Push is on to find special-ed teachers

by Susan Robertson | October 16, 2009

Special EducationWILLIAMSBURG - Attracting and retaining teachers to special education is a challenge for school divisions, and the College of William & Mary is trying to help.

During the next five years, a team at the School of Ed will focus on recruiting educators and support staff already in the field who can help the developmentally challenged. It's part of a project with the U.S. Department of Education.

"Our mission is not only to increase the number of special educators across the nation," said Lisa Ownby, recruitment specialist, "but to market special education to under-represented groups."

While recruiting special-ed teachers is important, she said recruiting men and minorities is particularly important, as the field is dominated by women. Almost 34% of students in special-ed nationally are minorities, while only 14% of the teachers are.

Karen Davis, supervisor of special education for WJC, wants a diverse group of faculty at every school and not just in special-ed classrooms.

"I think it's very important that children see people and work with people in the field who look like them," she said. "It's also very important for all adults in the educational field to know as much as they can about cultural diversity."

Gender and racial diversity are equally important, according to Davis. She said she feels it's important for young people to relate to people around them in positions of authority or achievement.

"I think that we will never be able to touch children in a very important way until we understand about their heritage and where they come from," she said.

Ownby and other members of the program team at the college plan to recruit at traditionally black colleges and other schools with highly diverse student populations. Literature and posters will also be posted on campus at William & Mary.

She said they also hope to work with WJC schools to help special-ed stay up-to-date with their licensing.

Support for educators already in the field is also a concern. Ownby said the teams wants to find ways to work with school divisions and ensure that teachers in the classroom are retained.

"We want to be sure special educators feel they are getting the right amount of support from their administration," said Ownby, "and that it's a collaborative environment."

The college was one of 11 universities across the country that received a grant to be a part of the larger effort. Ownby said that William & Mary will receive about $100,000 each year toward its program.