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Retaining Special Education Teachers

Teacher's desk with letter blocks, colored pencils, and a stack of books with an apple on top.

A recent Education Week article sheds light on a crucial factor that is often overlooked when addressing special education staffing challenges — districts must go beyond merely recruiting new special education teachers and also focus on understanding and addressing the reasons why these educators are exiting the field.

Working Conditions

Special education teachers often handle multiple subjects, manage extensive paperwork, and communicate regularly with families. They may feel unsupported and unable to meet student needs due to a lack of time, materials, and resources. Stressful working conditions and inadequate resources can drive special education teachers to transition to general education roles. A 2021 study published in the journal Exceptional Children analyzed dual-certified teachers in Washington state and found less than fifty percent of teachers with a special education certification are working in a special education role. 

States and districts have implemented workforce strategies to address the increasing demand for and challenges faced by special educators. These include incentive payments to encourage them to remain in the field, professional development practices to provide better support, and teacher preparation approaches focused on retention.

Increasing Demand

Economists predict the demand for special education teachers will continue to rise based on the upward trend of the number of students requiring special education services. Maintaining a pool of qualified special education teachers is a significant challenge for districts, intensified by frequent turnover and vacancies. States and districts are implementing strategies like incentive stipends and targeted professional development to retain these educators.

Financial Incentives

Research suggests higher pay could motivate general education teachers to switch to special education roles. Studies in the state of Hawaii showed the effectiveness of financial incentives, resulting in an increased number of special education teachers and reduced vacancies.

Many school districts in Texas are incentivizing special education teachers with stipends. According to data collected from the 2023-2024 TASB HR Services District Personnel Survey, 68 percent of participating districts offer a stipend for special education teachers, ranging from $200 to $14,000. This is an increase from the 2020-2021 survey responses, where 53 percent of districts offered a special education stipend, ranging from $200 to $10,000.

Teacher Preparation

Supporting special education teachers through “grow your own” programs and apprenticeships could improve retention. These programs provide on-the-job training and mentorship, allowing candidates to complete their education while working in the schools. These individuals are hand-selected by districts based on their passion for special education students. Districts investing in the future of their current employees can lead to greater job satisfaction and longevity in the field.

Next Steps

Districts can consider implementing strategies to promote teacher retention such as providing mentorship and support, building capacity with “grow your own” programs or apprenticeships, and providing monetary incentives to special education teachers.

For more information on the topic, check out the full Education Week article Retention Is the Missing Ingredient in Special Education Staffing.

The district survey responses for special education stipends can be found in TASB HRDataSource™ (member login required).

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Shannon Burns
Shannon Burns
HR Consultant

Shannon Burns joined HR Services in 2023 as an HR consultant. She has 22 years of experience in public school districts serving as an executive director of human resources, special programs coordinator, campus administrator, and teacher.

Burns earned her master’s degree from Texas A&M in Kingsville and her superintendent certificate from The University of Texas at Tyler.

HR Services

TASB HR Services supports HR leadership in Texas schools through membership offerings in specialized training, consulting, and other services.
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