«SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHERS AND WORK STRESS: EXPLORING THE COMPETING INTERESTS MODEL By LARRY DEAN BUSH JR A dissertation submitted in partial ...»
Some of the veteran special education teachers also discussed using school reform initiatives to their advantage. One veteran teacher reported working closely with the superintendent and principal to implement response to intervention strategies. She shared, “I had a real vested interest to get that going, but that meant another responsibility. I am the DIBLES coordinator and do all the testing and data keeping.” New initiatives often provide a level of reflection and positionality that fosters creativity and integration into the general education culture. Another veteran teacher reported, “The WASL really has made me a better teacher because it made me question everything I did. I was teaching math and thought the art teacher can teach symmetry. That’s one whole chunk I can toss to her and move on to something else.” Many times, new initiatives foster integration into the general education culture while reducing special education responsibilities. Another novice teacher reported how she used response to intervention to expand her responsibility into the larger school context and reduce her special education duties, “Three years ago, we put our assets together with the Title 1 person to emphasize preschool, kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. We haven’t had a referral from them in three years.” Novice Teacher’s Reponses to Work Challenges Novice teachers were much more likely to express frustration, dissatisfaction, and isolation.
They were much more likely to use confrontation and coercive strategies to accomplish their work. In this section, I will present the novice teacher’s responses to their work and strategies for completing their work.
In this study, novice teachers were much more likely to refer to their work as a game, fight, or battle. Unfortunately, this analogy fosters competition, suppresses working relationships, and increases feelings of isolation, frustration, and dissatisfaction. One novice teacher referred to her school as a battleground, “I would say the building that I work in has been challenging. Just the different rules – special ed and general ed – and people’s views and administration views. It’s something that’s hard and it’s kind of a battleground.” Unlike most veteran teachers, novice teachers are much more likely to report adversarial relationships with others and turn to administrator’s for conflict resolution. One novice teacher shared her first
experience with administrative support:
Last year when I got here, the administration said you won’t be teaching; you’ll be doing the paperwork. I thought that was odd. The para pro’s did all the lesson planning and taught. There was no connection between what I was writing on their IEP’s and what was actually being taught. I was appalled; so that’s a change I made this year. They didn’t like that I was going to be in the classroom and knew what I was doing. There was a pretty big uproar, but the administration sided with me. I should be teaching. Two of the para pro’s refused to change so they were basically switched to Title One para’s.
Adversarial relationships often increase the novice teacher’s reliance upon coercive administrative support. One novice teacher reported heavy reliance upon interpretations of the
law by her administrator:
If it’s in the IEP, you are required by law to provide that service. We have big meetings with the general ed teachers and say you are not following the IEP and this is not okay. I have a phenomenal special ed coordinator. She fights for us until the death.
Adversarial relationships increase conflict and ambiguity. Another novice teacher reflected upon
her difficulty developing relationships at school:
They just want to start picking at me for any little thing and it’s hard to take. It makes you want to stand up. I feel like I am constantly defending myself. I’m on the defensive team and you’re on the offensive team.
Confrontational strategies and adversarial relationships inhibit a teacher’s ability to assimilate into the special education culture and general education culture.
Novice teachers often limit their involvement in the general education culture to reduce conflict, ambiguity, and anxiety. A novice teacher reflected upon her decision to limit her involvement in the general education culture: “I’m not always a player. Sometimes I’m on the sidelines just wanting to get my time in. I was kind of sitting in the back seat.” Most novice teachers report feeling unable to effect change. Another novice teacher reflected upon her difficulty creating change: “I am trying to work with the teachers and show his available accommodations without making the teacher feel awkward. I don’t want to butt heads, but expand their view.” Most novice teachers struggle to bridge the philosophies between special education and general education. One teacher said, “I am always feeling in competition, unsupported, unheard, just sort of blown off.” Most novice teachers reported the different philosophies increase their use of coercive strategies. A novice teacher recounted her attempts to make teachers see a different perspective: “It’s kind of old school here. I’m trying to make them understand or help them understand the IEP. This kid can have special ed and they don’t have to be in my room all day.” Often novice teachers reduce the scope of their decisions to avoid working with general education teachers. One novice teacher reasoned, I think to myself this would be in the best interest to have these accommodations, but I know the gen ed teachers aren’t going to give them. Why would I write them into the IEP? I’m going to have to go and fight and battle and I don’t want to fight and battle. It’s tiring and draining and I don’t have the time.
These interactions create ambiguity, conflict, and increase their isolation. Novice special education teacher’s inability to bridge the cultural gaps fosters confrontational strategies or withdrawal from the general education culture. One novice teacher concluded separation from
general education teachers was the norm:
There’s a few teachers who are great and I talk to them and get along with them, but we kind of stick to, stick to ourselves. I mean that’s sad and it’s hard, but it’s the way of the
Confrontational strategies foster increased isolation, dissatisfaction, anxiety, frustration, and a reduced sense of accomplishment.
Many of the novice teachers reported being young inhibited their work and created anxiety. One novice teacher reflected upon the impact of her age: “I am the youngest in this building probably by ten years if not more.” Novice teachers report feeling pressured to intervene and make decisions in the school’s best interest. Another novice teacher spoke to the anxiety created by disagreement among teachers: “You have to be really careful how you intervene and be consistent with what you’re saying. Especially as a young person, I see that as very, very overwhelming.” Many novice teachers reported their age decreased their credibility among more experienced teachers. One novice teacher said, It’s been hard even working with some of the regular ed teachers. They’ve all been in their position for years and so I come in and I have these ideas or things that need to be implemented for our kids and they just kind of look at me like, yeah, I’m sure you know what you’re talking about.
Finally, novice teachers reported their age obligated them to duties veteran teachers did not want.
One teacher reported the veteran teachers expected her to take a coaching position:
I think they see it as you’re the young one it’s your turn to step up and do it. It’s kind of an obligation thing. We did it when we were young, your brand new it’s your turn. It’s
A Minority Report Not all novice and veteran teachers reported similar experiences as their peers. One novice teacher reported a strong connection to both the special education and general education cultures; whereas, one veteran teacher did not. The novice teacher shared an atypical experience from other novice teachers. She was the only novice teacher to describe a strong, supportive school culture were all teachers and students are valued. She commented on her integration into the general education culture, “I have a general education teacher here. We have lunch together and just kind of bounce ideas back and forth. It’s really nice to have that.” The same teacher shared the emotional support the general education teacher provided to her, “Like you may be having the worst day ever, you just complain you’re done. It’s amazing how much a decompress can make you feel so much better.” Even more so, she described a deliberate integration into the general education culture by general education teachers. She reported, We have PE four days a week. It was originally five, but I wanted my kids to have library time. She [the librarian] was definitely okay to do that for my kids. So we trimmed our PE to four periods a week and library one. I have another teacher who says my kids know your kids from elementary school, like they want to come do stuff. So, the last day before Halloween she sent the kids that wanted to come and we did stuff. The home and family consumer sciences teacher is like we want to do a buddy read.
Beyond that, she described a robust support system developed by the district and school:
They sent me to workshops. I have almost wrapped up 140 clock hours to date on their dime. They also got me a brand new fridge. They have been very supportive. We meet about students informally a lot of times. We kind of hammer out problems together.
In contrast to the novice teacher, one veteran teacher articulated a strong sense of isolation, disillusionment, and dissatisfaction. She clearly described two distinct cultures within
her school and articulated how her position isolated her from the rest of the school:
I was really, you know, bending over backwards and making myself into a pretzel trying to, uhh, be kind and be accommodating to the teacher, but that’s probably why I feel like they treat me as a special ed kid too (laughing). You know - not really part of the community, school community. It’s interesting because in this building there’s several ex-special ed teachers here, but because they are regular ed teachers now their part of the group. It’s weird. So I don’t care if they like me or if they don’t. I really don’t care.
Both cases illustrated in this section represent the exception from the typical experiences of novice and veteran teachers.
In summary, self reports from most veteran special education teachers indicate they used their formal and informal learning to work within the local school norms to assimilate into dual workplace cultures. Veteran special education teachers are much more likely to use exemplary interpersonal skills to initiate professional interactions to carve out a space for themselves within the dual workplace cultures. They are also much more likely to use administrative support to build relationships to capitalize upon new initiatives to integrate into the general education culture. Unlike veteran teachers, novice teachers are much more likely to struggle to bridge the cultural gaps between special education and general education. They are much more likely to use confrontational and coercive strategies and to use administrative support to resolve conflict.
Novice and veteran special education teachers’ background experiences foster values, motives, and expectations. Often they approach their work with strong aspirations and hope.
Their work challenges and responses to their work challenges tend to create strong affective responses. In this study, the majority of novice teachers were more likely to report feelings of frustration, dissatisfaction, and emotional fatigue; whereas, veteran teachers were more likely to report feeling connected, satisfied, and engaged. In this section, I present the analysis of novice and veteran teacher’s affective responses to their work. I will begin with the novice teachers.
In this study, the majority of novice teachers were more likely to consider a career outside of special education and to report feelings of disengagement, frustration, and emotional fatigue. Many of the novice teachers reported strong feelings of dissatisfaction and were likely to
consider leaving public education. One novice teacher reflected upon her experience:
I think if I was moved to a different building I would be all for kind of staying, but it really is just such a negative attitude that it kind of makes you want to leave. If I didn’t have a great team that I work with and a special ed director, I would have quit last year.
Some of the novice teachers reported feelings of disillusionment and unfair treatment. Another novice teacher described her feelings of discontent: “I think that I’ve been kind of railroaded, basically, with all the stuff that they’ve put on me as a first year teacher that I kind of got a sour taste in my mouth about special ed.” Other novice teachers shared doubts about whether they had the energy to continue in special education. One novice teacher said, “I don’t feel like I could keep up this pace probably for more than another five to ten years. I just don’t feel that I would be on top of everything I need to be on top of.” Many novice teachers described strong feelings of emotional fatigue and struggled to find balance between their personal and professional lives.
Another novice teacher tearfully described her feelings:
I am to the max! I’m going to keep dealing with it, because I think it can’t be like this for all of my teaching career. I got to have a life. I am so out of balance. I’m exhausted and
A few novice teachers articulated comfort, but dissatisfaction in their work and stayed because of a lack of other opportunities. One novice teacher shared, “If I won the lottery tomorrow, I could tell you where I would be.” Finally, several teachers simply reported plans to leave education.