«SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHERS AND WORK STRESS: EXPLORING THE COMPETING INTERESTS MODEL By LARRY DEAN BUSH JR A dissertation submitted in partial ...»
Interpersonal interactions with other teachers and administrators can be either a significant source of support or stress for special education teachers. In particular, principals are in a unique position to reduce the role conflict and ambiguity unique to special education teachers (Cross & Billingsley, 1994). The survey research of Littrell, Billingsley, and Cross (1994) illustrated four dimensions of principal support, including emotional support, appraisal support, instrumental support, and informational support. Teachers in the study rated emotional support as the most important dimension of principal support. Principals rated high in emotional support provided teachers the opportunity to participate in decisions, showed concern for their students and program, and promoted a the teachers’ sense of importance. Teachers rated appraisal support as the second most important dimension of principal support. Principals rated high in appraisal support provided teachers with either direct or indirect feedback on the performance of their duties. Teachers rated instrumental support as the third most important dimension of principal support. Principals rated high in instrumental support provided teachers with direct assistance with their work, such as behavior management techniques, parent meetings, and the allocation of materials. Finally, teachers rated information support as the fourth most important dimension of principal support.
Notwithstanding the importance of administrative support, additional research by Billingsley, Carlson, and Klein (2004) illustrated the importance of collegial support. Their survey research of 963 early career special education teachers indicated that 89% rated the informal assistance from other colleagues was moderate or greatly helpful. Similarly, the survey research of Fimian (1986) confirmed the receipt of peer or supervisory support as a key moderator of teacher stress. Additional research by Schlichte, Yssel, and Merbler (2005) confirmed the importance of building strong, collaborative relationships among novice teachers and other educators. Strong, collaborative relationships appear to be protective factors that tend to foster a sense of belonging and satisfaction. Finally, research from Carter and Scruggs (2001) confirm the destructive impact of perceived lack of support among teacher colleagues.
Special education teachers face a number of occupational stressors while transitioning from pre-professional teacher to professional teacher. Previous research has attempted to articulate the relationship between the level of in-service preparation to burnout with paradoxical results. Early research from Zabel and Zabel (1983) revealed the amount of teacher pre-service preparation represented an inverse relationship. Special education teachers with the most preservice training had the lowest rates of burnout, while teachers with the least pre-service training had the highest rates of burnout. In contrast, the questionnaire research from Banks and Necco (1990) revealed teachers working in special education with alternative certification had significantly lower levels of burnout than teachers with special education undergraduate or graduate degrees. Finally, a replication of the Zabel and Zabel study twenty years later indicated the level of pre-service preparation was much less important than previously thought(Zabel & Zabel, 2001).
A closer look at instructional assignments provides some clarification of the relationship between burnout and pre-service preparation. Embich (2001) completed survey research with of 276 special education teachers in self contained and team teaching assignments. Her research revealed no relationship between the level of educational attainment and burnout in selfcontained special education teachers, while the degree of emotional exhaustion in team teaching teachers increased as the level of pre-service preparation decreased. Additional survey research by Nichols and Sosnowsky (2002) of 77 special education teachers assigned to self-contained classrooms with endorsements to teach students with learning disabilities further clarified the role of instructional assignments. Their research demonstrated increased degrees of emotional exhaustion with increasing dissatisfaction with professional development opportunities and preservice preparation.
While speculative, the aforementioned researchers suggest the paradoxical results may reflect an increased efficacy of pre-service preparation, induction support, and mentoring. In addition, the paradoxical results may reflect specific dimensions of instructional arrangements or may represent an aging of the work force and a survivor effect. Additional research is needed to further clarify the role of pre-service preparation and burnout.
Instructional arrangements and assignments refer to the categorical programs specific to student characteristics in special education. Examples of categorical programs include selfcontained settings, resource room, preschool programs, and behavior disorder classrooms. While it is difficult to determine the factors influencing teacher burnout within instructional arrangements, it is clear that special education teachers have differential patterns of attrition (Singer, 1993; Zabel, Boomer, & King, 1984). Instructional arrangements and its relationship to burnout have received little attention in the research literature; however, previous research has implicated the ambiguity, conflict, workload manageability, and stress to different instructional arrangements.
Teachers working with students with emotional and behavioral disabilities are at the highest risk for burnout in special education (Fore, Martin, & Bender, 2002). Teachers working with students with emotional and behavioral disabilities are less likely to receive administrative, collegial, or instructional support. In addition, they are more likely to report low levels of personal accomplishment, as well as, challenges with student behavior and completing paperwork (Nelson, Maculan, Roberts, & Ohlund, 2001). Unfortunately, not all research is as clear and consistent. In a comparison of resource room and self-contained teachers, Crane and Iwanicki (1986) reported resource room teachers were more likely to exhibit burnout symptoms.
Yet, a later comparison of resource room teachers and self-contained teachers resulted in different findings (Embich, 2001). Embich reported self-contained teachers were more likely than resource room teachers to exhibit burnout symptoms.
Different instructional arrangements may have varying impact upon collegial support, principal support, and paperwork. More research is needed to elucidate predictive factors within instructional arrangements. In addition, more research is needed to evaluate the impact of academic standards and recent federal policies, such as No Child Left Behind, upon instructional arrangements (Falk, 2003).
Summary Special education burnout research leaves many questions unanswered. Wisniewski and Garguilo (1997) frame special education burnout within organizational structures, professional interactions, professional training, and instructional arrangements. Currently, research implicates administrative support, collegial support, role conflict, and role ambiguity as instrumental to special education burnout constructs.
Francis Fowler (2004) described the Education of All Handicapped Children, later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as a redistributive education policy instrument. In Fowler’s words, a redistributive policy is one that shifts resources or power from one social group to another. By doing so, the government “seek[s] to control conduct...indirectly by altering the conditions of conduct or manipulating the environment” (Lowi & Ginsburg, 1994, as cited by Fowler, 2004). Redistributive policies are inherently controversial and create a political arena of sharp differences and ideological intensity. In addition, the IDEA at it’s core is a fundamental expression of the right of students with disabilities to due process and protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution. A conceptualization of teacher burnout in special education requires a careful consideration of the history of special education and the insights offered by the critical perspectives found in the principles of critical race theory and disability studies. In summary, a conceptualization of teacher burnout in special education requires a careful consideration of the socio-political and ideological foundations of public education and special education.
A Brief History of Special Education.
Today, the policies and practices of special education represent a contentious, tumultuous aggregate of federal and state case law. Understanding and keeping abreast of special education case law and the day-to-day challenges it creates is a critical responsibility of local special education administrators. The Education of All Handicapped Children Act (later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) passed in 1975, was the first overt recognition of the rights of students with disabilities to a free and appropriate public education. Before the initial passage of this act, literally millions of children were systematically excluded from public education with no due process of law. The foundation for understanding special education case law begins by understanding key judicial decisions and federal initiatives that led to the original passage of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act.
The special education movement was created during the twilight hours of the Civil Rights Movement and represented the culmination of close to 80 years of legal debate. The most far reaching civil rights Supreme Court decision of the last one hundred years was Plessy vs.
Ferguson (1896). Plessy vs. Ferguson contested the established practice of providing separate public transit facilities for black Americans and their white counterparts. At the time, it was the custom for black Americans and white Americans to ride in separate rail coaches. It was typical to find separate transit facilities, restroom facilities, drinking fountains, theaters, restaurants, and school facilities designed to ensure black Americans and white Americans did not interact. The Plessy vs. Ferguson case clearly illustrated the prevalent attitude that black American’s were inferior to their white counterparts by establishing the doctrine of “separate but equal.” The intent of the decision was clearly designed to maintain the separation between the races and resulted in separate public facilities. Poignantly put, Mr. Justice Brown wrote in the assenting opinion, If the two races are to meet upon terms of social equity, it must be the result of natural affinities, a mutual appreciation of each other’s merits and a voluntary consent of individuals … If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane. (La Morte, 1999, p. 267) Plessy vs. Ferguson established 60 years of de jure segregation and fostered rigid state statute, municipal policies, and school policies created and enforced by the writ of law to ensure that the two races did not interact.
The doctrine of “separate but equal” would continue until the 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, reversed the decision by declaring that the “separate but equal” doctrine had no place in public education. A class action lawsuit, the Brown decision represented complaints from five different states and argued that segregated schools violated the protections of the fourteenth amendment for an entire class of American citizens based solely upon their race. Chief Justice Warren clearly communicated the unanimous
Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group...Any language in contrary to this finding is rejected. We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. (La Morte, 1999, p. 275) In its decision, the Brown case concluded that education was fundamental to a successful life and all children should be ensured equal education opportunity. The Brown decision initiated educational and social reform and launched the modern era of the Civil Rights Movement.
Shortly after the Brown decision, parents of exceptional children began to file lawsuits based upon the legal premise that the refusal of school districts to provide an appropriate education without due process of law was a violation of the protections afforded to students with disabilities by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Two of the most influential cases was the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens (PARC) vs. Commonwealth of 1971 and Mills vs. Board of Education of District of Columbia of 1972 (Wright & Wright, 1999). Both cases contested successfully the practice of excluding students with mental retardation and challenging behavior from public education without due process. In particular, the Mills vs. Board of Education of District of Columbia established the fact that over 12,000 students had been systematically excluded from a free public education designed to meet their needs. The PARC vs. Commonwealth and Mills vs. Board of Education decisions brought the educational experiences of literally millions of students with disabilities in to the national political agenda.