With more than 7.5 million students currently being served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, special education (SPED) teachers are among the most needed professionals in schools right now. This is already a 4% increase from 2021, and it is 15% more than a decade ago. As the number of students who require special education services continues to grow, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for 37,600 new special education teachers by 2030 to meet demand.
School administrators are under a lot of pressure to fill these roles to ensure the needs of their schools’ most vulnerable populations, as well as federal requirements, are being met. Solving the special education teacher shortage, both in the short and long term, will require creative ways to retain existing special educators and attract additional talent.
Here are three strategies many school districts and administrations are employing:
1. Work with a specialized staffing partner
Many school districts are partnering with staffing firms to find qualified school professionals that can meet the specific needs of their student population. Schools benefit from the staffing partner’s large talent pool and expertise.
Soliant, for instance, has worked in the education industry for over 20 years and knows the ins and outs of education staffing. Working with a partner that has a high level of knowledge about specific educational requirements can be a huge asset to school districts, especially for filling highly specialized roles, such as sign language interpretation or an in-house audiologist. Whatever the students or the school needs, however unique, Soliant can find someone to fill that position.
Staffing partners can also alleviate the burden on the school to recruit and hire professionals, reducing the amount of time that school administrators must spend on duties outside of the needs of students. Working with a staffing partner will speed up the hiring process as well, because they have the capability to pre-screen candidates to ensure they are the best fit for your school.
Their customized approach to placing educators also increases retention. Soliant can build a unique package for each candidate based on their needs and preferences around factors such as salary, benefits, schedule flexibility, location, and work environment and culture. We work to find the perfect fit for each candidate, so that they are more likely to stay in the role long-term.
2. Offer SPED teachers flexibility and opportunities for growth
To attract and retain special educators, schools must give professionals the resources and opportunities they need to succeed in their roles. Once an educator is at a school, a big factor that keeps them there is if they feel supported and have opportunities for growth and career advancement.
One of the most important roles a staffing partner plays is to make sure that the educator they are working with is taking advantage of growth opportunities – if they want them. This could be taking additional courses, gaining new certifications, or looking into roles that they may not have considered in the past. With so many roles and opportunities within the field of education, sometimes to retain educators they just need to be pointed in a different direction for growth.
In addition, workers across the board are looking for greater flexibility in their careers. For educators, the contracting model is one avenue to provide greater career flexibility. School professionals can work in locations on a temporary basis and can try out different roles through different assignments. Contract work gives educators the freedom to determine the length of their contract and where they take an assignment, and even if they want to extend their assignment, which we have found happens often.
3. Leverage remote learning
Another way to offer greater flexibility and freedom to special educators is to offer remote positions. Through virtual instruction teachers do not have to be physically limited to working in a classroom at a specific school during school hours, which has become an extremely attractive option. This also benefits the students being served because they can receive instruction from an educator that they otherwise may not have access to.
This takes away geographical limits that school districts face as well. Federal laws require that special education teachers have a certification and license in the state where they are practicing. With the availability of video call technology, schools are now able to remotely hire top SPED practitioners from across the country, depending on state and local guidelines where the school is located. They can still see students face-to-face as if in the room with them, effectively serving students without anyone worrying about relocation. Plus, schools that work with Soliant have access to IT experts who oversee the set-up and management of the technology.
The special education teacher shortage is a serious problem that may persist for the foreseeable future. To combat it, school districts need to have strategies in place not only to retain their current staff but also to attract new professionals to ensure they are fulfilling the immediate needs of the school and its students.
Lesley Slaughter is the SVP of Soliant, and she has worked in the staffing and recruiting industry for more than 18 years. To learn more visit: soliant.com/staffing-services/education-recruitment-agency/