Schools Need Special Education Teachers: Where Are They Going, And Where Are They Coming From? - The Children's Guild

Some concerning numbers about hiring problems and shortages have come from schools recently. More than half of all schools report feeling understaffed, and the two biggest problem areas are special education and math.

The Children’s Guild operates three non-public schools (The Children’s Guild School of Baltimore, The Children’s Guild School of Prince George’s County, and The Children’s Guild – Transformation Academy), serving students with behavioral and academic challenges that are usually caused by diagnosed disabilities such as emotional disability, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), developmental disabilities, and more. We know firsthand the shortages and difficulty in finding special education teachers, speech-language pathologists, school social workers and clinicians, and therapeutic behavioral aides and classroom aides.

Here, we look at why this is happening.


A nationwide survey of schools in 2022 reported special education teacher vacancies were nearly twice that of other subject areas. Some 65% of public schools in the US reported being understaffed in special education. More than 78% reported difficulty in hiring special education staff.

Yet more than 7.5 million US students — 15% of all students — have disabilities that qualify them for Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

Public and private schools are desperate for special education professionals of all kinds. Special educator shortages are a long-standing challenge in most states, and the problem has only worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic.


Educators are both leaving the profession as well as choosing not to join it today. One reason for leaving is burnout, caused by the high demands of the job and inadequate support and resources. Teachers undergoing stress for a long time become emotionally exhausted and lose any sense of personal accomplishment.

The pandemic exacerbated problems for all teachers, especially special education teachers. Studies showed that many special educators met clinical criteria for generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder — in rates several times greater than those in the general U.S. population. The pandemic had moderate to extreme impacts on stress, depression, anxiety, and emotional exhaustion, as well.

The idea of socially distanced learning was difficult for any teacher, but much more so for special education teachers who rely on high engagement and high touch in their work.

Attrition of special education teachers is 2.5 times that of teachers in general education.


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for special education teachers and related service providers requires that every teacher must:

  • Hold at least a bachelor’s degree
  • Obtain full certification in their state or pass the state special education teacher licensing exam

States are not allowed to waive special education certification or licensure on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis.


Fast-tracking special education teachers by reducing requirements for entry is actually counterproductive. Underprepared special education teachers are less effective and even more likely to leave the field.

Improved working conditions, however, can help with special education teacher retention. Studies show that special educators who provided stronger instruction had a trusted partner co-leading their program, consistent paraprofessionals to help, and adequate time and support for training.

In addition, The Children’s Guild’s own Baltimore Principal, Dr. Katina Webster, testified in early 2023 before the Maryland Senate on Maryland Senate Bill 311 to advocate for a pay increase for special education teachers. By July 1, 2023, the act took full effect. Read this short article to understand what this means for special education teachers in Maryland.

Looking for other solutions? Preparation and qualifications matter. Strong induction programs and mentorship help. District and university partnerships help, as well. There are many financial incentives besides higher pay – loan forgiveness and tuition remission programs offer more prepared and effective teachers.


Retention is enabled in positive school climates with a supportive administration where all teachers share responsibility for student achievement, enjoy administrative support, and work with collaborative colleagues.

The Children’s Guild recently embarked on a listening tour among our schools and programs to help build up employee retention and engagement. We were concerned about stats that stood out to us as problematic at our non-public special education schools and our public charter schools alike, such as low trust in leadership and values and daily work misalignment, among others. For more detailed insights, you can refer to the original Gallup articles: Diagnosing a Broken Culture and Worrying Workplace Numbers .

Implementing employee feedback and recognition tools – and ensuring that employees feel heard and leadership remains accountable for implementing changes – can help all educators build increased trust between front-line staff and management. Hopefully a refocus on employee engagement will help our country’s special education professionals feel supported and help our organizations thrive. Learn more about our approach, here: Our People Matter.

Also, we suggest reading, “Strategies to build a sustainable special education teacher workforce” from the National Council on Teacher Quality.


Special ed teachers are in high demand today – in every school district across the U.S. Shortages are an issue, and getting worse. With more than 60% of students with disabilities spending at least 80% of their day in general classes, the need for special educators and their skills in customized curriculums that are accessible to students with disabilities is more essential than ever.

LinkedIn Talent Solutions on Hiring Special Education Teachers.


Our students need specialized instructors to succeed. In 2024, our non-public schools have partnered with The Children’s Guild HR team to create hiring events at their schools. These events conduct in-person and onsite interviews, and applicants have the opportunity to be hired immediately and begin the onboarding process in the same day.

Many of the jobs that are open also come with a sign-on bonus for special education teachers and staff and pay above the national average for most positions. We have already hired several amazing special education staff from these events and are hopeful that we will continue to reach those who are looking to build a meaningful career in special education.

You can learn more about upcoming hiring events here: Get Hired

Once hired, our special education teachers are welcomed into a culture of support and listening. We are confident that this can help all our educators grow in trust of our leadership. If you are interested in learning more about how we are creating a culture of trust and collaboration, you can download our resources here: Our People Matter