Hovendick, Connie; Ph.D.
Program of Education;
College of Human Development and Education; North Dakota State University
Retention of Special Education Teachers in North Dakota
Major Professor: Dr. Kathy Enger
This study examined the reasons special education teachers leave the field of teaching in rural North Dakota. This mixed study collected information from teachers across North Dakota. Thirty-seven special education teachers completed a quantitative survey. The reasons teachers gave for leaving their teaching positions were inadequate time for paperwork, inadequate preparation time, inadequate salary, inadequate travel reimbursement, no input into curriculum decisions, lack of workspace, and lack of resources.
Eight beginning special education teachers were interviewed for the qualitative phase of the study. Data was analyzed and the following themes were arrived at: Support from mentors is important for special education teachers in the beginning of their careers, teachers in rural schools have positive safe environments with strong support from the students’ parents, lack of time to complete the excess of paperwork and lack of resources were stressors for special education teachers.
All of the teachers interviewed had positive mentoring experiences. In the rural areas of North Dakota there was not always an experienced teacher available in the building, so they creatively found alternative mentors. The teachers did not identify their schools as being rural (as defined in the literature), but rather, used the term “small town” and saw this as a positive setting for a professional teaching experience. There was an overall description from the teachers being in a safe nurturing environment both at school and at home.
Beginning teachers described paperwork as overwhelming and excessive. An overall lack of resources was seen as a barrier to providing the students with needed supports. Many of the teachers taught all students will disabilities in their schools and were not always confident in all areas of instruction.
The following conclusions are supported by the study: States should support alternative-preparation programs for teachers to become highly qualified; administrators should provide high quality mentoring for beginning special education teachers during their first 2 years of teaching; special education teachers need to have time built into their schedules to complete paperwork separate from the preparation time.