Concerns about staffing shortages are nothing new in education, especially in special education. What is new is the lack of creative solutions.
Special education administrators and staff are creative, but after twenty years of addressing shortages we have been forced into the daunting situation of weighing students’ needs against available staff. Which students can wait for services? Which services are easy to provide through compensatory education? These are questions I never imagined I would ask, let alone be forced to make decisions.
The shortage of special education teachers is a critical issue that impacts schools across the United States. There are a number of factors that have contributed to this shortage, including: low salaries, high workload, lack of support, and inadequate training. Nothing surprising on this list.
As a result of these factors, many special education teachers are leaving the profession within their first three years. This is leaving a significant number of students without the qualified teachers they need to succeed. The Learning Policy Institute conservatively estimates 1 in 10 special education positions are unfilled or filled by teachers without the proper certifications. The question becomes what can actually be done about it and what can I as a special education director influence.
There are two potential solutions to the special education teacher shortage that as a director you have some influence in supporting.
- Analyze workload for efficiency and refinement. High caseloads and IEP paperwork have to be managed despite the lack of staffing to do the work. A popular solution many are trying is paying current staff to take on “more”. This only leads to burnout and exacerbates the problem.
Consider a special education teacher’s day and workflow. Are there redundancies in paperwork? Is there a system in place to streamline the workflow that prioritizes teachers providing specialized instruction? These are questions I ask when working with directors. One way to alleviate the workload is to ensure there is a system in place to support paperwork requirements that connects to the instructional cycle and includes the entire IEP team.
- Provide more support and personalize that support. Special education teachers need to feel like they have the support they need to be successful. This includes support from administrators, colleagues, and parents. It also includes access to professional development and resources. Survey your teachers to see where support is needed. Some teachers are so new or overwhelmed that they don’t know what support they need. Consider holding a teacher focus group to get to the heart of what the barriers are and brainstorm possible solutions.
You may be asking yourself, great solutions, but how do I do it? Check out Kit. Kit is a workflow management app designed to simplify the workday for IEP Teams. The app provides an innovative guided approach to information sharing, data management, planning, assessments, and more. Your teams will thank you for providing a resource that is user-friendly and streamlines their workflows.
Addressing the special education teacher shortage will not happen overnight. It is a wicked problem that requires systemic change in major areas of influence. Those of us working everyday in the field, it feels overwhelming to figure out how to staff all positions and focus on retention at the same time. It does us no good to recruit and hire if we do not have a system in place that supports our special education providers so they want to stay in the profession. Keep your head up and focus on what you can control to support your teams.
Franco, M., & Patrick, S. K. (2023). State teacher shortages: Teaching positions left vacant or filled by teachers without full certification. Learning Policy Institute. https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/ product/state-teacher-shortages-vacancy