Raleigh, N.C. – Fourteen percent of all public school students received some kind of special education services during the 2019-20 school year, the U.S. Center for Education Statistics reported. But schools nationwide can’t find enough special education teachers to fill the vacancies.
Every state except New Hampshire and New Mexico expect shortages in special education teachers for the 2021-2022 school year, according to a U.S. Department of Education spokesperson.
The need is so critical for some districts that monetary incentives are being offered to new hires.
The Wake County Public School system in North Carolina announced it is offering a $3,500 incentive to new special education teachers. The district said it has had a special education teacher shortage for five years, but this year is especially tough, with 105 vacancies as of mid-August.
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Susan McDermott has been a special education teacher for 20 years at Davis Drive Elementary School in Cary, North Carolina.
“The first time I walked into a special ed classroom, I was home,” she said.
McDermott says helping special education students succeed is the most rewarding job a teacher can have, but it can be tough work.
“Special education has always been, I think from people’s perspective, a little scary,” she said.
Karen Hamilton, the assistant superintendent for special education at the Wake County Public School System, said the teacher shortage problem is twofold.
“This year stands out based on the number of teachers that we have and the number of students we have that need special education in our district,” Hamilton said.
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According to Hamilton, local and state universities are graduating fewer candidates, and the number of students needing education has only grown in recent years.
Special education teachers are not limited to helping students with disabilities. They also help students who struggle in specific subjects. But the work doesn’t stop with teaching.
“The working conditions can be tough. There’s a lot of paperwork involved. When you’re managing higher caseloads and students, it’s an intense amount of time, it’s an intense position,” said Stacey Ellison Glasgow, the associate director for school services at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
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Burnout from the pandemic probably isn’t helping the shortage either, but it won’t stop her, McDermott said.
“Teaching special ed is just a wonderful thing because when you see a success, it’s not about your success in teaching, it’s about the student’s success,” she said.