Special Education Teacher Retention

by Mary M. Mehaffey, Ed.D.

Quality Counts 2000, the fourth annual 50-state report card published by Education Week, focuses on recruitment and retention of talented teachers for the nation's schools. The date reflect a grim picture for school leaders today. That is, the database reveals that 19% or nearly one out of five who began teaching in 1993-94 had left the classroom by 1996-97. The researchers interviewed remaining teachers and predicted that another estimated 3% would be out of America's classrooms by 1997-98 (Boser, n.d.).

Currently, American public schools are facing one of the most severe teacher shortages in history. The lack of sufficient numbers of qualified teachers has existed for a number of years; however, it is more acute now that two variables are colliding: retiring teachers and increasing student enrollments (Boser, n.d.).

Why is the attrition rate so high? This question deserves further research. However, two findings in Quality Counts 2000 support what experts have suggested over time-- on-the-job support and workplace conditions matter (Boser, n.d.).

Let's bring this home to Virginia and talk about what you, as an administrator, can do to recruit and retain qualified special education teachers. Several principals in Regions II and III offer these helpful hints:

  • Make your special educators feel a part of the school by assigning them to grade-level teams. Give them a home.

  • Involve your special educators in SOL training opportunities and provide them equal access to all SOL materials. Keep them in the state accountability loop.

  • Assign your special educators to committees. Let them shine.

  • Set high expectations for their instructional activities and visit their classrooms with the same frequency as you visit other classes in your school. Hold them accountable and let them know it.

  • Ensure that they receive adequate space, textbooks, teacher editions, curriculum guides for esential skills, and supplemental materials. Keep them in the instructional loop.

  • Require that they participate on grade-level teams when new information is being disseminated. Make them a part of the whole.

  • Provide planning opportunities for special and general educators and encourage your special educators to share their strategy expertise with your content experts--your general educators. Challenge them to share/collaborate.

  • Provide opportunities for your special educators to demonstrate leadership by chairing a committee or co-chariing one with a general education teacher. Demonstrate your trust.

Thank you to the principals in Regions II and III who shared these tips which they have tried and believe make a difference. You can feel confident that these suggestions came from folks who not only walk the walk by who talk the talk in a school near you.


Boser, U. (n.d.). A picture of the teacher pipeline: Baccalaureate and beyond. Education Week. [WWW Page] Retrieved July 20, 2001 from the World Wide Web: http://www.edweek.org

Date: August/September 2001