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.”