Special education may be defined as those programmes in education that assign special classes, and programmes or services designed to develop the educational potential of children with disabilities.
Apart from parents, social workers, and medical personnel, special education teachers are the most important players in the provision of training to children with disabilities, by virtue of the fact that they spend more time with them. Due to this, the success or otherwise of special education depends a great deal on the attitudes of special education teachers to the sector, the climate of institutions where they work, and other external factors.
Lack of adequate supply of qualified special education teachers is one of the challenges that face special education, and this shortage is mainly attributed to attrition (Billingsley 2004:1). Attrition of special education teachers comes in three forms: those who leave the profession completely to other sectors outside education, those who retire, opt to stay home to look after their families or resign; those who transfer from special education to general education as teachers, counsellors or officers; and those who get promoted within the sector as administrators. However, the largest population of teachers who leave the sector cite stress as the single most important factor that drive them away (Billingsley 2004).
Several studies of attrition of special education teachers have identified four key factors that affect the trend of their mobility, within and away from the sector. First is what may be referred to as teacher characteristics, and personal factors. Under this category are such attributes as the teachers age, race and whether they are the bread winners of their families or not. Younger teachers in special education have been found to be more likely to leave the sector than their older counterparts (Boe, Bobbitt, Cook, Whitener et al 1997). Although race was not an important factor of attrition, it was found that breadwinners for their families tended to stay on in the sector compared to those who were not.
The second factor is teacher qualification and how it affected their attitude to their work. Teachers with good special education qualifications were more confident with their work and tended to stay on, while the less qualified were more likely to leave. Thirdly, Work environment such as the climate of the work place, and the perceived administrative support or lack of it are also cited as important in influencing attrition and retention .
Finally are the special education teachers’ own affective reactions to work. There are those who felt that they were overwhelmed by work overload and negative working conditions. Those who are predisposed to such negative feelings about their work and the conditions in which they are working tended to leave the sector than those who despite real difficulty, felt constrained to offer their best services.
Thus, it is clear from the foregoing remarks that the special education sector is struggling to keep its most important personnel, under-scoring the need to develop a strategy to improve their job satisfaction.
Billinsley, B.S(2004), Special Education Teacher Retention and Attrition. The Journal of Special Education Vol. 38/NO. 1/2004/PP. 39–55.
Boe, E. E., Bobbitt, S. A., Cook, L. H., Whitener, S. D., & Weber, A. L.(1997). Why didst thou go? Predictors of retention, transfer, and attrition of special and general education teachers from a national perspective.The Journal of Special Education, 30, 390–411.