«SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHERS AND WORK STRESS: EXPLORING THE COMPETING INTERESTS MODEL By LARRY DEAN BUSH JR A dissertation submitted in partial ...»
Another veteran teacher reported that IEP’s helped to bridge the gap between the special education and general education cultures: “I don’t write my IEP’s as a way to disrupt; I write them as a way to encourage. There are those of us who write them in an abrupt fashion. It’s ineffective. A shotgun isn’t a pretty thing to carry into a meeting, you see, and it makes for messiness and nothing gets accomplished. Everything becomes scattered.” Finally, one novice teacher reported receiving assistance from other teachers and administrators completing paperwork. She reported, “They come and help me to write IEP’s. I’ve had really good support writing IEP’s.” In summary, novice and veteran teachers struggle to balance instructional and noninstructional duties. Many of the teachers reported completing paperwork was extremely difficult and required extra time beyond the school day to complete. Most of the novice teachers reported completing paperwork during planning periods, after hours, or on weekends, instead of preparing lessons and curriculum materials, whereas, veteran teachers reported focusing on instructional duties by completing paperwork after hours or on weekends. In addition, many novice teachers reported completing paperwork often interfered with instructional duties and required the delegation of instructional duties to paraeducators. Veteran teachers were more likely to report that access to up-to-date information was challenging.
Finding Curriculum and Resources Most of the novice and veteran teachers in this study reported working without formal curriculum or classroom resources. The lack of formal curriculum or classroom resources required time beyond the school day to develop lesson plans, find meaningful curriculum materials, and find classroom resources. These challenges seem to increase their stress, lengthen their workday, and contribute to the cultural gap between special education and general education teachers. Previous research identified finding curriculum materials and developing lesson plans as a major source of stress for novice special education teachers (Kilgore & Griffin, 1998). In this study, most of the novice and veteran teachers reported that they had to acquire curriculum materials and resources from other teachers and colleagues, or by directly purchasing materials with their own money. In addition, the individualization of instruction and diversity of student needs exacerbated the lack of curriculum materials. One novice teacher explained, “I basically lesson plan for 24 different kids. I have 24 different lesson plans going on in a day. So it’s a ton of time on the weekend.” Another veteran teacher stated, You’re working with so many different grade levels and disabilities. The difficulty is the planning for each grade level that you have to teach. Pulling resources together because sometimes you’re not given a curriculum, you have to pull those things together. The
Most novice teachers reported the lack of curriculum materials specific to their students required
them to create their own materials. Another novice teacher summed up these frustrations:
My biggest challenge as a special ed teacher is having to recreate the wheel. I mean you are always having to generate new ideas and trying new things, but not having a good base of any sort of curriculum to draw from.
Of those teachers who did have access to curriculum materials, many reported using outdated materials or materials not targeted for their students. Many novice teachers are surprised, unprepared, and overwhelmed by the lack of materials. One novice teacher said, We got all this stuff from this other teacher. It was stuff from the 1960’s that he used; the whole room was piled with stuff. And, I mean, it took me and my para ed a couple of weeks to get through it all, and I was just throwing the old stuff away.
Many teachers reported being hired and working in schools with nothing more than worksheets and dittos. One novice teacher likened her inadequate materials to garbage, “I have these three drawers packed full of ditto sheets. So I had to get rid of that, I mean there was just garbage.” In contrast, a few novice teachers reported an abundance of curriculum materials but no knowledge or time to learn how to use it. A novice teacher stated, We have tons of English stuff. Last year when I came in, I go what am I supposed to teach and the response I got was you teach whatever you feel is important. So, last year I didn’t have anything. I made it up as I went along.
Despite these challenges, many teachers feel obligated to provide enriching materials and experiences to students with disabilities, but lack the time to do so. One novice teacher commented, “I feel like I owe them an opportunity to have exposure to the general ed curriculum, but I don’t have time to paw through that. I just don’t.” Many novice and veteran teachers reported looking for materials outside of the school, using creative means to acquire curriculum, or spending their own money. They reported purchasing curriculum materials and resources because their districts were either unwilling or unable to supply the necessary materials. A veteran teacher stated, “I was refused too many times. I buy it myself. It’s just easier to do it this way.” Another veteran teacher sheepishly commented, “Please don't let my husband know, but if we need something I go out and buy it.
Probably 90% of what you see I have purchased.” One novice teacher reported spending substantial sums of money: “It’s just little things that add up quickly. Books, puzzles, games, paint – stuff that we don’t have that I need. It’s close to $100 to $150 a month.” Other teachers reported they acquired curriculum and materials from other teachers or other people. As one stated, My master teacher recommended Read Naturally and my mom recommended Expressive Writing. I guess most colleges would think you’re going to a bigger district and they’re going to have all of that stuff for you already, and that’s not the case.
Many veteran and novice teachers acquired curriculum and materials through informal connections with other teachers. One veteran teacher shared, “I have a friend that has some really good stuff on comprehension. It's all about hunting it out – beg, borrow, or steal it.” Finally, one novice teacher reported making copies of a curriculum from another teacher: “I couldn’t have another five hundred dollars to get my own math curriculum. I’ve gotten some of the levels of it through another teacher. She allowed me to make copies of it.” Of the 19 teachers interviewed, only two veterans and one novice teacher reported access to formal, high quality curriculum. All three worked in large urban districts and reported that the curriculum materials addressed the unique needs of special education students. The only novice teacher with formal curriculum reported piloting a curriculum to address the transition needs of high school students. She reported, “This year we’re actually piloting Why Try in the special services department through their study hall class, and I love it. I think it is the best program ever.” One of the veteran teachers reported strong involvement in the adoption and commitment to the implementation of the curriculum. She reported initial skepticism, but enthusiastically embraced the curriculum after implementation: “I had never heard of Read 180 because we’re so busy in the trenches. Our leader had. We had people come in as speakers and we did some research. He didn’t force it; it was all volunteer.” Teacher reports suggest that curriculum designed specifically for students with disabilities reduces stress and workload. A veteran teacher stated, When I first started, I was given a box of random things and I tried to come up with something to teach my students. Last year, I was given a curriculum and taught how to use it. Before that, I had no curriculum. I had to find it all. I was flying by the seat of my
Finally, the two veteran teachers with high quality curriculum also reported access to specialized materials for the disabled, such as books on tape or brailled materials. One reported, “We’ve got people to help us. Our vision specialist is going to be contacting books on tape.” In summary, most special education teachers work in classrooms with no formal curriculum or classroom resources. They often work with students from a wide range of grade and ability levels with self-made curriculum and materials. Most novice and veteran teachers spend a great deal of time outside of their workday creating or buying their own curriculum and classroom resources. Often this creates heightened levels of stress and long workdays. As one veteran teacher put it, “You have to kind of fly by the seat of your pants. You do your own thing.
You better know what you want otherwise you’re not going to get it.” Bridging the Cultural Gap – Understanding Dual Culture Workplace Special education teachers work in a unique environment that often requires extensive networking, technical knowledge, and exemplary interpersonal skills to bridge cultural gaps between the special education and the general education (Falk, 2002; Frith, 1981; & Pugach, 1992). In this study, both novice and veteran teachers reported it was important to understand the differing perspectives, boundaries, and hierarchies associated with this dual culture workplace.
Most novice teachers reported that the experience was frustrating, confusing, and isolating.
Both veteran and novice teachers reported it was important to assess and understand the perspectives of administrators and teachers. One veteran teacher reflected on her relationship
with building administrators:
You know I've had to push that [participant was whispering], really manipulate that, because administrators come and go. So I have to learn the politics of each new one and the communication style. So I guess throughout my years here I have a very supportive principal and that’s who I go to and that’s who I deal with and that’s where the buck stops. At other times, the principals not there because of their learning style and I rely on the superintendent and I just go right there.
In addition, most teachers emphasized the importance of understanding different teacher perspectives, including their attitude toward special education. One veteran teacher said, “You need to know which teachers do really well with special ed kids and which ones to keep your special ed kids out of their classroom.” Another veteran teacher reported change came slowly and required careful assessment of each teacher’s perspective, “The old guard was here when I came in at 23 years old. They had a certain mind set. This is how it was done and that’s how I did it, but that has changed as I’ve gotten older.” Novice teachers were more likely to express difficulty and dissatisfaction with assessing the different perspectives and boundaries than veteran teachers. One novice teacher, reflecting upon the ambiguity of her work place, reported, “I can’t tell you what the expectations were because there weren’t any.” For some of the novice teachers, learning the perspectives and boundaries was a painful and embarrassing experience. One novice teacher provided a painful reflection, “I think the intolerance of differences; I never suspected that coming from a school. I lost my self. It was humiliating.” At times, novice teachers conclude the special education and general education philosophies and perspectives were too large to bridge. One novice teacher reflected upon her lack of involvement with the general education teachers, “There’s a lot of difference in opinions and philosophies between special ed and regular ed. They don’t intentionally try to include special ed. I guess at some point I’m going to have to collaborate with the general ed teacher.” Administrative and general education philosophies and perspectives partially establish hierarchies and informal rules; however, often the hierarchies in the school are ambiguous and do not reflect formal authority lines. One novice teacher shared her assessment of the informal rules: “It’s a very tight knit building here, and as horrible as it sounds, there’s a few teachers that kind of run the building and oversee everything.” Most teachers reported it was important to identify and target the power brokers within the school. Many times those power brokers were not administrators. One said it this way, You have to smooze and know who likes dark chocolate and who likes milk chocolate and kiss a little bit of butt to get what you need. That’s not taught, that’s something you have or don’t, and if you don’t have those things you’re not going to go very far.