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January 5, 2018

Self-Care Strategies for Special Education Teachers

Burnout is prevalent among all levels of education, but it hits the hardest in special education.

Special education teachers experience some of the highest attrition rates of any school employee. A study from 2015 found that 13 percent of special education teachers leave jobs annually, likely due to burnout and a lack of support in their classrooms. There is already a nationwide shortage of special education teachers. Burnout forces many teachers to leave their jobs and it’s only exacerbating the shortage.

With so many special education teaching positions unfilled, many schools are forced to hire unqualified teachers, who don’t have the proper training to effectively teach and support students with special needs.

Like our other post on how to avoid teacher burnout in a typical classroom, there are ways to re-kindle your spirit and help you re-discover the passion that led you to become a special education teacher in the first place.

Unique Challenges in Special Education

Special education teachers face numerous unique challenges on a daily basis. These challenges, if not managed correctly, can lead to teachers leaving their jobs and even the profession.

Here are some challenges that special education teachers face:

Lack of Appreciation

Whether it’s from students, colleagues or the school’s administration, special education teachers rarely receive the appreciation they deserve for their work meeting the needs of students with special needs.

Parental Support

Parents of children with special needs are under an immense amount of stress themselves, which can negatively impact the parent-teacher relationship.

Public Support

The general public doesn’t understand the stress and work involved with teaching special-education classes.


Each IEP (individualized education program) that special education teachers prepare to address the unique educational and vocational goals of each student requires 10-20 pages of paperwork.” which is in addition to creating lesson plans, review of existing evaluation data (REED), Medicaid billing forms and more.


Because special education teachers often collaborate with classroom teachers, their schedule could mean they’re moving from classroom to classroom all day.

Data Collection

This is one of the main tasks a special education teacher must do during a day’s work, ensuring that he or she monitors the progress that students are making toward IEP goals.

Self-Care Strategies

While special education teachers deal with a lot of stress, it can be managed successfully. Here’s a list of some great tips from a veteran special education teacher, Stephanie Lally, on how to reduce stress, and continue to be passionate about educating the next generation!

Don’t Take Work Home

Try to arrive early or stay a bit later to make sure you’re caught up on IEP meetings, data and paperwork. Teaching and paperwork is overwhelming but keeping a space between that work in the classroom and your home life is important.

Make Time with Your Spouse/Partner

If you have children or other family obligations on top of a stressful job, it can be difficult to be spontaneous and spend time with your spouse or significant other like you used to be able to do. Plan a date night or a day out together to be able to get away and enjoy some relaxation.

Plan Ahead

Starting reports early and tracking meetings in a plan book helps keep everything in one place and allows you to stay ahead of the overflow of paperwork and other obligations with students.


Even just five to 10 minutes of meditation a day can make a difference. Take advantage of the many free apps on your mobile phone, such as Calm or Headspace, to meditate. From a few minutes a day to an hour, this can help relieve much of the stress you feel.

Exercise Regularly

When we exercise, our body releases hormones called endorphins, which help release stress in our muscles and makes us feel good.

Lean on Your Colleagues

Other teachers are likely going through the same stress. Lean on them during tough weeks and learn from them best practices to manage stress and stay on top of the workload.


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