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Schools coping with special ed teacher shortage
sub Ed Robinson pic
Jeanine Robinson, LFMS special education teacher, was recently named 2008 Special Education Teacher of the Year. BoE chairwoman Lily Baker and board member Becky Carter presented a certificate to her at the March 11 BoE meeting. - photo by Photo provided.
The national shortage of special education teachers has not fazed Jeanine Robinson's 26-year career.
Her dedication was recognized at the Liberty County Board of Education meeting last week when she was named Special Education Teacher of the Year.
"I was at a loss for words..." Robinson said when she was told. "Just in my school, alone, there are so many good people. It was an honor, nothing that you do by yourself."
Committed teachers such as Robinson are becoming harder to come by as teachers retire and lack of interest in special education for new teachers, according to the National Education Association.  
"I think it's very hard for special ed teachers these days," Becky Kelly, BoE executive director of exceptional learning, said.
"They just can't get a regular special ed diploma and teach. They also have to get certified in whatever courses they're going to teach...and it's hard to get people to do that," she said.
Besides educational requirements, Robinson said she understands why prospective teachers may shy away from specializing in special education.
"It's a very demanding job," she explained. "Not only are you in the classroom, but there's a lot of documentation and a lot of's rarely an eight-hour a day job."
Robinson attributed her patience as the reason she continues to teach.
"You have to put a lot more into it than what you want to get out of it," she said.
"I love it," the teacher said. "It's a different story every day. No two days are alike."
Requirements for students are also different, now that federal guidelines mandate integration in regular classrooms.
"The expectations are higher and a lot of them really do rise up to meet those expectations," Robinson said.
Kelly agreed.
"In my experience, the more opportunities for SWDs (students with disabilities) to be exposed to the general curriculum, the better are their grades and their test scores," she said.
Kelly explained recent shifts are in accordance with No Child Left Behind and the December 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
"The goal for everybody in the United States is 90 percent of special education children have to be educated in the general environment, 80 percent or more of the day," Kelly explained.
She said it is an adjustment for students, teachers and parents.
"That's really different for people because they're used to putting kids in a special education class and they're there all the time," she said.
"That's not acceptable anymore because the expectation is that everybody is going to be exposed to the Georgia performance standards. Everybody's got to be going for a regular ed diploma. Everyone needs to be taught the same curriculum."
She said next year "all entering ninth grade SWDs are to be on a regular diploma track." Only students with the "most significant cognitive disabilities" will be excluded.
Kelly said her department "provides what's best for students and still live within the parameters of the rules and regulations."
She reported approximately 110 special ed teachers on staff, including visually and hearing impaired teachers, speech language pathologists and school psychologists. A transition coordinator and parent mentor is also available.
Kelly attends job recruitment fairs and has special ed teacher ads on various Web sites.
"We are getting some great leads on highly qualified teachers who may be willing to work in Liberty County," she said.
They have already hired four special ed teachers for next year.

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