Experiencing Attrition of Special Education Teachers through Narrative Inquiry

By DeMik, Sheryl A. | High School Journal, October-November 2008 | Go to article overview

Experiencing Attrition of Special Education Teachers through Narrative Inquiry


DeMik, Sheryl A., High School Journal


In the area of special education, there exists a shortage of qualified teachers, partially due to the departure of special education teachers from the field. In this study, the attrition of special education teachers was examined through case studies of current and former special educators using a narrative inquiry style. Study participants offered insight into their role as a special educator. While these special education teachers each displayed passion for their job and the& students, the differences in their personalities drove them toward unique responses to the pressures of the job, causing some to choose to stay in the field and others to leave. They also expressed a need for more cooperation between general educators and themselves.

Introduction

As parents agree to have their child placed into a special education program, they do so with the hope and confidence that a qualified, experienced professional will assist their child. With this comes the assumption that there is a qualified, experienced professional in place. However, in the area of special education, there exists a shortage of qualified teachers. Billingsley (2004a) stated, "One of the most important challenges in the field of special education is developing a qualified workforce and creating work environments that sustain special educators' involvement and commitment" (p.39). Many schools struggle to find and retain qualified personnel to teach their special education population. Experienced, effective special educators are necessary for our special education population to succeed (Billingsley, 2004a).

Literature Review

In special education, there is evidence of a demand imbalance between special education students needing services and trained special education teachers (McLeskey, Tyler, & Flippin, 2004). Numerous studies point to the problem of providing enough qualified teachers for special education classrooms (Kaff, 2004; Miller, Brownell, & Smith, 1999). McLeskey, et al (2004) cite several sources indicating the need for special education teachers. The rate of students with disabilities ages three to twenty-one grew from 5.08 million students (1993) to 6.11 million students (2002), an increase of 20.3% (U.S. Department of Education, 1993; 2002). Yet the increase in special education teachers during this same time was only by 8.0%. The growing population of students with disabilities combined with the much smaller increase in the number of special education teachers is a significant factor for the high demand of qualified teachers. Miller, Brownell, and Smith (1999) found that the increasing enrollment of students with disabilities combined with the shortage of special education teachers is evidence that the number of "well-trained, committed professionals available to provide high quality education to students with disabilities is distressingly insufficient" (p. 202). Having no special education teacher or an unqualified teacher providing instruction for students with special needs is unfair and harmful in its impact on instruction for this unique population of students (Billingsley, 2004b).

In a study investigating reasons why special educators remain in the teaching profession but transfer to general education (Billingsley & Cross, 1991), 1500 special educators were surveyed. The authors found that administrative factors, (e.g., excessive paperwork, disagreement with special education policies/practices, lack of teaching materials and resources, and lack of support from administrative personnel), and stress from the working conditions (such as too much diversity in student needs, too much time with the same students, too many students on a caseload, and lack of student progress) were the primary reasons teachers transferred to general education positions (Billingsley & Cross, 1991). The authors reported that participants felt that the conditions in general education were better than the situation in special education. …

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