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Friday, December 3, 2021

Columns

Public schools in dire need of special education teachers


There is a serious national shortage of special education teachers in the United States; forty-nine states have reported experiencing a lack of special education teachers.

This shortage has led to questionable hiring decisions, and the situation addresses the need for a new generation of special education professionals to meet the demand and provide services to those who need it most.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), mandates the provision of a free and appropriate public school education for eligible children ages 3-21.  

The students that are considered eligible range from a variety of different disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, autism, traumatic brain injury, emotional disturbances, learning disabilities etc. This ensures these disabled children will have an education that will allow them to pursue life to the greatest extent they can.

Due to the shortage, schools struggle to find and hire a well prepared special needs professional. As a result of this struggle, schools must resort to hiring untrained teachers who hold emergency-type permits or teachers who are currently in training.

Does this sound like providing an appropriate education? This shortage is fostering a less than ideal education for students who need this focus and attention to thrive and academically succeed.

The reasoning for this shortage is attributed to many factors.  According to the National Coalition on Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services, these factors include an increase of higher education costs, inadequate funding for incentive programs, stress levels related to the job, and state to state credentialing barriers etc.

Credentialing barriers are due to the fact that each state has different requirements in order to become licensed to teach. This difference in requirements sometimes does not allow a well-qualified teacher to teach simply due to the fact that they did not receive their credential in the state to which the job is offered. In order for the teacher to be allowed to teach in another state, additional training or certifications or exams are needed.

There is also a significant turnover rate for special education teachers. More than 12 percent of special education teachers leave their profession, which is double in comparison to their general education colleagues. The emotional toll and patience required to pursue such a profession is found in few individuals.

All professions come with disadvantages — this specific vocation is no exception. But the small victories discern this field of education from all others.  Special education teachers are more diverse in the field of education. This is become sometimes it is a requirement for them to be certified in other subject areas besides special education.

Another advantage is due to the relationships that are bound to develop. Special education teachers tend to have a smaller class size in comparison to their general education colleagues. As a result, it is possible to create a close knit mentor type relationship with students and their families.

This is meaningful work. A special education teacher can come home every day after work and know that they made an immense difference in the life of a student and their family. Often times, this time investment teachers make give students the confidence to see their differences as their strengths, not hindrances. 

Special Education is a rewarding profession and many children and young adults need qualified special education teachers. If you are patient and creative, like problem solving, and want to make a difference, this could be your opportunity.

More importantly, special education teachers must not be candidates settled for, but rather ready and eager for such a diverse and emotionally rigorous job. They can make the most significant impact in the lives of these children that so often feel invisible, but they must be properly qualified to do so.

Staff writer Ruth Frausto is a biology junior. She can be reached at [email protected]

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