Having a network of teacher friends is a great way to get new ideas, find comradeship, always have someone to lean on, collaborate with, and gain perspective. Especially during uncertain times like we’re going through right now.
While all teachers should have a way to prevent stress and burnout, special education teachers especially need support networks. Let’s just say that a special education teacher’s job is demanding, on an easy day. And who is having easy days at the moment?
Why Do Special Education Teachers Need a Bigger Network?
A day in the life of a special education teacher is challenging. It involves problem-solving through behavior and learning challenges, maintaining compliance, and enlisting support for IEP meetings. So, it’s not surprising that the turnover rate for special education teachers is about 25%. Teachers across specialties are leaving because they’re stressed and overwhelmed by the demands of the job. Those stressors are even more significant in special education.
Furthermore, special education teachers are often a single individual or small team within a school. There may only be one special education teacher among many general education teachers, so having a group of people who understand is important. When surrounded by general education teachers, special education teachers may feel like they are the odd ones out at staff meetings and professional development days. There’s a lot of great information going around, but none of it applies directly to their students.
So, the job of teaching special education is challenging—when your mental health is in balance, it translates to your students. Also, teachers with strong support networks are better able to withstand the natural stresses of teaching, including turnover and classroom challenges. After long days, a special education support network of teachers can help you refresh and revive. It’s also priceless to be with people who understand that managing a caseload of students with disabilities is a unique job.
How to Expand Your Network
Expanding your network does take a little effort to get your support network up and going, but the work is worth it.
Take it Online
The Internet is a wonderful place, especially when it comes to connecting with other teachers. Check out Facebook groups like our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE or another group specifically for special education teachers on Facebook. Online groups allow you to post (vent) your questions or struggles, and you can see that you’re not the only one dealing with IEP questions, challenging parents, or disruptive behaviors.
Get a Favorite Spot
Create a local coffee group that meets up for drinks or coffee. Meeting once a month, even, to debrief, catch up, and talk shop with other special education teachers can help alleviate some of the stress as you progress through the school year.
Pursue an Advanced Degree
The great thing about getting a Master’s degree or doctorate is that most programs come with a built-in support network of fellow students, faculty, and alumni. And this support network continues even after you’ve graduated. You’ll be able to lean on your former classmates and professors for life.
Join an Association
The big associations in special education are the Council for Exceptional Children and the National Association for Special Education Teachers. Joining one of these connects you to other teachers and local branches that have events and conferences.
Participate in Conferences
Once you’re in an association (and even if you’re not) a local or national conference is a great way to learn new strategies to take back to your classroom, and meet people who teach in similar settings.
Are you looking to build your support network as a special education teacher? Our friends at The University of Kansas offer the #1 Best Online Master’s in Special Education, according to the U.S. News and World Report.* Learn more about their programs and what they offer.