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Schools plagued by special-education teacher shortage, as teachers chafe under heavy paperwork
While recruitment stalls for education's toughest job, one special-education teacher says goodbye in an emotional exit. - photo by Eric Schulzke
School districts around the country are scrambling to find qualified special-education teachers to handle one of the most demanding teaching jobs, NPR reported, leaving many districts improvising with uncertified special-ed teachers.

The shortage, NPR reported, is due partly to disillusionment and partly to burnout.

"The job is not what they thought it was going to be," said David Pennington, superintendent of Ponca City public schools in Oklahoma, to NPR. "They feel like they're under a microscope all the time."

A huge problem is the steady growth in paperwork that has nothing to do with actually teaching children.

"It is not uncommon," Pennington said, "for a special-ed teacher to tell me, 'I did not get a degree in special ed to do paperwork. I got a degree to help kids.'"

A highly regarded Florida teacher quit the profession earlier this month, making a bang on her way out with a scathing Facebook post. In addition to the paperwork issues imposed on teachers, she argued, bureaucratization is also hurting kids in special ed.

"I just cannot justify making students cry anymore," she wrote, according to a Huffington Post report. "They cry with frustration as they are asked to attempt tasks well out of their zone of proximal development. Their shoulders slump with defeat as they are put in front of poorly written tests that they cannot read, but must attempt. Their eyes fill with tears as they hunt for letters they have only recently learned so that they can type in responses with little hands which are too small to span the keyboard."

Forty-nine states now report shortages in special-education teachers, according to the National Coalition on Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services. The coalition also reported that 51 percent of schools generally and 90 percent of high-poverty schools are struggling to get qualified special-ed teachers, and special-ed teachers leave the profession at double the rate of regular teachers.

So far, the market doesn't seem to be responding as it should to tight supply and high demand. According to LA School Report, special-education and general-education teachers are on the same pay scales, even though special education is considered more demanding work and enlistment in teacher-preparation programs is lagging while special-ed teachers leave in droves.
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