Researchers have focused their attention on the subject of special education teacher attrition for many years. While these researchers have made valuable findings, the need to abate the staggering numbers of special education teachers who leave the field still exists. Districts desiring to retain their teachers must place greater emphasis on the development of evidence-based strategies to reduce teacher attrition (Billingsley, 2004).
The purposes of this study were to: (a) provide an overview of the extent, if at all, to which perceptions of job commitment among current special education teachers in a large metropolitan school district in Southern California differ on the basis of those teachers' demographic characteristics; (b) identify the extent, if at all, to which perceptions of job satisfaction and stress are related to perceptions of job commitment among current special education teachers in a large metropolitan school district in Southern California; (c) identify the common reasons/conditions expressed by current special education teachers in a large metropolitan school district in Southern California for wanting to leave teaching special education; and (d) identify the reported career plans of current special education teachers in a large metropolitan school district in Southern California.
Examining the literature in non-teaching fields, general education teaching, and special education and considering the findings from this study, the salient factors relating to burnout appear to be: (a) personal/demographic factors (e.g., marital status, age, gender, race/ethnicity, type of student population, experience on the job, certification and preparation, and self-concept/self-confidence); (b) employment factors (e.g., mentoring opportunities, salary, workload, caseload and class size, administrative support, colleague support, interpersonal relationships, availability of resources, and employee involvement in decision-making, level of parent involvement, school climate, and student discipline issues); and (c) external factors (e.g., lack of respect or prestige, community/societal support for the occupation). There are other personal factors that should not be attributed to burnout, such as retirement, promotion, relocating, health, pregnancy, and other family-related issues.
This study employed a survey design. The target population for this study was the over 4,000 full-time special education teachers (as designated by district criteria) employed by a large metropolitan school district in Southern California. The specific form of data collection was the administration of a web-based survey using Survey Monkey. The instrument used was an adapted version of a questionnaire by Billingsley and Cross (1992, as revised by Theoharis, 2008). In addition, two questions pertaining to "Future Teaching Plans" were borrowed from Billingsley, Pyecha, Smith-Davis, Murray, and Hendricks (1995). Data analysis included both quantitative (descriptive statistics, correlation, ANOVA, multiple regression) and qualitative techniques (coding and sorting responses into themes).
The findings of this study suggest the following demographic variables are related to job commitment: being female, Hispanic, and teaching students with eligibilities other than learning disabilities in an elementary setting. Job satisfaction was positively correlated with job commitment and career longevity, but negatively correlated with job stress. In addition, job stress was negatively correlated with both with job satisfaction and career longevity. Also, job satisfaction and career longevity were positively correlated. The most frequently indicated factors related to wanting to leave the field included lack of administrative support, workload issues, salary issues, paperwork issues, class size issues, lack of parent involvement, negative school climate, inadequate resources, lack of respect or prestige, student discipline issues, lack of opportunities to participate in decision-making, lack of time to interact with colleagues, lack of community support, negative teacher-teacher relationships, and negative teacher-student relationships. The majority of the special education teachers who participated in this study indicated that they planned to remain in their job at least until retirement. For those who planned to leave within the next 3 to 5 years, the most frequently indicated reasons (in order of popularity) were retirement, followed by obtaining a promotion within school or district, seeking employment in a non-teaching job in education, and teaching special education in another district.
Future research should examine the relationship between teacher predictions for career plans and actual behavior, and should explore the specific employment or external factors that lead some special education teachers to indicate intent to remain in or leave the field. Further research is recommended to explore the relationship between years teaching special education and job commitment, the nature of colleague interaction and its effect on job satisfaction, and intent to remain in or leave the field. Future research should also examine the nature of support provided by administrators in schools where special education teachers perceive satisfactory levels of support, and further research is needed to investigate the association between race and job satisfaction.