No one becomes a special education teacher for money, fame, or glory—and they don’t leave the profession in pursuit of it, either. But many special educators do leave. According to an analysis by the Education Week Research Center, the number of special education teachers has dropped by nearly 20 percent over the past ten years, while the number of students with disabilities between the ages of six and 21 has only declined one percent.
So, why do they leave? A 2012 study of rural special education teachers found that only 6 percent of professionals cited salary, benefits, location, or paperwork as their reason for leaving the field. Some of the far more common pressures they face include stress, pressure, and lack of support from principals, various supervisors, and their peers. In other words, burnout.
I contemplated leaving the field a few years ago. After years of working in the same school and classroom type, I finally experienced what many special educators typically come up against in their first five years of teaching. I woke up dreading the thought of going to work. I was irritable around to my co-workers and family. At work, I found myself day-dreaming of all the other things I could be doing.
To be clear, I didn’t want to leave because of my students. The idea of not advocating for them and working with their families every day truly hurt my heart. I wanted to leave because I no longer felt supported. I was exhausted. I was burnt out.
Instead of leaving the profession altogether, I opted for a change of scenery. I moved to a special education classroom in another school where I had a clear picture of my educational philosophy and felt excited about the new opportunity. I’m glad I did.
Maybe you’re fighting the symptoms of burnout in your career or looking for ways to shield yourself from the effects of stress, negativity, and brain fog. In either case, follow these burnout “don’ts” to increase your chances of staying engaged and inspired—and avoid seeing work as a constant sequence of horrible days.