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Atlanta Jrnl Constitution: Shortage special ed teachers amid "decline" in student numbers

July 12, 2019, Atlanta Journal Constitution: Metro schools scramble to find special ed teachers https://www.ajc.com/news/local-education/metro-schools-scramble-find-special-teachers/Y9H96BUWVOQK1mSl9FEAJJ/ A recent report to the DeKalb County Board of Education underscored the severity of a nationwide problem metro Atlanta school districts are facing: not enough special education teachers. Linda Woodard, the district’s interim human resources leader, explained that while the district had 170 special education teaching vacancies, just 40 people had applied for those open spots…. Special education teachers are responsible for some of the most vulnerable of learners and must meet certain federal and state requirements. The job often requires much more paperwork to show students are taught according to Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) built to teach students at their respective paces. But burnout happens more often, leading to higher-than-average turnover and teachers shifting to other areas of instruction, or leaving the field altogether. Schools are already working to fill thousands of vacancies before the new school year begins in a matter of weeks. With special education teachers becoming more and more scarce, many districts are strategizing to find ways to entice the few available prospects, making direct calls to applicants, even offering thousands of dollars in incentives to get them to sign contracts…. “There’s high turnover and a high burnout rate (for special education teachers),” he said. “There’s a large replacement need.” There also appears to be a gap in understanding why they tend to leave. A 2012 study of special education teachers and superintendents from rural districts showed administrators believed teachers were leaving for different reasons than those the teachers cited. The top answers from administrators were personal reasons at 37%, followed by retirement at 21%. Teachers cited retirement or a desire to scale back responsibilities as their top answer, at 27%, followed at 24% by burnout, stress, job pressure and lack of support. According to Education Week research data, the student-teacher ratio for special education has risen from about 14 students per teacher in 2006 to 17 students per teacher in 2016, while the number of special education students age 6 to 21 in the United States has declined. Metro Atlanta teachers said they have left or are considering leaving their classrooms because administrators don’t acknowledge the larger workloads and amount of paperwork, and they often find themselves with students whose behavioral issues disrupt the learning process regularly for the rest of the class….