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The Need for Special Education Teachers

Reviewed by Jon Konen, District Superintendent

Start poking around any education news site and it will quickly become clear that the U.S. is in need of special education teachers. The U.S. Department of Education lists Special Education as one of its nationwide teacher shortage areas, and many major cities around the country are reporting concerns stemming from a lack of special ed teachers. And with the Common Core State Standards—which have been discussed as particularly hard on students with special needs—looming as the next big wave in education, teachers are needed more than ever to provide support and individualized attention to special-education students.

Special Needs Teachers are in Demand

The growing need for teachers can be attributed to several factors. First, the number of students with special needs continues to grow. The National Education Association reports that in the past 10 years, the number of students in special education programs has increased by 30 percent, likely in correlation to the rise in autism and ADHD diagnoses. Second, the student-to-teacher ratio in many special education programs needs to be lower than in general education as the students need specialized lesson plans and teachers have the additional work of logging or documenting all their efforts.

Learn more about how to become a special education teacher.

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Finally, the turnover rate of special education teachers tends to be higher than in other areas of education. The national attrition rate for special education teachers is 13 percent – twice that of general education teachers. According to a survey from the Virginia Tech College of Education, 37 percent of special education teachers report leaving the profession to escape teaching, as opposed to 24 percent of general education teachers. It is not uncommon for special education teachers to transfer to general education classrooms, but far less common for general education teachers to switch to special education. The reasons that special education teachers leave the profession are various, ranging from too much paperwork and high case loads, to lack of support from their school’s administration.

Whatever the reasons, a lack of qualified special education teachers has long been a problem in the field of education – and unfortunately has negatively affected the education that special needs students are receiving. For example, the NYC Teaching Fellows reports that in 2012, just 31 percent of students with disabilities in New York City received their diploma in 4 years, as compared to 71 percent of general education students. And in the 2011-2012 school year, only 23 percent of special education students in Mississippi received a regular diploma; the majority (60 percent) earned an alternative diploma or certificate not recognized by the majority of colleges or employers, hindering their opportunities beyond high school.

If you are interested in teaching and want to work in an area where you can make the most difference, consider becoming a special education teacher. To learn more, or find programs in your area, visit our Special Education Teacher Programs page.