Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Summers, Kelly H.

Second Advisor

Tonks, Stephen

Degree Name

Ed.D. (Doctor of Education)

Legacy Department

Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF)


This dissertation examined the differences within special education preparation and professional development support and the association with special educator feelings of self-efficacy and burn-out. The dissertation is organized into three separate papers. Paper 1 is a review of the research literature on the causes of special educator attrition. Paper 2 utilized the causes of attrition identified in Paper 1 and outlined research to further identify potential causes, and potential solutions. Paper 3 provides an outline of proactive solutions for districts to implement, in order to support special educators through meaningful professional development.

The literature review identified specific factors impacting special educators’ career longevity. Stressors such as the various needs of students, apathetic administrators, insensitive colleagues, and unsupportive or demanding parents effect overall job satisfaction. Additionally, the demands of professional paperwork associated with the role, increase the amount of time spent on non-instructional tasks resulting in less direct contact time with students. Various expectations within the role coupled with insufficient professional development and pre-service training, are additional influences reducing feelings of self-efficacy, concurrently increasing burnout, and ultimately resulting in special educator attrition.

For Paper 2, I conducted an interview study with ten special education teachers working in unit districts outside a large Midwestern city in the United States, on their perceptions of leading causes of burnout within their role. Participants were asked about whether the lack of professional development and support is linked to special educator role ambiguity, self-efficacy, and job satisfaction. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and then analyzed using a Grounded Theory approach to identify themes within participant responses that could contribute to a theory and/or remedy to special educator attrition through an effective, consistent professional development model of support. Findings of the study included three major themes impacting special educator self-efficacy and attrition: Professional Development, Lack of Support and Understanding, and Instructional Barriers. In addition to the three major themes, several sub-themes emerged, detailing the perceptions of special educator needs to support their retention in the field. These themes suggest a need for consistent professional development and support relative to the unique needs of the special educator.

For Paper 3, I developed a Professional Development Plan designed to provide special educators, administrators, as well as regular education counterparts, consistent support and information in the critical components of the identification and eligibility of students, as well as legally required elements within the IEP paperwork and process. This plan will help to alleviate the inconsistency and ambiguity behind the purposes of the legal statutes, while providing support and examples for effective application and implementation. Ultimately, the goal of the plan is to provide special education centered professional development support to reduce overall special educator attrition. Additionally, the plan will help to reduce unnecessary costs associated with indefensible IEPs, while simultaneously increasing systematic support for the betterment of both special educators and students.


98 pages




Northern Illinois University

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