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Lack of school supplies, materials and resources as an elementary cause of frustration and burnout in South Texas special education teachers.

Although many areas in education are experiencing teacher shortages, the retention of special education teachers is critical in Texas schools as well as across the nation. (Tye & O'Brien, 2000). As far back as 1990, educators were voicing concerns about higher burnout rates in special education as compared to general education (National Association of State Directors of Special Education, 1990).


Indeed, the research from 1994 to 2004 is replete with studies examining the reasons for this burnout. Many of these studies reflected the evolving nature of special education which included increased expectations for inclusive instruction, the changes in newly mandated behavioral intervention plans and the ever-increasing paperwork load on special education teachers.

In addition, further studies, some with as many as 4,500 teachers, indicated that key variables causing burnout and attrition were: job stress, weak support by administrators, unreasonable caseloads, large class size and ineffective in-service programs.

The research in this article examined an often neglected, but nevertheless equally important, factor in the burnout and attrition rate of special education teachers. This factor was a lack of school supplies, materials and resources. This shortage was largely due to a constant "tug-of-war" with regular education personnel for the same resources.

Current studies of stress in special education teachers indicated that a main component of this stress was frustration due to a lack of materials. A statement from a teacher surveyed by researchers MacDonald and Spence substantiated this point. This teacher stated:

I did not have an adequate supply of textbooks, teachers' manuals or basic consumable materials. The computer in my classroom was better suited for a museum than for instruction. I spent a lot of my personal time soliciting donations from retail businesses that carried school supplies."

Educational researchers Able and Sewell reported the same conditions in a similar study. These writers concluded, "A reported source of teacher stress included financial constraints and a lack of educational supplies." In addition, they found that special education teachers often had to support their own classroom by purchasing supplies, materials and equipment. Typical out-of-pocket expenditures were spent for instructional supplies and materials, audiovisual aids plus computer software. (Able and Sewell, 1999).

Federal funding through the IDEA law provides financial support for local school districts for the education of children with special needs. Much of the recent literature indicates, however, that either this funding is not sufficient or it is not reaching the students for which it was intended.

It was the purpose of this study, therefore, to ascertain if the condition of lack of proper supplies, materials and resources for the special education teacher existed in the Texas public schools of Region II. Further, it was intended that the attitudes of the teachers should be examined in relation to their perceptions of federal financial support.

Research Population and Sample

A total of 750 special education teachers from 48 South Texas school districts were surveyed. These educators held a variety of special education positions such as inclusion, content mastery, resource, self-contained behavior units and life skill units. The teachers worked with students ranging in age from three years old to twenty-two years of age.

Procedures Followed

The Region II education service Center distributed the surveys to all special education directors in the region. The directors then gave each special education staff member a survey. Respondents' names ere not included on the survey in order to promote freedom of expression. The respondents were told that their surveys would be combined with surveys from other districts thus preserving their privacy.


The survey was descriptive in design and consisted of two sections. The first section collected demographic data concerning gender, number of years in teaching and degree information. The second section contained statements to be rated using a Likert scale. The data were analyzed according to responses of "strongly disagree", "disagree", "neutral" and "strongly agree".


A total of 228 teachers responded to the survey for a percentage of 31%. Of the 228 responses, 50% reported that they "strongly agreed" that they lacked sufficient school supplies, materials and resources in order to do their jobs properly. An additional 40% "agreed" that they too lacked sufficient supplies, materials and resources. No teacher surveyed claimed that they did have adequate supplies, 6% were "neutral" and 4% had no response. (See chart 1)

Conclusions and Recommendations

The results of the 228 respondents in the South Texas schools of Region II were consistent with studies of special educators across the nation. Individuals interviewed personally indicated that the lack of sufficient supplies, coupled with the necessity of using out-of-pocket money in order to accomplish their teaching tasks caused a high degree of frustration which, in some teachers, led to burnout.

Thus, one valid and fairly simple solution to the high attrition rate of special education teachers would be to urge administrators to channel allotted funds to these teachers and to ensure that they have the necessary resources and administrative support in order to perform their duties. While many of the problems and difficulties that confront special educators are more serious and complicated to solve, morale could be improved and frustration levels reduced with attention to this specific problem of resources.


Abel, M. H., & Sewell, J. (1999). Stress and Burnout in Rural and Urban Secondary School Teachers. The Journal of Educational Research, 92(5), 287.

Brotherson, M. J., Sheriff, G., Milburn, E, & Scherta, M. (2001). Elementary School Principals and Their Needs and Issues for Inclusive Early Childhood Programs. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education.

Katsiyannis, A., Yell, M. L., & Bradley, R. (2001). Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Remedial and Special Education.

Klingner, J. K., Ahwee, S., Pilonieta, P., & Menendez, R. (2003). Barriers and Facilitators in Sealing Up Research-Based Practices. Exceptional Children.

Macdonald, V., & Spence, D. L. (2001). Making Time: A Teacher's Report on her First Year of Teaching Children with Emotional Disabilities. Journal of Special Education.

Mastropieri, M. A. (2001). Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Challenges Encountered by First-Year special Education Teachers. Journal of Special Education.

Nickerson, B. J., & Deenihan, G. M. (2003). From Equity to Adequacy. The Legal Battle for Increased State Funding for Poor School Districts in New York. Fordham Urban Law Journal.

Seligmann, T. J. (2001). An IDEA Schools can Use: Lessons from Special Education Legislation. Fordham Urban Law Journal.

Smith, M. K., & Smith, K. E. (2000). "I Believe in Inclusion, But." Regular Education Early Childhood Teachers' Perceptions of Successful Inclusion. Journal of Research in Childhood Education.

Tye, B. B., & O'Brien, L. (2002). Why Are Experienced Teachers Leaving the Profession?. Phi Delta Kappan.

John A. Kaufhold, Ed.D., Professor, Department of Educational Leadership, Gardner-Webb University. Velma G. Alverez, M.S. and Mitylene Arnold, Ed.D., Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. John A. Kaufhold, Professor, Department of Educational Leadership, Gardner-Webb University at
Chart 1

Insufficient School Supplies, Materials and Resources

Strongly Agreed 50%
Disagreed 40%
Agreed 0%
Neutral 6%
Strongly Disagreed 4%
No Response

Note: Table made from pie chart.
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Author:Arnold, Mitylene
Publication:Journal of Instructional Psychology
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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