3 ways to support the special education pros who remain during shortages

While many may believe the pandemic is to blame, the high rate of burnout and understaffing in special education departments has been ongoing for decades.
Randal McCormack
Randal McCormackhttps://blazerworks.com/
Randal McCormack is a speech therapy advisor at BlazerWorks.

The data around education staffing shortages continue to reflect the dire need for unique solutions, particularly around special education support. In August 2022, federal data revealed that 53% of public schools felt understaffed, and 65% of those schools reported feeling understaffed in their special education departments.

While many may believe the pandemic is to blame, the high rate of burnout and understaffed special education departments has been ongoing for decades. It is reported that 7.2 million or 15% of public school students receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This lower percentage results in a smaller community and support system for special education professionals who need it the most when facing substantial challenges including high workloads and immense amounts of paperwork with minimal time.

The rates are significantly lower for licensed special education teachers compared to general education teachers. Research shows that one-third of novice special education teachers in the United States will quit within the first three years of employment. Before the feelings of burnout crept in, these professionals had passion. They pursued a career based on their love for educating students and planned to make a lifelong impact on youth.

Utilize outside support services

Nationwide, school districts navigate each school year with vacancies in special education. The shortage of staff results in professionals at all levels taking on more, creating faster burnout and fewer opportunities for growth through mentorships and professional development. The sense of community within the district dwindles as burnout increases.

With fewer professionals in the field, how are the educators in the field and entering the field supported? Partnering with outside champions to increase support for special educators in the districts is essential to retention and provides professionals with a greater network to find solutions in the field. Providing direct access to additional outside support demonstrates value and appreciation for both the special educators and the students receiving services.

Define the needs of the district

Advisory service providers, such as BlazerWorks, offer districts a line of communication to connect with an advisory team of special education professionals whose role is to advise, resolve, and support based on the districts’ needs. From state to state and even town to town, no two districts are the same. The outside partnership allows for a better understanding of districtwide initiatives and what is profoundly important to the community. Understanding the districts is essential to providing effective professional development to the professionals within.

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While one district may have a goal to increase knowledge around inclusion, another may need positive behavior strategies. Educators receive the resources needed in the moment enabling them to apply their new knowledge to their students. Meeting the district where they are may increase the effectiveness of shared knowledge and tools, decrease educator stress levels and build confidence in the field.

Collaboration provides mentorship opportunities

Learning about a district is understanding the population. For example, districts with smaller populations may not have the need for an entire motor team or speech therapy department. In this case, an outside partnership increases the opportunity for educators to connect with additional professionals in the field.

Conversely, a district of greater size presents issues such as larger workloads with minimal time for planning and preparing. Mentorships, such as an outside advisory team, provide resources specific to recent evidence-based practices to educators within the special education department, enabling them to increase efficacy and implement strategies and guidance to overcome current challenges.

Support demonstrates a special educator’s value, allowing their passion to grow in the field and accomplish their own professional goals. Through collaboration with a greater network of professionals, skillsets can naturally increase. This leads to more mentorship opportunities, a restored sense of community within the district and, most importantly, students receiving the appropriate services from inspiring special education professionals.

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