Aug 19, 2022, Iowa Gazette: Wanted: More special education teachers in Iowa Cedar Rapids schools have 18 openings for special education teachers, 35 for special education paraprofessionals https://www.thegazette.com/k/special-education-highest-need-area-for-teachers-in-iowa/?amp=1
…With a new school year starting Tuesday for many Eastern Iowa students, school districts are facing some of their largest staffing challenges in special education.
As of July 28, the Cedar Rapids Community School District had 30 teaching positions open, Linda Noggle, executive director of talent management, said in an email to The Gazette.
As of Wednesday, 18 of those open positions were for special education teachers in addition to 35 special education paraeducator positions.
What to do?
The number of paras needed is determined by Individualized Education Plans — a legal document developed for public school students who need special education. The plans are created with the child’s parent or guardian, teacher and other district personnel.
Paraeducators assist in classrooms or work one-on-one with students.
“There is a nationwide staff shortage within just about every school district,” Noggle said.
As the second-largest school district in Iowa, Cedar Rapids “is also facing challenging staff shortages ….
In these challenging times, our building administrators and teachers step up to determine how to best serve our students and community,” she said….
Research shows only 69 percent of special education teachers remain in the profession after five years, according to the Iowa Department of Education.
“This is especially significant for students with (Individualized Education Plans) who are served by a special-education teacher that may be new each year or who may have very little experience in meeting the needs of all students on their rosters,” said John Speer, chief administrator at Grant Wood Area Education Agency, which provides educational resources to many Eastern Iowa schools.
The AEA has helped increase special education teacher retention to 82 percent after five years.
The agency, recognizing the additional challenges special education teachers face, work with special education directors to identify how to best meet student needs, and it builds confidence and competence of new special education teachers so they stay in the profession.
However, only 54 percent of those stay long-term in special education classrooms, with most moving to general education classrooms, Speer said in an email to The Gazette….
“I wish teachers were more interested in going in to special education. It is a very rewarding profession.”
Shawn Datchuk, associate professor at the University of Iowa’s College of Education, said special education is facing the largest number of staff shortages in Iowa schools.
“There’s been a downturn in people pursuing education jobs in general,” Datchuk said. “I think that has to do with the amount of hours and pay provided for those hours. It’s a tough sell.”
Without adequate staffing, students who qualify for special education services may not be able to meet the goals stated in their Individualized Education Plans and make less progress academically, falling behind their peers even further, Datchuk said….
The federal government supports a number of grants for undergraduate students who pursue a special education teaching license. For example, the Federal TEACH Grant provides financial aid to students pursuing a career in teaching, with emphasis given to applicants specializing in high need fields such as special education.
State programs also help students pursue careers as special education teachers. The Iowa Board of Educational Examiners is working on a K-12 special education general endorsement, which could help more teachers move from one program to another….
Some of the students Simmons works with can create “safety concerns” in the classroom for themselves or other students. Simmons said she helps them find ways to regulate their emotions instead of “hitting and kicking,” she said.