Special Education Teacher Shortage: 10 Things You Can Do to Address The Crisis

As all special education directors are painfully aware, the United States has an epidemic-level special education teacher shortage. Without quality teachers available to nurture and educate our most vulnerable students, the entire educational enterprise breaks down. 

There are numerous reasons for this state of affairs such as inadequate resources and funding, high workload and stress, lack of competitive compensation. Some of these are systemic but others can be addressed at a school or district level by special education directors. 

In this article, we’ll address one often overlooked driver for endemic staff shortages in the area – namely special education teacher burnout. We’ll go over 10 strategies that can help you create a safe and empowering environment for educators in the classroom and reduce turnover rates among special education teachers. 

Special education teacher burnout: The invisible cause for educator shortages

As the statistics above demonstrate, there are many factors outside the control of directors when it comes to the special education teacher shortage in the country. For one, they can hardly control the number of applications and candidates that walk through their doors. That being said, there is still much you can do as a special education director to retain the high quality and devoted educators currently under your leadership.

“As I speak with special education directors around the country at conferences and various events, I always get the sense that these leaders feel completely powerless to impact the number of quality special educators in their district.” Dr Hulett – a special education expert with over 20 years of experience – remarks. 

Contrary to the feeling of powerlessness that’s permeating schools and districts, Dr Hulett claims special education directors can play a critical role in addressing staff shortages. 

By alleviating special education teacher burnout, directors can meaningfully reduce special education turnover rates and increase teacher wellbeing. Here are 10 strategies to achieve this. 

Addressing Special Education Teacher Burnout

Learn about burnout: what it is, what causes it, and what its impact is on teachers, as well as how to detect it early.

A male teacher presses his hands against his face in anger while experiencing burnout.

10 Strategies to address special education teacher burnout and high turnover rates 

1. Foster supportive and collaborative work environments 

Create a positive and inclusive work environment where special education teachers feel supported, valued, and respected. Encourage collaboration, teamwork, and regular communication among staff members.

2. Adequate staffing and resources 

Ensure that special education departments have appropriate staffing levels to manage caseloads effectively. Advocate for sufficient resources, including instructional materials, technology, and support staff, to meet the diverse needs of students with disabilities.

3. Professional development and training 

Provide ongoing professional development and training opportunities that address the unique challenges and needs of special education teachers. Offer workshops, conferences, or seminars focused on topics such as self-care, stress management, effective instructional strategies, and behavior management techniques.

4. Workload management

Regularly assess and monitor the workload of special education teachers to prevent overwhelming work demands. Support workload management by reviewing paperwork requirements, providing administrative assistance, and promoting time management strategies.

5. Collaboration with parents and families

Foster strong partnerships with parents and families of students with disabilities. Effective collaboration can help reduce the burden on special education teachers by sharing responsibilities, gaining insights into students’ needs, and working together to develop appropriate interventions and supports.

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6. Access to supportive services

Ensure that special education teachers have access to supportive services such as counseling or employee assistance programs (EAPs). These services can provide mental health support, counseling, or stress management resources for teachers experiencing burnout or high levels of stress.

7. Recognition and appreciation

Regularly recognize and appreciate the hard work and dedication of special education teachers. Celebrate their successes, acknowledge their contributions, and provide positive feedback to boost morale and motivation.

8. Transparent communication

Maintain open and transparent communication channels with special education teachers. Ensure that they have access to important information, updates, and changes related to policies, procedures, and student support services.

9. Encourage self-care and wellness

Promote self-care and wellness practices among special education teachers. Educate them on the importance of self-care and provide resources, such as workshops, wellness programs, or access to wellness apps, to support their well-being.

10. Advocate for policy and system improvements

As leaders, special education directors and superintendents can advocate for policy changes and system improvements that positively impact special education teachers. This may include addressing funding issues, reducing administrative burdens, and advocating for inclusive practices and equitable resources.

More on the special education teacher shortage crisis

The most common reasons for special education teachers quitting are the lack of support, difficulty balancing competing priorities, ignorance and disrespect among peers, heavy workloads, and heightened stress levels.

Special education teachers commonly experience emotional stress on the job as a result of the demanding nature of their roles, including complex student needs, administrative challenges, and the pressure to meet IEP goals.

In almost all states, except New Hampshire and New Mexico. Highest employment levels for special education teachers are registered in New York, Pennsylvania, California, Texas and Florida.

What else can you do to empower your special education teachers? 

By implementing these strategies, special education directors can contribute to reducing special education burnout, enhancing teacher well-being, and ultimately improving outcomes for students with disabilities. 

It is crucial to regularly assess the effectiveness of these strategies and seek feedback from special education teachers to ensure ongoing support and improvement.  

In order to combat the special education teacher shortage crisis, we must start by doing everything we can to value, care for, and protect those special educators under our current care. 

What better way to empower your special educators than providing a more comprehensive and effective way to teach the essential skills needed for post-secondary success? 

With Ori Learning’s transition curriculum you get a solution that is easy to implement, age-appropriate and engaging so your teachers can focus on what matters most – creating better opportunities for students. Get a free demo with 30-day access for your school today.

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Jon Izak

Jon Izak is the founder and CEO of Ori Learning.