Special education teachers have a higher rate of burnout than is found in most other professions. The burnout rate is the result of a number of issues that often culminate in these teachers leaving their jobs. It is estimated that 75 percent of those who teach special needs students will leave their job within 10 years of starting. The result of this turnover rate is a shortage of special education teachers and a lack of quality programs for the students they serve. While a special education teacher may start their career with the intention of helping students with disabilities become productive members of society, they face several challenges that make the task extremely difficult. The challenges of the special education teacher include:
1. The Widespread Misperception That Teaching is Easy
Teaching is a uniquely difficult job, one that comes with a set of huge responsibilities; however, many people fail to recognize the teacher’s role. The various disabilities of the students with whom special education teachers work multiplies the job’s difficulty. Special education teachers are largely unrecognized and unsupported by the public.
2. Non-Instructional Responsibilities
Many teachers are trained and willing to teach but find themselves burdened with responsibilities that remove them from the classroom. Special education teachers often find themselves being required to go to meetings, conducting assessments and dealing with loads of paperwork.
3. Lack of Support
At a time when many large school districts are experiencing high levels of growth, special education teachers are being asked to do more with less. Salaries are being cut in many districts, and there is often very little in the way of technical assistance provided by school administrations.
4. Dealing With Multiple Disabilities
A special education teacher’s classes may have students with various disabilities. Since each student is a unique case, the teacher must modify their lessons to suit each student with disabilities by providing individualized education programs.
5. Handling Death
Among students in a special education classroom, there are often some with severe chronic illnesses that may result in death. Handling this is a challenge to which special education teachers will have to adapt.
6. Handling the Problems of an Inclusive Classroom
The concept of having classrooms that contain both special needs students and students who are developing typically is becoming a popular one. This type of education poses new challenges for a special education teacher. For example, many students who have no disabilities are unaccustomed to dealing with those who do. Teachers in these classes are charged with eliminating cruelty and insensitivity from among their students and ensuring that those with special needs are treated with respect.
7. Professional Isolation
The nature of a special education teacher’s work is very different from that of traditional teachers; the result of this is that standard classroom teachers may not view them as colleagues. There may be a professional stigma attached to the work of teaching “slow” students. Special education teachers often work with smaller groups and may focus on skills rather than content, thereby leading to the perception that their work is easier or less important.
8. Lack of Support From Parents
Some parents of special needs children are disinterested in the welfare of their children and fail to provide them with adequate care. Alternatively, they may be overly protective. Both can be problematic for the child and for their teacher. Disinterested parents may have no involvement with their child’s education or interaction with their teachers, whereas overprotective parents may have unrealistic expectations from the child and the child’s teachers. Both attitudes can shape children in negative ways. Parental disinterest may make special needs students less motivated and parents who are overprotective often diminish their child’s confidence and make it harder for them to learn.
9. The Difficulty of Discipline in a Special Needs Classroom
Children with disabilities may have behavioral issues including restlessness and moodiness. They may also exhibit problems like a short attention span or an inability to understand what is being taught. Special education teachers have to learn how to deal with these problems as well as how to take appropriate disciplinary measures.
10. Budget Problems
Across the nation, special education programs are facing increasing enrollment and decreasing budgets. The result is that there are fewer teacher assistants available, which results in a greater workload for special education teachers. They may also face shortages of essential resources and equipment for delivering effective lessons.
Any one of these challenges would make the work of a special education teacher incredibly difficult; as a group, they turn the job into a set of arduous tasks. Unfortunately, the result of the pressures placed on teachers is that the students suffer. Anyone seeking to go into this area of teaching should be aware of what they will face and have the mental and emotional fortitude to overcome the challenges in order to improve the prospects of their students.
As with any job, there are always challenges. To be better equipped for the challenges that you may face as a special education educator, check out our list of bachelor’s or master’s special education degrees