Missouri’s Efforts to Recruit Special Education Teachers
Mirroring many states across the U.S., Missouri continues its efforts to recruit qualified teachers, particularly in the STEM fields, the languages, and, of course, in special education. In fact, there are currently 16 counties in Missouri that lack qualified teachers in at least 10 certification areas, and another 43 counties lacking teachers in at least 5 certification areas.
Many of the districts struggling most with faculty shortages are those in high-poverty and rural areas of the state.
As of the 2016-17 school year, educator shortage areas within special education specifically included:
- Blind and partial sight (birth-12)
- Deaf and hearing impaired (birth-12)
- Mild-to-moderate cross-categorical (K-12)
- Severe developmental disabilities (birth-12)
- Speech language pathology (birth-12)
- Special reading (K-12)
Recruitment efforts remain strong, including the Grow Your Own Teacher program, which allows districts to support an individual interested in teaching as they complete their education and then hire them once they complete their degree. The program helps ensure special needs students are able to work with dedicated master’s-educated special education teachers, and is focused on four critical areas as it relates to special education:
- Teacher shortages – Provide qualified candidates in the educator pipeline
- Teacher incentives – Attract teachers in hard-to-staff subject areas like special education and to geographical locations with the most acute shortages
- Diverse educators – Recruiting high-quality, culturally diverse teachers
- Urban education – Ensuring urban education teacher candidates are prepared
How One Master’s-Prepared Special Education Teacher in Missouri is Making a Difference
Sarah Fryer, a special education teacher at Highland Elementary in Ewing, has been nominated for a 2016 national award that recognizes educators who make a positive impact on the lives of their students. The LifeChanger of the Year Award, sponsored by the National Life Group Foundation, recognizes educators and other school employees in grades K-12.
Sarah works with the school’s youngest special education students. This year, she is working with students in K-1, often serving as the first point of contact when a child enters the school with a disability. She collaborates with parents, classroom teachers, and other support staff to ensure the child’s needs are met.
Sarah’s responsibilities include establishing IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) that lay out a specific plan aimed at helping special education children reach their goals. She works with children facing a wide range of disabilities, from minor to severe.
The State of Special Education in Missouri
According to 2011-12 figures from the U.S. Department of Education, Missouri was home to 820,839 students, of which nearly 110,000—or 13.1 percent—were children with disabilities.
The largest percentage of children with disabilities in Missouri during this time were identified as having specific learning disabilities, followed by students with speech and language impairments, health impairments, intellectual disabilities, autism and emotional issues.
About 47 percent of all children with disabilities in Missouri received the majority of their instruction in regular early childhood state programs, while 23 percent received the majority of their instruction through special education classes, separate schools, and/or residential facilities.
The Missouri Office of Special Education within the Division of Learning Services, administers state and federal funds to support services for students and adults with disabilities. It also oversees the operation of three school systems also administered by the State Board of Education: The Missouri School for the Blind, the Missouri School for the Deaf, and the Missouri Schools for the Severely Disabled.
The Office of Special Education assists local school personnel and families throughout the state with outreach programs and consulting services to ensure the needs of Missouri’s special needs children are being met.
There are four sections within the Office of Special Education:
- First Steps (Birth to 3): Works with state and local agencies to provide early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families
- Effective Practices: Works with local school districts to develop and improve special education services for students with disabilities (ages 3-21)
- Compliance: Monitors special education programs for students with disabilities (ages 3-21) in all public schools; also approves private agencies to serve students in public schools
- Sheltered Workshops: Provides employment for adults with disabilities