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«SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHERS AND WORK STRESS: EXPLORING THE COMPETING INTERESTS MODEL By LARRY DEAN BUSH JR A dissertation submitted in partial ...»

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Participant Selection To qualify as a participant for this study, a special education teacher had to be be working as a special education teacher in a public school in eastern Washington State, be fully certified in special education, and employed full time. Novice teachers had to have three years or less of special education teaching experience, whereas, veteran teachers had to have ten or more years of experience. The experience of the ten novice teachers’ selected for this study ranged from less than one year to just under three years experience, with the average being one year, eight months. The 9 veteran teachers’ experience ranged from eleven years to 29 years, with an average of 19 years, seven months. All but two of the participants were female. Teachers chosen did not represent extreme cases – such as teacher of the year or teachers on probation.

A list of eligible participants for this new phase of the study was generated by contacting the superintendents or special education directors of the three selected large, urban districts.

Once permission was granted for the study, special education teachers within the district were contacted and invited to participate. Participation was voluntary, deception was not used, and participants were not compensated. All participants that were contacted agreed to participate in the study. All interviews were scheduled at times and locations convenient for the participants. In summary, the final set of participants represented four groups of teachers: novice teachers in rural settings, novice teachers in urban settings, veteran teachers in rural settings, and veteran teachers in urban settings. In addition, the selected teachers worked in a variety of special education service models, such as resource room, life skills, and resource room/life skills combined.

Two-Phase Study Design This study was conducted in two phases over the course of six years. Phase one was completed in the form of pilot studies concluded in 2004 and 2007. Novice, rural special education teachers were interviewed in the spring of 2004, while veteran, rural teachers were interviewed during the spring of 2007. A list of eligible teachers for these pilot studies was developed by contacting superintendents or special education directors in eastern Washington State working in rural school districts with less than 500 students. Once permission was granted, each participant was contacted first through phone calls, then email. All participants agreed to participate. Each interview was guided by an open-ended interview protocol; one for novice teachers and one for veterans (refer to Appendices B and C). Each interview lasted approximately one hour and was scheduled at the teacher’s convenience. Most interviews were completed in the teacher’s classroom after school. Each interview was tape recorded and transcribed verbatim.

Constant comparison analysis of pilot study data resulted in significant differences between work experiences of veteran and novice teachers. The themes and core categories emerging from the data suggested novice special education teachers approached their work differently than veteran special education teachers. Novice teachers were much more likely to express frustration, dissatisfaction, and isolation. In addition, they were much more likely to refer to their work as a fight and to use confrontation or coercive strategies. On the other hand, veteran teachers were much more likely to express satisfaction and relationship building strategies. Finally, data from the pilot studies suggested special education teachers worked in two separate cultures – a special education culture and a general education culture, a phenomenon that I later termed dual culture workplaces.

While the initial analysis was intriguing, it was based solely upon rural special education teachers. I suspected that teachers’ experiences might differ in urban settings. Consequently, phase two of the study expanded the data set to include novice and veteran teachers in urban settings.

Phase two was conducted in spring and summer of 2009 and included five novice, urban teachers and four veteran, urban teachers. The recruitment and data collection procedures from phase one were repeated in phase two Data Collection and Analysis The qualitative data collection and analysis recommendations of Seidman (1998) and Maxwell (1996) are consistent with the purposes and phenomenological approach of this research study. In-depth interviewing allows participants to select the essential details of their experiences, reflect upon them, and ascribe meaning to them (Seidman, 1998). For the expanded study, each participant was individually interviewed once using an interview guide consisting of open-ended questions. Each interview was tape recorded and transcribed verbatim. The interview guides were slightly different for novice and veteran teachers. (See Appendices C and D.) The primary goal of qualitative analysis, according to Maxwell (1996), is fracturing the data, reducing the data, and rearranging it into categories that foster the development of theoretical concepts. Each interview was transcribed twice. The first transcription emphasized the dialogue content, whereas, the second transcription built on the original transcription and emphasized the speaking characteristics of each participant. Once the transcriptions were complete, they were read to develop tentative ideas about categories and relationships between categories. Tentative ideas about categories and relationships between categories were further developed through memoranda (Maxwell, 1996). Additional memoranda were used to further explore these tentative ideas, further analytical thinking, and foster possible coding strategies, thematic connections, and theoretical concepts. Bogdan and Biklen’s (2003) coding categories were initially employed to explore settings, situations, perspectives, ways of thinking about people and objects, processes, activities, events, strategies, and relationships and social structures. As the analysis developed, I compared the developing categories, thematic connections, and theoretical concepts to the Competing Interests Model. More specifically, the analysis was used to determine the utility of the Competing Interests Model to explain the unique contextual factors that contribute to special education teacher’s work experience. Data from the pilot studies and the second phase were analyzed together.





Credibility and Ethics By design, this dissertation relies heavily upon the stated perspectives of novice and veteran special education teachers working in urban and rural settings. Seidman (1998) describes the interview study as a “…social relationship that must be nurtured, sustained, and ended gracefully” (p. 79). This social relationship is directly or indirectly influenced by social status, gender, race, and power (Bogdan & Biklen, 2003). Even more so, in interviewing there is “…no intimacy without reciprocity” (Oakely, p. 83; as cited in Fontana & Fey, 2003). Consequently, every measure was used to reduce the dimensions of social status, gender, race, and power while balancing intimacy, rapport, and reciprocity with interview participants. I will attempt to minimize the impact of my role as a white, male public school administrator by scheduling and arranging each interview to minimize the disruption to the interview participant. In addition, informed consent, privacy, and confidentiality will be afforded to participants at every stage of the project. Participants will not be deceived or coerced to secure their participation.

I will give careful attention to the language and words used by the special education teachers. Seidman (1998) points out that the researcher’s paraphrasing or summaries of what people say is the substitution of researcher’s consciousness for the participants. Developing rich data through accurate descriptions, explanations, conclusions, and interpretations is the key to avoiding the imposition of the researcher’s biases and consciousness upon the data (Maxwell, 1996). Finally, member checks and an analysis of discrepant data will be used to verify the correctness, authenticity, and credibility of the conclusions and interpretations.

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The purpose of this study was two-fold: (a) to explore K-12 special education teachers’ experiences with work challenges, and perceptions of stress and potential burnout; and (b) to explore the usefulness of the Special Education Teacher Competing Interests Model, as described in Chapter 1, to explain their perceptions of stress and potential burnout. This study addressed four research questions: (a) How do special education teachers describe their core values in regard to special education and their work motives? (b) How do special education teachers describe and interpret the rewards and satisfactions of their work? (c) How do special education teachers describe the challenges and dissatisfaction of their work? (d) How do special education teachers cope with challenges and attempt to succeed in their work? Chapter Three described the research methods used to address these questions, including the process used to analyze the qualitative data from interviews with 19 special education teachers. In this chapter, I present the analysis of the qualitative data organized into four major themes: Who they are – special education teachers’ values and motives; special education teacher’s work challenges;

special education teacher’s responses to the work challenges; and special education teacher’s affective responses to the work challenges. As the analysis progressed, contrasts emerged between the experiences of novice and veteran teachers, which are highlighted as each theme is discussed below; however, anticipated differences in the experiences of urban and rural teachers did not clearly emerge from the analysis. As each theme and subtheme is discussed in the next section, these contrasts will also be highlighted. Because I want to honor the voices of the teachers in this study, I rely heavily on quotes from the data to illustrate each analytical point.

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As with all teachers, special education teachers approach their work from a background of experiences that shape their values, motives, expectations, and sense of purpose of their work.

Although a great deal of research has been conducted to correlate the personal and demographic characteristics of special education teachers to burnout and attrition, little research has explored the relationship of their personal background experiences with the disabled community to their values, motives, expectations, and sense of purpose of their work (Pugach, 1992). The data in this study suggest that these early experiences often predispose special education teachers to a better understanding of the unique context of special education and the challenges embedded within that context, as well as fostering a strong commitment to improve the education of students with disabilities. The teachers in this study identified four types of background experiences that led them to choose a career in special education. In this section, I will first present these background experiences and then discuss the motivations for their work related to these experiences.

Special Education Teacher’s Background Experiences In this study, special education teachers reported four types of background experiences that led them to choose a career in special education. First, several teachers reported that their own disabilities led them to pursue a career in special education. Second, many of the teachers reported personal experiences with disabled family and friends. Third, several teachers’ reported other types of experiences during their formative years led them to choose a career in special education. Finally, a few teachers reported the shortage of special education teachers in the field led them to choose a career in special education.

Three of the 19 teachers in this study described experiences with their own disabilities that led them to choose a career in special education. One veteran teacher referred to a disability that was not identified until later in her life. “I am borderline attention deficit. I got lots of swats growing up; that’s how they dealt with people who couldn’t sit still.” These experiences seem to create an empathetic connection between special education teachers and students with

disabilities. A novice teacher reflected upon her challenges as a child in school:

I have dyslexia. I didn’t realize until I was much older. It’s not bad, but I’ll flip flop numbers or a whole word in a sentence. I have to go back and read; like it makes no sense to me. I tell the kids I have dyslexia. So, you know, I can kind of relate with that, so, you

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Many of the teachers reported these experiences began at a young age. One veteran teacher commented on aligning her experiences in school with her career plans: “I knew from second grade that I wanted to be a teacher. I was dyslexic and struggled in school. So I can totally empathize with what these kids are going through.” Nine of the 19 teachers reported experiences with their family and friends that influenced their choice of a career in special education. One veteran teacher concluded that her experiences with her cousin led her to choose a career in special education: “I had a cousin who had Down’s Syndrome. We were playmates and grew up together. That’s why I went into special ed; I just figured I could do better than what she was getting.” Another veteran teacher referred to her experience with a high school friend: “My best friend always had a hard time learning and I think I kind of helped her through high school. I got pleasure in doing that and have always been a helper by nature.” Finally, some of the novice teachers referred to experiences with their parents that shaped their career decisions. A novice teacher related her experience with her

mother:

My mom was a special education teacher. So I kind of saw that field first hand and really enjoyed it. I would go with my mom on field trips. So I was exposed to special needs kids

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Some teachers did not report extensive experiences with disabled family and friends before choosing a career in special education; however, they did refer to other types of experiences during formative years that shaped their career decisions. One novice teacher talked

about her experiences during her K-12 school years:



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