Samantha Goldman, Assumption University – The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Special Educators

On Assumption University Week: COVID-19 hit educators hard, especially those who teach special education students.

Samantha Goldman, associate professor of special education and chair of the education department, explains why.

Samantha Goldman, PhD, BCBA, is an associate professor of special education and chair of the education department at Assumption University. Her scholarly work focuses on special education and teacher preparation, as well as family-school partnership and special education advocacy. As a recipient of a Fulbright Specialist Program award, she recently completed a project in Taiwan working collaboratively to adapt a parent advocacy training.  She is also the 2023 recipient of the Assumption University Paul Ziegler Presidential Award for Excellence in Scholarship.

The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Special Educators

There is a well-documented shortage of special education teachers, with 43% of public K-12 schools reporting unfilled positions in 2022, according to the U. S. Department of Education. This means students who most need specialized instruction are more likely to be educated by those without specific training.

While the shortage of special educators is a long-standing issue, it was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. My colleagues Nanho Vander Hart, Lisa Hughes, and I wanted to better understand how the factors that impact special educators’ decisions to keep working in special education changed as a result of the pandemic.

We surveyed and interviewed special educators about their plans to stay in the field in 2022, compared to before the pandemic. On average, they still planned to stay for up to three or more years, but they were significantly less certain about this decision compared to before the pandemic. When asked about the most important factors that impacted their plans to stay or leave, ability to do the job effectively was ranked number one. This did not change as a result of the pandemic. However, their level of stress, burnout, and need for administrative support became significantly more important to their retention.

Our findings show the importance of listening to the perspectives of teachers so we can understand how to keep qualified, effective special educators in schools. Special educators want to be able to do their jobs effectively, but other factors that increased during the pandemic, like stress and burnout, can interfere with this goal if not given the support they need.