View the movie below and then proceed to the Initial Thoughts section (time: 3:10).
Dr. Monroe: I’m Jeff Monroe, Director of Special Education in the Montgomery School District. I’m proud of the work I’ve done during that time to recruit effective teachers, but right now I’ve got a bit of a problem. Developing strong programs for our students with disabilities is my highest priority, and to do that we’ve got to find a way not only to recruit highly effective teachers but also to keep them. Unfortunately, looking over my records recently, I realized that only twenty-eight of the fifty-one teachers I’ve recruited over the past five years are still teaching in our special education classrooms.
Teachers leave the profession for all kinds of reasons, but too many of my special educators are like Anna, who started fresh from college three years ago at Heights Middle School. Our exit interview played out in an all-too-familiar way…
Anna: I spent so much time just figuring out what I was supposed to be doing. Many of my students were in general ed classes. I thought I was going to collaborate with the general education teachers, but most didn’t seem to want to work with me. One even said she didn’t understand why my students were in her class. Another suggested I come to class and just follow along with what was happening. I thought I was supposed to co-teach, not walk around the room checking to see how everyone was doing. Some students even thought I was a teacher’s aide! Meanwhile, my caseload kept increasing.
Dr. Monroe: And then there was Michael, who taught students with emotional and behavioral disorders.
Michael: I really struggled with behavior management. Last year, my class went through three different teachers. The kids had made up a kind of teacher turnover game, you know, “How long will this one last?” I also had difficulty helping my students learn the curriculum. There wasn’t anybody to turn to for help. I just felt so isolated.
Dr. Monroe: Too many of my teachers have similar stories. And as I begin to prepare this year’s orientation, I’m thinking about our newest teaching recruits. There’s Christine, a first-time teacher who will work with students with autism spectrum disorders. And then there’s Jamal. We hired him because there weren’t any applicants qualified to work with students with emotional disorders. Jamal is a PE teacher who’s completed the state’s special education certification test, which makes him eligible to teach while he takes additional courses.
I want to do all I can to make certain that they can be effective teachers who remain in their positions for a long time to come. However, I’m not sure how to support them through their first few years of teaching.
Here is your Challenge:
What are some typical challenges faced by new special education teachers?
What can school leaders do to support special education teachers?