In 2019, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp elevated the need to better recruit and retain special education teachers after a listening tour with State School Superintendent Richard Woods and district superintendents. According to state data, about 20% of special education teachers were turning over each year. National data clearly shows that schools struggle with persistent and specific teacher shortages — especially in special education. Georgia state leaders are using an innovative program to respond to these challenges.
An analysis of the Georgia Teacher Academy for Preparation and Pedagogy, an alternative certification program, found about half of teachers placed in special education transitioned to general education roles after two years. A 2022 report on Georgia teacher burnout investigates causes for teacher turnover, including the challenges of large caseloads for special education teachers.
We recently spoke with Wina Low, Georgia’s state director of special education services, about the Georgia Teacher/Provider Retention Program (TPRP). Low shared the initial success of the program in supporting and retaining special education teachers by providing the tools they need to be successful through induction and mentoring. The program focuses on keeping new special education teachers in the classroom and Low has high hopes for its continued growth and improvement.
A grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs provided an initial influx of $500,000 per year for up to five years to launch the program, which was developed in partnership with local higher education institutions and experts in the field.
The Teacher Model Induction Program uses a train-the-trainer model with content developed by the Georgia Department of Education with the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders and Kennesaw State University. The Georgia Learning Resource System staff were trained and took what they learned about high-leverage practices back to their local communities. GLRS is a network of 18 regional programs that provide training and resources to school district personnel and other community members to support students with disabilities.
The program has seen promising results in its first few years of implementation. Among the teachers who completed the program in the 2021-22 school year, 84% were retained for the next school year; this is higher than non-completers (74%). Additionally, 89% of program participants who responded to the survey agreed or strongly agreed that the TPRP professional learning influenced their decision to continue teaching special education. A teacher in the program said, “The coaching I have received from the Teacher Induction Program has impacted my instruction by giving new strategies to best help my students and their learning in the classroom.”
While participating in the program, teachers received targeted support such as coaching, training on content and practicing skills using Mixed Reality Simulation — a virtual reality practice setting that allows for role-playing. A teacher said, “Having a mentor really helped me plan accordingly to meet the needs of all my students. Any questions or concerns that I had were discussed and sound advice was given to help me maximize my teaching time.” In the first year of the program, teachers work on strengthening skills like instruction, meeting with school leaders and writing strong Individualized Education Programs for students
Now in its third full year of implementation, Low is optimistic about the future of the program. She hopes the program will move into a two-year format to allow teachers to continue receiving support in the first crucial years of teaching. Special education directors are also being supported by the program, which will continue to build a strong environment for new special education teachers.
As state leaders look for ways to boost teacher retention, Georgia’s model demonstrates the importance of analyzing local data to understand the challenge at hand, targeting solutions to support the specific population of teachers in need and leveraging partnerships to build capacity within the system. To learn more about Georgia’s work, consider watching this webinar on the TPRP model.