturbance (ED)1 face enormous instructional and management challenges. They are among the most likely to leave the field. Workforce quality and quantity may be influenced by factors including state and local policies, working conditions, preservice education, and continuing professional development (Carlson, Lee, Schroll, Klein, & Willig, 2002). It appears that a confluence of these factors has resulted in a serious shortage of qualified ED personnel. Demand for teachers of children with ED greatly outweighs the supply, a problem due partly to high teacher attrition and partly to inadequate production of new teachers. A brief review of literature reveals much about the nature of the teacher shortage in special education, though relatively little is known about the specific factors affecting the recruitment and retention of teachers of children with ED or about their working conditions.

Teacher Shortage

The shortage of special education teachers, especially teachers of students with ED, is well documented, both at the national and state levels. Nationally, 98% of school districts report shortages of qualified special education teachers (Bergert & Burnette, 2001). Nearly 33,000 special education positions are filled by teachers who are not fully certified, and 4,000 positions remain vacant (U.S. Department of Education, OSEP, 2000). The American Association for Employment in Education (2001) cites special education and behavioral disorders as the teaching areas with the highest demand in the United States. Prior to 1996-1997-when collection of federal data on shortages and full certification of teachers of students with ED was discontinued-the teacher shortage in the area of emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) nationally was particularly significant compared with other areas (Katsiyannis, Zhang, & Conroy, 2003). State reports confirm that in Wisconsin, the greatest shortage and the largest number of teachers employed on emergency licenses were in the area of ED (Lauritzen, 1999). Similarly, in Texas, most newly hired teachers on probationary certifications were in the area of secondary special education. Twenty-nine percent of new secondary special education teachers were hired with probationary certificates, more than twice the average rate (14%) of all teachers hired (Sparks, 2004).


One factor that contributes to shortages of special education teachers is attrition, or those persons who leave the field of special education. State data again confirm the seriousness of the problem. One statewide study found a 13% annual attrition rate for teachers of children with EBD (Seery, 1990, cited in Center & Stevenson, 2001). The Texas State Board for Educator Certification (1998) found that half of novice teachers left teaching within five years. In every case, data from Kansas, Michigan, and Wisconsin indicate the attrition rate for teachers of children identified as ED/BD was higher than that for total special education teachers (range: 10%-16. …

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