Researchers analyzing experiences, wants of Nebraska’s particular schooling academics | Nebraska At present
In the United States, the number of teachers qualified to assist students with special needs is decreasing. In Nebraska, school principals fear the shortage puts these students at risk for learning and growth.
Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are working to understand what factors affect the preparation and retention of special education teachers, including the career development opportunities available.
Amanda Witte and HyeonJin Yoon, assistant professors at the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools, partner with the Nebraska Department of Education’s Office of Special Education to provide special education experience.
Witte and Yoon surveyed a sample of special education teachers in Nebraska in the fall of 2020 to examine available teacher preparation programs, in-service teacher support, and the relationship between support and job satisfaction.
Surveys were carried out by 456 special education teachers from 86 school districts and 231 schools.
“We looked at things that could prevent teachers from leaving the field,” said Witte. “We also asked about their job satisfaction – what they found helpful or unhelpful and what was related to their decision to stay in special education.”
Many of the teachers surveyed said they wanted to leave the field before retiring or were unsure whether they would stay in the field. They also reported that their main stressors were related to time pressures and stricter student behavior.
Using the data provided by teachers, researchers identified steps school administrators could take to reduce stress and promote greater job satisfaction, such as:
Surprisingly, according to Witte, teachers reported that their responses were only minimally affected by distance learning COVID-19 pandemic. They also reported that money was not a driving factor.
“The bottom line is that special education teachers like their job and their colleagues, but feel underestimated and overworked,” said Witte.
Together with Witte and Yoon, Amelia Miramonti, MAP Academic staff member at the academy was involved in the project.
Witte and Yoon want to exchange data with school partners of the Nebraska Association of Special Education Supervisors.
Witte stressed the need to identify the higher education programs offered by colleges and universities that attract and prepare Nebraska’s special education teachers.
“From a scientific perspective, we hope to implement some ways to provide technical assistance to school districts in setting up their mentoring programs,” she said. “We hope to develop and revise a program and then help the districts find the most efficient ways to implement the program.”