Stop me if you have heard this before: We are in a teacher shortage. Everyone involved knows that. However, if you are in special education, then you know it is even worse than advertised.
At my school, my homeroom of students is typically the one that has the majority of the IEPs. Thus, I have had the privilege of sitting in on a lot of conversations about staffing and the subsequent searches. Last time I was involved, said search yielded zero results. There were a few applicants but none were even remotely qualified or right for the job. And to be clear, there were only a couple applicants for the job period … after being posted for months. Long story short, I ended up moving into the role. That sounds like an awesome conclusion to the story, but the reality is that I wasn’t qualified either, just more so than a random person off the street. I managed but my lack of knowledge and capacity (because I didn’t completely leave my previous role) mattered in terms of outcomes for those students.
The point of this story isn’t to sell you on the idea that special education students are in need of trained and qualified teachers; everyone agrees on that front. The point is to get people to accept the current reality of the situation: There are not enough people who fit that description to serve the population of special education students we have. Additionally, the few we have probably aren’t going to take a vow of poverty and take a more difficult job at an underserved inner-city or rural school.
You can not legislate your way out of a talent pool gap, but you can legislate yourself into one. This is the reason we have to be careful about passing laws that block commonly used work-arounds to get people in front of students.
Indiana closed a loop hole that allowed “emergency permits” for special education teachers. This was the right move. It was out of compliance with federal laws; however, some administrators are worried this will leave them short handed in the fall. They have good reason to have that fear as well. This is why the most important part of closing that loophole was replacing it with something that was in the best interest of kids but still provides enough opportunity for people to become qualified.
Indiana hopes they have succeeded in that endeavor by approving a new type of temporary special education teaching license. This new credential requires at least a bachelor’s degree and enrollment in a special education training program. According to the department of education, over 400 people are already participating.
As someone with first-hand experience with this problem, I hope this will balance the need for quality with the need for quantity to mitigate the problem.
Still, as a community, we need to look down the pipeline before the water comes out. We have the ability to forecast how many special education teachers we need and we should work on getting people on that path much sooner as opposed to begging for mid-career changers like we do now. Special education students deserve educators who can meet their needs, and currently, we are having trouble fielding teachers period, let alone adequate ones.