Special Education Teacher Burnout Research Paper

Pages: 8 (2685 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Teaching

Special Education Teacher Burnout

High levels of stress are dangerous for all professions. In the field of special education it is responsible for much of the symptoms associated with variant levels of burnout. When teachers begin to experience burnout it is important for administrators to engage in remedial steps that reduce the individual and wider professional effect of burnout. Failing to successfully address this issue will increase attrition rates amongst special educators, thus making it more difficult for the persons who have decided to make it a vocation.

Teacher burnout is defined as a condition caused by depersonalization, exhaustion and a diminished sense of accomplishment (Schwab et al. 1986). The individual sees themselves as a cog in the larger machine and that their contribution is not truly important or even relevant. It is only relevant as they fulfill the demands of the organization or the structure. In a very real way the teacher is no longer a professional but has become another paid individual, another nameless and faceless person, part of the larger whole.

Burnout can also be considered using a psychological model to examine how the stress teachers experience lead to burnout. The path to burnout relates to the teachers' inability to protect the self against threats to their esteem and sense of wellness (Kyriacou & Sutcliffe, 1978). The coping skills of the teachers are employed to address the problems but there are unable to successful parry the continuous demands of the job. As the coping mechanisms fail the teachers' mental and psychological health is threatened and teachers are pushed to quit or they burnout. The stress in the teaching profession is a product of the nature of the job and the administrative realities. The elements needed for success in the profession are often beyond the control of the teacher and this adds to the stressfulness of the situation.

When the problem is considered behaviorally burnout can be considered as a state where the teacher is a paid employee alone. They engage in the tasks associated with the profession but do not provide emotional commitment to the job. There is no sense of satisfaction and they are not concerned with being effective at what they are doing. The teacher is essentially detached from the activity and is almost robotic. Many of these persons remain in teaching and become highly cynical and insensitive. They often believe that their efforts will not make a difference for their charges and thus there is no valid reason to continue expending effort behind a lost cause. Additionally, they are detached from personal failure in the classroom and attribute that failure to the organization or the system. The individual is reduced to collecting a paycheck for services rendered and has not commitment to the tasks or persons involved.

While there is a generic approach to teacher burnout it is important to note that the nature and demands of special education allows the phenomenon to manifest differently amongst special education teachers. The teachers face some unique challenges because the students they relate to have some unique dispositions and personal limitations. The very nature of the work is more stressful than traditional teaching. The evidence of the magnitude of the problem is that when compared to regular teachers special education teachers have higher levels of attrition, 9% to 10%, while the regular teaching population attrition is at 6% (McKnab, 1995). Additionally, the working conditions of special education teachers are at times of a lower quality than those of regular teachers (CEC 1998). This introduces additional stresses that are not present in the general teacher population.

The research into teacher burnout has identified several causes of teacher burnout. The major issue centers on the stress associated with teaching. This stress is produced through a multiplicity of factors. There are factors associated with the teacher and others associated the students. Johnson, Gold, Williams, & Fiscus (1981) identify a lack of instructional material, a failure to get conventional teachers to understand special needs children, developing specialized programs for each child, lack of planning and preparation time and the misplacement of children as significant producers of stress in the special education field.

It should be underscored that while conventional teachers have similar issues in the special education arena the nature of the problem takes on unique qualities because of how the problem affects the students involved. Firstly a lack of instructional material may become a major impediment to accomplishing goals because for some disabilities the materials to be employed have to be specially created. The teacher becomes hobbled without the relevant material at their disposal.

The thrust to have special needs students engage in learning alongside regular students creates its own stress. Very often conventional teachers are ill prepared for the move both mentally and technically. When they work in combination with a special needs teacher the special needs teacher may attempt to address issues that relate to the needs of the child in the classroom such as the speed of the delivery of content and other issues. When the conventional teacher is unable to grasp the gravity of the situation and employ the relevant corrective measures this creates stress for the special needs teacher from at least two positions. The first is the professional as the special needs teacher may believe that their professional abilities are being questioned, and secondly from the nurturing perspective. The special needs teacher may become stressed because the student is not learning as they should.

Another area that produces vast quantities of stress is the task of developing a program for each child. In special education the programs are essentially tailored to suit the skills of the child being taught. Where a teacher has a large class it becomes very difficult to develop and monitor the program of every child. There is often a situation where the teacher may have a child whose disability requires greater attention than other children but the teacher does not have the time or opportunity to provide the fullest possible attention to secure maximum performance from that child. The entire situation becomes highly stressful and when it is protracted seems impossible to address.

The lack of planning a preparation time adds to the challenges noted above because it impacts directly on teacher self-esteem and performance. When a teacher is unable to adequately plan and prepare for their class the execution within the class suffers. At times this is noticeable at other times the impact is miniscule. Over time the amalgamated effect of this situation is to diminish the self-esteem of the teacher as they may sense that they are not giving the work their best efforts. This problem is exacerbated when you also have children who are misplaced within the classroom. The teacher is charged with meeting the needs of this child but may not have the necessary skills and New research has suggested that an important factor that is not considered is the parent (Parker-Pope, 2008). Parents are often very critical of teacher performance. They may attribute the failure of the child to achieve some predetermined goals as poor teacher performance. Teachers who routinely experience this type of parental pressure are highly likely to experience burnout. This situation is very prevalent in special needs situations as parent anxiety often drives their demands for performance by their children. Many parents are not sensitive to the manner in which the progress of special needs children should be measured and are frustrated when the child is not progressing fast enough. Their interaction with the child's teacher becomes highly conflicted, stressful and mentally draining for the teacher. As a consequence, parents can make a significant contribution to the phenomenon of teacher burnout.

Another element of the burnout situation is demographic characteristics. The teacher's age, years married and level of education has been shown to have a significant impact on burnout. This can be understood as older teachers may have been in the profession longer and have had greater opportunity to become burnout. The level at which the teacher teaches is also associated with burnout as teachers who teach at the elementary level have less stress than teachers at the secondary level (Gonzalez, 1997 cited in Haberman, 2004). The demographic characteristics function as moderator variables for the main element which is stress. Anything that modulates the levels of stress in the situation has the potential to impact on burnout. The external conditions of the teachers work must be processed through the perceptions and value systems of the individual before they become unhealthy and contribute to burnout (Haberman, M. 2004, p. 12).

The signs and symptoms of teacher burnout are an important consideration. Stewart (2008) identifies several signs of burnout among teachers. The teacher may develop feelings of exploitation and may think that they are being used by the employer. The work day becomes a dreaded activity. Thinking about work makes the individual sad and even depressed. There is a general irritability the source of which is not easily identified. Another sign is apathy and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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