What actually is a special education teacher’s job?


Burnout in special education part 3

In the research that they did on special education teacher burnout, Brunsting and Sreckovic (2014) found that role ambiguity and role conflict were significant factors in explaining the burnout. If you talk to anyone who worked in special education they will most likely say, “Duhh.”

I mean who has taught special education and NOT been confused about exactly what they were supposed to be doing. If you worked in a resource role, you probably had to figure out things like if you were in charge of differentiated homework or making modified versions of all assignments for every classroom. If you worked in a self-contained classroom, you probably had to figure out how much time you were supposed to put into creating amazing lessons and how much time you were supposed to put into your case management. If you worked in a co-taught environment, you probably had to figure out what exactly made your role different than that of an instructional aide. Regardless of your role you probably had to figure out how much parent contact really was your job, how much materials you were supposed to create for assistants, and if you were even anybody’s supervisor anyhow.

My point is that I don’t know anyone who started in special education with a clear job description that actually listed, in any concrete way, their responsibilities. What your responsibilities are seem to change enormously from school site to school site and most people, and principals, often seem to just make it up on the fly.

How are you supposed to do your job well when no one, not your boss nor your co-workers, actually knows what your job exactly is? I have met special education teachers who did response to intervention and thought that was their job while I have met others who thought they weren’t supposed to even go near it. I have met new teachers who were told that their job included covering class and older teachers who would never have done it.

At least general education comes with a playbook—you fundamentally are responsible for the kids you teach and their scores on state tests. There is some ambiguity for sure but nothing like special education where everything from the amount of time you spend testing and case managing to the amount of time you spend working with kids seems variable.

One of the simplest ways, in my mind, to reducing special education teacher burnout is to start writing clear job descriptions so people actually know what they are supposed to be doing and what really isn’t actually a part of their job.


Brunsting, N. and Sreckovia, M. (2014). Special education teacher burnout: A synthesis of research from 1979 to 2013. Education and Treatment of Children, 37(4), 681-712.