Helping New Special Education Teachers Succeed — Research by Peter Youngs

March 19, 2014

A study by researchers in Michigan State University’s College of Education reports that new special education teachers face more and different challenges than new general education teachers.  This study, published in Teachers College Record, suggests that school districts can help their students and staff by rethinking the induction support they give first and second year special education teachers.  Helping first and second year special education teachers meet the diverse needs of their students may also decrease the attrition rate of special education teachers.

Working Harder to Meet Expectations

As part of a larger study, the researchers, led by Dr. Peter Youngs, studied the induction experiences of two special education and two general education teachers in a district with high percentages of low-income and racial minority students.  The researchers found that new special education teachers had to work harder to meet school expectations in their first and second year of teaching.  Minimal structure and guidelines for teaching course content meant that new special education teachers had to make their own lesson plans with limited curricular support.  Special education teachers encountered students with multiple learning styles and abilities across different grade levels, making teaching more challenging for them than for general education teachers. The special educators also faced larger course loads, impacting their daily routine.  General educators in their first and second year had more time to use resource rooms, co-teach, and partner with other teachers, strengthening their classroom practice.

What School Leaders Can Do

Although new special education teachers face many challenges, Youngs and his colleagues identified ways that district and school leaders can help.  First, leaders can implement induction programs that include support from mentors who have expertise in working with special needs students to assist in creating lesson plans. Second, leaders can develop methods for promoting in-school collaboration among teachers, helping general and special education teachers work together to identity effective instruction practices and build positive relationships. School leaders can also implement teacher driven professional development where special and general educators become leaders within their schools. Acknowledging the contributions of new special education teachers can help to reduce attrition and isolation. Finally, principals can help to create a school climate that supports first and second year special education teachers by prioritizing inclusion while encouraging positive induction experiences. Rethinking the kind and amount of support provided to beginning special education teachers is one way district and school leaders can improve student experiences and reduce attrition in hard-to-staff positions.


Summary by Dorothy Hines, doctoral student in education policy


Youngs, P., Jones, N., and Low, M. (2011). How beginning special and general education elementary teachers negotiate role expectations and access professional resources. Teachers College Record, 113(7), 1506-1540.

Summary Citation:

Education Policy Center at Michigan State University. (2014). Helping new special education teachers succeed. Retrieved [date] from