Attrition of special education teachers: A narrative inquiry of the challenges and potential for job satisfaction

Sheryl A DeMik, Purdue University


In the area of special education, there exists a shortage of qualified teachers. Many schools struggle to find and retain qualified personnel to teach their special education population. In this study, the attrition of special education teachers is examined through a narrative inquiry of current and former teachers in special education programs. The personal experiences of selected special education teachers are presented: two who have chosen to stay in the field for more than five years and two who taught special education for five or fewer years and then left the field, and that of a first-year special education teacher. Study participants offer insight into their role as a special educator. The teachers discuss concerns with issues of paperwork, time demands, meeting varied student needs, and collaboration with general education staff. These issues have been found in current research. Two issues not found in the literature were the pressures of special education curriculum, specifically involving testing and standards, and the importance of advocating for the respect of their students. Three conclusions developed from this study: (1) The same passion that gives these teachers the drive to remain in the job and continue to help students with disabilities also drives some of them teachers out of the field; (2) The differences in the personalities, backgrounds, and experiences of these teachers make each one unique in his or her response to the difficulties education; and (3) if education becomes more focused on recognizing the differences in all students and working together to educate them through their individual needs, these and other special education teachers will find fewer problems in their job. Finding a common goal for all educators of meeting the needs of treating all students with respect will help to validate the feelings of special education teachers and increase their job retention.^




JoAnn Phillion, Purdue University, Theresa T. Doughty, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Education, Administration|Education, Special|Education, Curriculum and Instruction

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