Paperwork making it hard for special ed teachers

By: Robin Beal Email
By: Robin Beal Email

ARMDORE, Okla. - Oklahoma school districts are facing new challenges in special education as they try to recruit the best and brightest to teach kids who need a little extra help.

High school can be difficult enough for your average adolescent with the pressures of growing up, but imagine how much more challenging it is for kids with special needs. For those special teachers we depend on to instruct them, their job is getting harder. Special education teachers now have more students and more paperwork for each student than ever before.

Educators say the paperwork has gotten so bad some special education teachers are opting for early retirement. Add to that dwindling numbers of new teachers willing to spend so much extra time and money in school to get certified, and that is leaving school districts in a bind.

"It’s very hard, and we can call all over the state of Oklahoma and other surrounding states and they're not graduating a whole lot of special ed teachers." Ardmore city schools spokesperson Geneva Matlack says.

Imagine going to work for eight hours a day, then having hours more work to do when you go home. It's work consisting of hours of paperwork. It is a job that many say is hard enough already, but it is getting even more challenging because of what so many are having to do at home.

“The paperwork has just become… insurmountable.”

“30 to 40 pages…”

“Anywhere from 17 to 45 pages long…”

“I mean it just goes on and on…”

Gina Berger has been a teacher for 24 years. Matlack is one of her bosses, an Ardmore School administrator. Together these two ladies know a lot about education. They also know a lot about paperwork.

“It’s horrible. I probably spend three to four hours on each IEP I do, minimum and that’s the short ones.”

She is talking about an individualized education plan, something the government says she must create for each one of her students. You see, Berger is a special education teacher.
And says every few years there seem to be more guidelines for her and her colleagues, more rules, and more red tape.

Matlack agrees, “The more involved a student is, the more involved the paperwork becomes.”

And the problem is that in a field where new recruits are more and more difficult to come by, the new regulations could be partially to blame for experienced special education teachers walking out.

“I have friends who have retired early and gone on to other professions because of the paperwork.”

The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education say roughly a decade ago, there were more than 200 newly degreed Special Education teachers in Oklahoma. Two years ago, there were fewer than half those numbers entering the field.

“We plan to go to Southeastern tomorrow to sit on a forum. For graduating student teachers at Southeastern, there is two out of probably fifty teachers that will have special education degrees.”

Even locally, the shortage is evident… and that begs the question… who will teach the students… who in some ways… need the most teaching.

“I think that something’s gonna have to give or there won’t be special ed teachers because nobody will do it anymore.”


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  • by gina Location: sw Oklahoma on Apr 29, 2008 at 05:29 PM
    First, as a special education teacher for eight years, I have watched the IEP paperwork grow longer and more complicated. Teachers tired of paperwork are retiring early or removing the special ed certification from their teaching licenses so they can be considered for regular education teaching jobs. We teach all day then spend evenings and weekends completing the required IEP paperwork. We do it because our special education students need us - most reg ed teachers are ready to fail them because they don't learn the way they teach. Second, highly qualified teachers are good; now school districts cannot force us to teach in an area we are not certified in nor qualified to teach. Third, students qualify through testing for an IEP; special education students need differentiated instuction to learn - they do not learn the traditional method of lecture and discussion. Last, special ed strives to help students overcome their learning disabilities to be productive and self-supporting citizens
  • by Wife of an educator Location: Oregon on Mar 27, 2008 at 05:08 PM
    The paperwork expected from Special Ed. teachers is completely out of control. There is no way anyone in the private sector would do that much work for the money teachers make. Not a Lazy Mother, I too have put in many hours with my LD son, so I hear you. Mom of a Teacher, stop lumping together every child that has an IEP! It's your school dist's responsibility to determine if a child qualifies for an IEP. If they are doing a lousy job in making those determinations, why don't you blow the whistle on them instead of whining to us? It is ignorant to assume every LD child has a parent who doesn't care. What is REALLY documented, is that most LD children have one or two LD parents. Did it ever occur to you that what you call "bad parenting" might be their inability to cope because of the same disability?
  • by Claire Location: Ada on Mar 27, 2008 at 11:47 AM
    I was fascinated to read the various responses thus far to the referenced article. I can hardly believe that many are focusing on whether students do or do not have a given disability. This was not the articles issue. The paper work was the articles issue and it has increased tenfold! The pay and support have not increased. The issue of highly qualified in core subject and special ed seems unjust. Given all these issues, in order to retain and recruit special education teachers, additional administrative support (paperwork support) and an increase in salary above the current 5% seems appropriate. By the way, I am a past special ed teacher and I currently am employeed in a school district.
  • by Annie Location: AZ on Mar 26, 2008 at 09:58 PM
    As a soon to be school psychologists & current supervisor of a practicum for special education pre-service teachers, I am acquiring quite a bit of knowledge and experience with eligibility decisions in SPED, IEPs, etc. It is unfortunate the amount of paperwork that special ed. teachers are required to complete, and it does deter people from entering the field. My practicum students are already expressing concerns about the paperwork. However, there are many students that DO need IEPs and whose parents have done all that they know to help their children. Response to Intervention (regular progress monitoring and appropriate selection and implementation of specific interventions) should eventually help to cut down on the number of referrals for special education services (specifically those for SLD, which is a large portion of those in SPED), if it is implemented correctly. Nonetheless, the pay is not sufficient for the amount of work. The teachers need more pay and more support.
  • by NOT A LAZY MOTHER! Location: A PROUD MOTHER on Mar 25, 2008 at 02:15 PM
    To Mom of a Teacher........my son has a "true deficit" does that make me a lazy mother? I work sometimes 3 and 4 hours a night with him on homework.....this after band and football. Having an IEP has let him accomplish so much and has improved his reading to the point that he's no longer so far behind. An IEP allows him to attend regular classes..something important to a kid in high school. We have always appreciated and adored the teachers. But you make it sound like every kid in special ed is just lazy or the parents are lazy..........NOT TRUE!
  • by Redneck Woman on Mar 25, 2008 at 12:17 PM
    Amen,mom of a teacher. Sounds like you were a teacher yourself. They are gonna keep adding more and more, then they're gonna be hurting for good teachers! It takes a special person anywat to be in special ed. I wouldn't do it... And alot of these ARDS and IEP's, etc. are held for parents who just don't do enough at home. They want a magic cure for their kids. These kids are not disabled in any way.
  • by Anonymous on Mar 25, 2008 at 09:05 AM
    Where are the comments from the parents??? I have posted and it's not here? Or is this just a story for teacher's to comment on?
  • by Anonymous on Mar 25, 2008 at 09:03 AM
    Why did you not post my comment, KXII? I didn't attack anyone or be rude? Special Ed. Mom from Texas
  • by Mom of a teacher on Mar 25, 2008 at 08:51 AM
    A true deficit would be a learning disability because of an inability to process information and retain it. I have seen schools require teachers to develop IEP's because parents do not oversee their child's homework or refuse to have their children complete the same assignments as classmates. I have witnessed parents (my friends) demand that IEP's be formulated for perfectly capable; however extremely lazy and spoiled children. In other words, too many IEP's are for children with "selective" deficits.
  • by former special education teacher Location: ardmore on Mar 25, 2008 at 06:57 AM
    I am in total agreement with the paperwork issue in Special Education today. I think another big piece playing a part in the special education teacher shortage is the "highly qualified" requirements mandated in No Child Left Behind. Special Education teachers are now required to be both special education certified as well as regular education certified to be considered "highly qualified" whereas regular education teachers need no special training to have special education students in their classrooms by law.
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