Where did all the special education teachers go? Special education teachers who study and address the unique differences in students are really a part of the whole learning puzzle—necessary to a student’s future success. But alas, special education teachers are falling by the wayside.
In Hawaii they have special education teacher shortages that mirror the rest of the country. Parents like Jay Handlin rightly bemoan the difficulty students have in general classrooms when they don’t get the special assistance they need from a support teacher.
Handlin’s daughter has Down syndrome, and upon moving to Hawaii and entering a middle school, she struggled due to a lacking support system. She went on to study photography at the California Institute of the Arts, but she is lucky she had help from home. Her school sure didn’t come through for her at a critical point in time.
Many parents find themselves in the same situation as Handlin. They have students who will do fine in general classes, but they need special education assistance. Students with special needs were originally placed in the general class with the promise of such help.
Parents of preschoolers with disabilities can’t find assistance for their little ones either.
Staten Island and New York City have seen an increase in preschoolers with special needs, but not only special education teachers are missing there. They have a decline in speech therapists, occupational therapists and physical therapists, along with the special education student intervention teachers.
Where did everybody go? What happened to these helping professions?
And the larger caseload has been made even more unmanageable by piling paperwork, which robs providers of time that should be spent serving children.
Perhaps one problem is that special education has been villainized in recent years—subtly if not outright. Some parents have come to see special education, not as a helping area, but as something to avoid.
Along with this, the learning disabilities category, a legitimate area of study, was pretty much eliminated years ago (please note the title of the referenced article below).
IDEA reauthorizations were all about the Least Restrictive Environment. How many special education teachers were included in the new loop to help address disabilities?
When students have learning disabilities today, it is left to the general education teacher to address difficulties in the general classroom. But general education teachers have so much on their plate, it is unrealistic to think they have time to individually focus on every disability or difficulty that enters their classroom.
Dyslexia? Who’s helping the teachers help the students in this area?
Parents might also be steered away from special help by administrators thinking more about program costs.
I salute the parents I know who have resorted to home schooling because the public school sold them short and didn’t provide decent special services. But it was not right that the school did not address their child’s needs. It was not decent. It should have been against the law.
Extra help, especially individualized assistance, costs more. There is also a concerted effort around the country to cut overall special education funding—or special education altogether.
Even Response to Intervention (RTI) involving the universal screening of young children to intervene in supposed disabilities early is designed to steer students away from special education.
Value-Added Models of evaluating teachers of students with special needs are also unfair.
The current push to place students online for instruction is another concern. Universal Design for Learning and CAST are a part of the Every Student Succeeds Act. There is little mention of special education teachers here.
While intervention and assisting students to address their academic problems is important, such a push to avoid special education also stigmatizes the profession. Few teachers want to enter a world where they are not valued for what they can contribute.
But students, as I noted in the above examples, still need special education teachers and a good support system.
James Kauffman, Professor Emeritus of Education at the University of Virginia, said of special education teachers in 1999 in The Journal of Special Education:
If we are going to survive as a viable professional field, then I think we are going to need to change the way we view our legitimacy in public education and develop a sense of self-worth and pride in what we do….I would like to see us become unapologetic about our function, our identity, our distinctiveness, our visibility.
Students appear at school with disabilities, and the intent of special education has always been to help lift students with special needs to a better place.
We are seeing that there is still a place for good special education teachers who study uniqueness in children. They are still a part of the learning puzzle. Parents are noticing their absence. Now, good luck finding them.
Johns, Bev. “The New “Inclusion,” Distortions of LRE, Eliminating LD Teacher Training & Other Improper Uses of Federal Courts.” The DLD Times. The Division of Learning Disabilities. Council for Exceptional Children. 16 (2). Winter 1999.