Why Special Educators Really Leave the Classroom

One of the most pervasive issues that school districts face is the lack of job candidates for teaching vacancies of critical need. This usually includes STEM and special education teachers. Of these two areas, special education has the highest rate of teacher turnover and burnout. As a former special education teacher, I thought I would Illuminate why I think this occurs, based on my experiences.

Safety concerns

I worked with students with mild and moderate disabilities, many of which had behavioral disorders. Although this never happened to me, I personally witnessed teachers being bitten, pushed, slapped, punched, and kicked by their students. I have also witnessed students verbally and emotionally abusing their teachers, and in many instances, bringing them to tears. This may seem like a living hell to you, but it is a reality to a lot of K-12 special education teachers.

To add injury to insult, in a way, you know it is to be expected. Since these students have been diagnosed with a behavioral disability, their actions are a manifestation of their disability. Consequently, they cannot be held to the same standard as a regular education student. They can assault you one day, and be back in your class the next, with a big smile on their face.

Mountains of paperwork

One of the hardest parts of being a special education teacher involves the mountains of paperwork that you have to complete, in addition to your regular duties. I have spent many nights and weekends working on IEPs and other special education-related paperwork and forms. At a certain point, it starts to interfere with your quality of life. Now, this may not be true for all special education teachers, but for those working in low-income areas, it is a given.

At one point in my career as a special education teacher, I had 40 students on my caseload. I don’t think you understand just how difficult it is. Under normal circumstances, 10-15 is considered a heavy load, and I had 40. Just wrap your mind around that. And oh yeah, if you fail to complete the paperwork accurately, you could be out of compliance with the state and federal laws that comprise IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Yeah, and on top of this, your principal is still asking you to perform “other duties as assigned.”

Low pay

Despite all the hard work that you put in as a special educator, at the end of the pay period, when you receive your paycheck, you find out that you are not being paid a living wage. How is this, when without teachers, none of the other professions would exist. We have all heard the horror stories. Teachers who work 2-3 jobs just to survive, or those that must apply for public assistance to get by or visit the local food pantry to find food. What a sad commentary, but it is true.

Did we miss anything? Why do you think special educators leave the classroom?

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