Teacher Retention in Special Education

Teacher Retention in Special Education

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Background of Issue

The central challenge in the field of special education is coming up with a work force that is qualified and establishing work environments that sustain the involvement of special educators and their commitment. For numerous years, the demand and supply of special teachers and educators has been of central concern to many stakeholders and especially, policymakers. The field of special education has insufficient supply of current and new educators, in addition to, qualified educators who are currently available to fill in the vacancies. For instance, numerous administrators indicate that a shortage of qualified educators is the main barrier to getting special education tutors. Current data indicate that there has been a regular development over years was the demand of special education tutors has exceeded their supply. As it follows, there has been a distinctive increasing tendency in the number of tutors required over time to replace unqualified professionals and fill vacancies (Sindelar, Shearer, Yendol-Hoppey & Liebert, 2006).

A number of researchers estimate that about 10 percent of the current special education teachers are not fully certified or qualified for their jobs and positions. However, these statistics, though crucial, may not fully show the level to which the teacher shortage issue is affecting education. For instance, school districts might be forced to decrease and limit services to disabled children or in rise limits to the size of the class. The special educator shortage problems have critical implications for students with different kinds of disabilities, especially when educators with inadequate qualifications and preparation teach them. Numerous studies point out that this can result to a number of crucial consequences, including insufficient educational experiences for the learners, decreased levels of student achievement and inadequate competence of resulting graduates in the work place (Boe, Cook & Sunderland, 2006).

Although the causes of the special education teacher shortage are varied and complex, the retention of educators has been identified as the most crucial part of solving the issue. This is because shortage issues will not be addressed by recruiting thousands of new educators into the teaching profession if they end up leaving after a few years (Nance & Calabrese, 2009). It is also crucial to become familiar with the number of tutors leaving and the reasons as to why they leave. However, before figuring this out, the key issue to answering this question is solving and understanding teacher attrition. Clearly, educator attrition is a key contributor to the shortage of tutors in special education. Appreciating the levels at which educators, leave is essential, as most educators are employed or hired to replace those who decide to leave rather than to meet the increasing needs of an expanding enrolment, or new programs or smaller class sizes. As it follows, efforts committed to dealing with attrition should put more focus on understanding the factor or elements that contribute to the decisions special educators make to leave the special education field (Futernick, 2007).

Identification of the Problem

Attracting and retaining special education educators who are qualified is a challenge. The quality of educators in special education is mainly threatened by the lack of qualified professionals, the reaction of educators to their environment of work and personal elements such as lack of or diminished interest because of unknown reasons or stress. Special educators, the most crucial recruits in public schools currently, work hard daily to deliver on the promises of the IDEA, individuals with disabilities education act, however, complexities of the environment they work in and their profession conspire to convince them to leave their work. A study carried out recently found that more than 28 percent of the special educator participants were undecided about whether they were going to remain in the field or wanted to stay only for a short term up to when something more interesting crops up (Guarino, Santibanez & Daley, 2006).

The study cited different factors such as unmanageable workloads, teaching children from more than four disability groups and interference of paperwork with work as some of the main reasons as to why special education tutors intended to leave their profession as soon as they could. Other reasons given included minimal opportunities for professional development, unsupportive school environments, non- certification or license status, administrative burdens related to IDEA, caseloads with more than one area of disability and role dissonance and conflict (Nance & Calabrese, 2009). The study noted that 6 percent of all educators in special education leave their profession each year with other five percent of educators in special education leaving for another field in teaching (Guarino, Santibanez & Daley, 2006).

As it follows, administrators face a serious shortage of licensed and qualified special education tutors, in an era of increasing accountability for all tutors to be highly qualified and for all learners to make enough annual progress. Yet, never was the effectiveness of an educator in special education more significant than in the current educational field (Sindelar, Shearer, Yendol-Hoppey & Liebert, 2006).

Purpose of the Study

The intention of this research essay is to draw attention to and discuss the reasons former or current tenured educators in special education leave or remain in their special education professionals. The paper will do so by highlighting the importance of highly qualified tutors in special education and their influence on high levels of academic success by students. In addition to this, the essay will also share the reasons why teachers in special education decide to leave their positions for other professions. Furthermore, the article will show how administrators and policy makers can support tutors in special education and convince them to stay in their profession.

Research Questions

To realize the intention of the essay, the article will base its research on three main questions. These questions will help in answering questions that can be used to solve the issue of teacher retention. The questions include the following.

Are special education tutors candidates the right fit for the job?

What are some of the internal elements that lead to retention of teachers in the special education field?

What are some of the external factors that might lead to educator retention in the profession of special education?

What can be done to improve educator retention in the profession of special education?


In order for the paper to work out these questions and come up with conclusive answers, it will have to base its research on one hypothesis. The hypothesis is as follows: Providing special education educators with support, training, personal enrichment and conducive work environment and conditions will increase the chances of administrators retaining more educators while decreasing teacher shortage in the profession of special education.


For this article, electronic databases like Google Scholar, ERIC and Psychological Abstracts, among others, were searched using search terms such as retention of special education educators, teacher retention, special education attrition, turnover, retention and transfer. Studies prior to 2006 were not considered or included since they represent information derived and applicable to older education systems. Since the study required information and data pertaining the current special education profession and issues affecting it, it was found better to focus on studies and surveys carried out and published in the past five years.

The reference page summarizes five research- based articles and studies in scholarly journals that meet the previously described criteria. A number of research presentations and reports and their findings are also included in this research paper as the results and findings from several key funded projects are not present as journal articles. Reports consisting mainly of tables, charts and diagrams with minimal or limited narrative discussion were not included. In addition to this, research papers directed mainly at personnel demand and supply, job satisfaction, rates of attrition, burnout, stress and general education attrition were included and used only to give context for the results and findings of this research paper. Furthermore, dissertations and books were not included in the report.

Findings/ Results

The literature review provided essential results, which pointed to a number of factors that affect teacher retention in special education. The review provides a description of a broad range of elements that influence the career decisions of most special educators. The review also provides a wide range of influences on the career decisions of special education teachers including employment factors, external factors and personal factors. Some of the external factors identified include societal, economic and institutional, are external to the employing district and teacher, and have an indirect impact on the career decisions of special education educators. The center of this model emphasizes on employment factors such as work conditions, professional qualifications, rewards and commitment to district, school, teaching profession and field. The review indicates that when work conditions and professional qualifications (internal factors) are not as favorable, educators are likely to experience less rewards, and, therefore, decreased commitment. Whether educators actually leave, depends on a number of social, personal and economic factors.

Application of Results

Generally, this research found that a broad range of elements influences educator retention in special education including priorities and personal circumstances of teachers. Most of retention surveys emphasize more in problematic work conditions and environment variable and their connection to retention. Work environment elements like poor climate, role issues and lack of support from the administration can result to negative affective responses like increased stress levels, as well as, low levels of satisfaction with job and low commitment. These negative responses can also result to withdrawal and eventually attrition. Moreover, teacher qualifications variables and characteristics associated with attrition also influence retention.

The findings of this survey have noteworthy implications, mainly for administrators and policy makers. For instance, those administrators and policy makers interested in decreasing rates of attrition, increasing special educator retention must enhance the creation of improved work environments for educators in special education, solving issues like teacher role overload, and the need for crucial support systems must be addressed to make sure that tutors can be efficient and effective at their jobs. This is not to mean that solving one or two issues affecting the lives of teachers and their work will be sufficient to significantly increase retention. A holistic review at establishing positive work conditions and environments should not only increase retention, but also help sustain the involvement and commitment of educators of special educators in their fields of work.


Boe, E., Cook, H. & Sunderland, J. (2006). Attrition of beginning teachers: Does teacher preparation matter? (Report No. 2006-TSDQ2): Center for Research and Evaluation in Social Policy. Philadelphia, PA: Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania.

Futernick, K. (2007). A possible dream: retaining California’s special education teachers. The Special Edge 19 (3).

Guarino, M., Santibanez, L. & Daley, A. (2006). Teacher recruitment and retention: A review of the recent empirical literature. Review of Educational Research, 76 (2), 173-208.

Nance, E. & Calabrese, L. (2009). Special education teacher retention and attrition: the impact of increased legal requirements. International Journal of Educational Management, 23 (5), 431 – 440.

Sindelar, T., Shearer, K., Yendol-Hoppey, D. & Liebert, W. (2006). The sustainability of inclusive school reform. Exceptional Children, 72(3), 317-331.

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