Teachers face numerous challenges in their work such as unmotivated students, classroom discipline and difficult parents. Special education teachers face these problems and more. People considering entering the field of special education should be aware of these challenges before deciding upon their career. Those who work with special education teachers should lend support to help prevent burnout.
Special education teachers often feel disrespected, even by other teachers. Traditional classroom teachers may see special educators as similar to tutors because they often work with individuals or small groups and teach skills more than content. Since special education instructors face different obstacles, other teachers may not view them as colleagues in the same sense. They don't even connect with students as often as other teachers, since special education students often meet with counselors and occupational therapists and typically spend time in a mainstreamed classroom. Resource room workers may sometimes work with a child just two or three times a week. This sense of isolation can lead to teacher burnout.
Like other teachers, special education teachers may be pulled for playground and lunchroom duty. In addition, they attend meetings with parents, administrators, counselors and regular classroom teachers to determine individualized education programs (IEPs) and discuss student progress. They may conduct assessments and work with social services or other personnel outside of academia to help students transition beyond school. While such activities have significance, they leave little time for the special education teacher to plan, grade and teach.
Laws and regulations regarding special education such as No Child Left Behind add to the amount of paperwork teachers fill out. According to DistrictAdministration.com, special-ed instructors spend an hour each weekday filling out necessary documentation. Filling out assessment forms, documenting conversations with parents and professionals, procuring necessary permissions and completing IEPs take time away from working directly with students. While technological advances have reduced the amount of paper, special education teachers still spend an inordinate amount of time on documentation.
According to the National Education Association, enrollment in special education programs has increased by 30 percent over the previous decade. Districts ask special education teachers to work with these increasing numbers of special-needs students with decreasing budgets. With fewer professional or even paraprofessional positions available to help, special education teachers may be called upon to perform even more duties and work with more severely affected children. Schools may be sanctioned for sending large numbers of students out-of-district, adding to the numbers of students and types of difficulties special education teachers deal with.
- Photo Credit Katy McDonnell/Digital Vision/Getty Images