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.
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%-16.3% versus 8%-14.1%) (Lauritzen & Friedman, 1991). Attrition for teachers on emergency licenses for ED/BD was even higher; much of this attrition was attributed to individuals who transferred to general education teaching positions as soon as they were certified (Lauritzen & Friedman, 1991).
Studies since the early 1990s have examined the factors that contribute to attrition and retention of special education teachers (Billingsley, 2004). While experience, age, and certification appear to be linked to special education teacher attrition, the impact of other personal factors, teacher qualifications, and aspects of work environment is less clear (Billingsley, 2004). Teachers' personal responses to the work environment, however, clearly do influence their attrition and intent to leave the field. For example, the largest portion of teachers who left special education reported dissatisfaction with their teaching positions-they felt unsupported, unprepared, overwhelmed by student needs or job responsibilities, disempowered, or all of these (Brownell, Smith, McNeIMs, & Miller, 1997). …