• Andrew Thurston

    Director, Alumni Publications Twitter Profile

    Andrew Thurston is originally from England, but has grown to appreciate the serial comma and the Red Sox, while keeping his accent (mostly) and love of West Ham United. He joined BU in 2007 and leads a team of editors and writers producing digital and print publications for the University. Profile

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There are 6 comments on What Will It Take to Keep Special Ed Teachers?

  1. Another factor in special (and regular) education teacher burn out is the unspoken rule that you do not say or do anything that will impact the budget. For instance, if you have a student in your classroom struggling with reading, and you strongly suspect dyslexia or another type of disability, you do NOT suggest that the student be evaluated to determine the presence of a learning disability. Why? Because if a learning disability is identified it will have to be addressed. And that costs money. Money the school district does not want to spend. Instead, you bite your tongue and watch that student struggle. I have seen this so many times in my career as a special education advocate. Sure, some teachers will take parents aside and tell them “you didn’t hear it from me, but I think you should have Jane evaluated for a reading disability …” But that same teacher will not (cannot if s/he wants to keep the job) say the same thing at a formal Team meeting for the student.

    Here in Massachusetts, as in states across the nation, our students with special needs are failing at rates wildly out of proportion to their intellectual abilities. At least 90% of MA students with disabilities are as intellectually capable as their non-disabled peers, yet the achievement gap between these two student subgroups is enormous (47 percentage points) on MCAS testing. And that gap has been widening, not narrowing over time. While students with disabilities comprise 17% of the total MA student population, less than 2% are Adams Scholarship recipients. And the saddest thing is this: we already know how to teach these students, we simply refuse to act on that knowledge.

    Ellen M. Chambers, MBA

  2. I think you are on the wrong track. Completely wrong track. There are Federal and State Laws and Regulations which are COMPLETELY ignored or interpreted to suit the administrator of the day. The Federal Gov’t has no funding for enforcement of it’s own laws and therefore they are meaningless. Here in MA, we have a head of the DESE who knows there is no enforcement or consequence to ignoring laws. Check out SPEDWatch. Find and speak to any parent of a child on an IEP and you are likely to hear horror stories. Speak to teachers with the promise of anonymity and you’ll hear words that make your skin crawl. You want to know how to keep Special Ed Teachers? It’s simple. Allow them to properly support the students they have been hired to teach. Don’t mislead them into thinking what a wonderful field special ed teaching is while you tie their hands behind their back and prescribe/demand unworkable solutions to issues at hand. So what if laws aren’t enforced, do it anyway! Teachers will feel supported and stay.

  3. I will share this article with my younger SPED colleagues who are so exasperated with how SPED teachers and SPED students are treated that they are wondering if they can do this for the rest of their lives. Of all of the SPED teachers I have worked with, about 80% have jumped ship and moved to general ed. Most can’t take the immense paperwork pressure, the pressure to close the achievement gap, and the hampering of strategies and techniques that we know work. There is a very strong movement to fully include students in order to “expose” them to curriculum level concepts and vocabulary and higher level thinking, but the reality is that many students with learning disabilities or language impairments can’t always learn in a large group with higher level language flying around at a pace that far exceeds their processing speed. They can to some degree, but not 100% of the time. They stop listening, become inattentive and embarrassed, and fall further behind. When I pull students into my resource room, which is quiet and small-group, they thrive. And they beg to come back because it’s the one place where they are taught at a pace that suits their learning needs.

    The other issue is that special educators should be allowed to “share” students within a school in order to provide a support system for the students and for the teachers. The teachers won’t burn out if they can bounce ideas off of each other about a student that they share and if they are not solely responsible for the progress that a student with severe skill deficits poses. The teachers will also learn from each other and be able to improve and increase their specialized techniques.

    The issue of how to evaluate special education teachers is a hot topic. Evaluating us by how our students perform on standardized measures, or even on curriculum-based measures, is not a valid way to assess our efficacy. Our students tend to make progress incrementally, and it is only after a few years that true progress can be seen. However, there are plenty of ways to judge whether a special educator is effective: how often do we see our students, do our plans have a systematic forward momentum, do we align with curriculum expectations as much as possible, do we use specialized teaching techniques that differ from what is offered in the classroom, does our analysis of a students’ needs match the data about that student, do we make an attempt to support what is happening in the general education classroom, do we attempt to collaborate with other professionals who see our students, do the IEP objectives that we generate for our students make sense, can we justify our choice of instructional activities, are our assessment tools valid, i.e.? To evaluate special ed teachers based on these kinds of variables does take effort, time, and training, but if the purpose is to truly evaluate us, then the effort, time and training is worth it, isn’t it? Moreso than the effort, time and training to evaluate us using ineffective tools?

  4. I am a Special Education teacher who works with non-verbal students in a self-contained classroom. My students require 100% adult supervision. When I first started teaching I said to myself, “The second you feel like a babysitter, leave!” It has been a very difficult road for me. If there is very little guidance for teachers like me. I had to seek out professionals who actually knew what they where talking about. I begged for professors from UNM to come and visit my classroom. After a while I convinced a few of them that I would follow best practices and evidence based systems. After a few years I felt like I could demonstrate growth overtime using data and other methods besides discussing “cute stories.” I am lucky that someone took interest in me and helped me along the way. When I look around at other teachers who work with this population, I am sad that there is little to no support. I have seen good people leave because of frustration. Not with the students but with themselves because they is very little support. I am not surprised to read some of the posts here. I wish there was a better way, but I do not know what it is.

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