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Why Educators Leave the Special Education Profession

Why do educators leave the special education profession? What can be done to recruit and retain educators in special education?

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* I am an educator with a Masters degree who left special education after 8 years. I can give you first hand testimony as to why educators leave the special education profession.

* I started working in a Behavioral and Emotionally Disturbed Classroom in 1989. I had a teaching assistant, and together we worked as a team to teach the children as individually as we could. We split students into small groups and I observed my assistant as she taught one group, while I taught another. The school psychologist and social worker held group counseling sessions in our classroom once a week, or more if we needed it. We had a very specific classroom behavior management plan that helped students to overcome behavioral and emotional issues. We really believed that the behaviors needed to be addressed first as a priority, and then after a resolution students could focus on learning. This system worked well until changes started coming down the pipe from above.

* Over the years there were changes in the way we wrote our I.E.P.s or Individual Education Plans. There were items added to the I.E. P. process and items taken away. Constant changes meant constant training. They would pay for our training, but it was becoming too often for too many.

* There were also the socio-political changes, and one example was integration. Many classrooms that needed to be a bit more secluded, like ours, got jammed into a chaotic regular division hallway where there was no way to provide transition for our behaviorally and emotionally disturbed students. This new order came out of the idea that SPED students were segregated into hallways by themselves, and that they needed to be included with regular division students. Here was yet another movement in education that deeply affected SPED. When we, as a BED classroom, asked for some leeway with regard to this new idea, we were told it was the new policy and there was no room for compromise.
* Many changes that were not good were forced into existence as a result of trying to fix a bigger and much more General problem. The reason this doesn't work is because Special Education serves the individual and not the general population. This is simply by virtue of what SPED is, which is an individualized education plan. So, big and general solutions may help some, but may also do damage to many others at the same time.
* It was frustrating on a daily basis to see children's interests ignored so adults could feel better about what they were doing, even if it really wasn't helping anyone. It was what was politically correct at the time! There were so many frustrations like this. There were teaching assistants who would come to work late, who would refuse to go to P.E. or other activities with the students (even though it was written in their IEP), and who would either do only ...

Solution Summary

Over the years there were changes in the profession withOUT meaning. There were also the socio-political changes that were based on someone else's agenda. Many changes that were not good were forced into existence as a result of trying to fix a bigger and much more general problem. This doesn't work with Special Education because it serves the individual and not the general population. It was frustrating on a daily basis to see children's interests ignored so adults could feel better about what they were doing. There were many times we had no administrative support, or administrators had no idea what all was involved with regard to teaching speical education. Greatly reduced resources negatively affected everything I did. Lack of financial support was the demise of my BED program. The district wanted me to meet all of the children's needs with no resources. Another source of stress for special education teachers can be overwhelming student needs. Many children with disabilities have social and emotional needs that go beyond their educational difficulties. Teaching these children can be highly demanding, both physically and mentally. It is not surprising that one of the highest attrition rates is for teachers of children with emotional and behavioral disorders. Some states have implemented programs designed to help retain special educators.

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