America Needs Special Education Teachers

Teachers are in high demand, that much is certain. There is no denying this. But while most people are probably aware of the need, it is not always easy to find enough people willing to fill that need. Or, rather, there seems to be more students than teachers in training. True, the job is rewarding, but it is also severely under-appreciated and often underfunded.

This is especially true, unfortunately, for special education. And a community in North Dakota might best represent similar communities across the United States.

According to the special education director for the Grand Forks Public Schools, Tricia Lee, “Special education is a high turnover field. Teachers need to wear a variety of hats, so this program really helps with all aspects of their job.”
Indeed, while teaching a single grade can be complicated enough, special education teachers often have to tackle a classroom of two or even three dozen children—all with special needs—between the ages of 7 and 13. Sometimes the age range is even wider; it just depends on the school.
At the same time much of special education training remains outside of the classroom and new teachers are often greatly overwhelmed by what they encounter the first year on the job. This is largely responsible for the high turnover. But the lack of district resources also—and a dire need for more specialized tools—often forces teachers to have to spend their own money and time to invest and develop the things they need to succeed in the classroom.

This, of course, puts additional—and complicated—stress on new teachers.

But another aspect of this industry that new teachers are finding difficult to manage is that special needs students are more complex than they have been in generations past. In fact, many special needs students, these days, have a combination of issues that need to be addressed, and these students seem to be entering programs at ages younger and younger every year.

To address this, the University of North Dakota has developed a masters [in teaching] program which introduces new teachers to the classroom while still in training, providing hands-on mentorship in order to improve teacher retention.