Why Special Educators Leave the Teaching Profession
One of the most common difficulties that school districts face is a dearth of qualified candidates for critical-need teaching positions. STEM and special education educators are frequently included. Special education has the highest rate of turnover and burnout of the two. As a former special education teacher, I thought I’d provide some light on why I believe this occurs based on my own experiences.
Stacks of paperwork
One of the most challenging aspects of being a special education teacher is the mounds of paperwork you must perform in addition to your usual obligations. Many nights and weekends have been spent working on IEPs and other special education-related paperwork and forms. It eventually starts to interfere with your quality of life. This may not be accurate for all special education teachers, but it is a given for those who work in low-income regions.
I had 40 students on my caseload as a special education teacher at one point in my career. I don’t think you realize how challenging it is. Under normal conditions, 10-15 pounds is considered a hefty load, yet I had 40. Just try to wrap your head around that. Oh, and if you fail to complete the paperwork correctly, you may violate the state and federal statutes that comprise IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Yes, and your principal still expects you to fulfill “other duties as allocated.”
Concerns about safety
I worked with students who had mild to moderate disabilities, many of whom had behavioral issues. Although this never occurred to me, I have seen instructors being bitten, pushed, slapped, punched, and kicked by their students. I’ve also watched students verbally and emotionally abuse their teachers, often reducing them to tears. This may appear to you to be a living hell, but it is a reality for many K-12 special education professionals.
To add insult to injury, you know it’s to be expected. These students’ acts are an expression of their condition because they have been identified with a behavioral disability. As a result, they cannot be held to the same standards as a regular education student. They can assault you one day and then return to your class the next, all while smiling.
Pay is low.
Despite all of your hard work as a special educator, when you receive your cheque at the end of the pay period, you discover that you are not being paid a living wage. How is this possible since none of the other professions would exist without educators? We’ve all heard the harrowing tales. Educators who work two or three jobs simply to make ends meet, or who must seek public assistance or visit a food pantry to survive. What a depressing observation, yet it is true.
Did we leave anything out? Why do you believe special educators are leaving the classroom?