A Virginia Educator Offers Suggestions for Developing Special Education Teacher Leaders
June 21, 2023
June 21, 2023
By Matthew McCarty
“A leader who produces other leaders multiples their influences.”
― John C. Maxwell
Many school divisions, here in Virginia and across the country, are struggling to fill record numbers of special education teaching vacancies. We’ve perennially filled such openings in our state with folks who have four-year degrees but may not have the required training needed for full licensure. This creates situations where schools find themselves pulling general education teachers out of already strained classrooms, hiring folks without proper training, and working with inclusion classrooms that may not have a fully licensed special education teacher. These practices can lead to drastic turnover rates among special education staff, which aren’t good for schools, students, or anyone else.
We need teachers who are still in the classroom to step into roles with greater leadership, and I’ve written here before about the difficulties rural school divisions have in training teacher leaders. I’d like to address the same issue in the special education world.
What I mean by teacher leaders is not those who go through administrator preparation programs, but take on roles in school improvement, school and community relations, and building positive and productive relationships among all stakeholders.
Here are some steps school and division leaders can take to support burgeoning special education teacher leaders. They’re not all-inclusive but rather meant to be an outline for how we can approach growing leaders who have a level of expertise in special education laws and regulations, federal, state, and local policies, ethical considerations, and other facets of retaining quality special education teacher leaders.
Conversations like that, which center around career goals and expectations, should always be positive, never evaluative or punitive. Strong leadership candidates will emerge during the course of the school year, and it’s the job of administrators to harness that ability and character. Teachers who are interested in enhancing their leadership skills will gravitate towards opportunities offered by the school and school division to travel along a leadership pathway.
Effective building and division leaders can identify possible special education teacher leaders early in the school year. They should remember that great teacher leaders come in all different shapes and sizes, and there should not be a mold created in an attempt to alter personalities or maintain a negative vision of control. Quality special education teacher leaders will emerge just as quality general education teacher leaders emerge. It is also important to keep in mind that these candidates may not always be 30-year veterans, but will nonetheless bring the qualities of a leader to the table.
Putting the above-mentioned suggestions into action should be part of a program for growing teacher leaders, part of the vision and mission of a school division, and a great step in building even more successful schools.
Matthew McCarty (email@example.com) is a member of the Wythe County Education Association.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, teachers in Virginia earn 32.7% less in weekly wages than other (non-teacher) college-educated workers. Virginia’s teacher wage penalty is the worst in the nation.Take Action Now