Take care of special needs teachers to better care for students

I agree with the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (Special education teachers must be given enough support; May 11).

As the number of children with learning challenges is on the rise, special education teachers are very much in demand. However, it is sad to see that many such educators are either leaving the industry or switching to another profession.

Studies have found that between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of them leave the industry within five years because of occupational stress - physical, psychological and emotional.

The stress ultimately leads to emotional exhaustion, and has been shown to have a harmful effect on the physical and mental health of the teaching staff.

Numerous factors contribute to the job stress. They are:

•Job demands: These include preparing teaching resources, writing reports, developing individualised education plans, implementing curricular modifications and attending meetings. The contact hours with children with special needs can be long, especially when there is a shortage of manpower.

•Role conflict: This occurs when there is lack of clarity about an individual's rights, responsibilities or goals. Role conflict usually manifests as the inability to differentiate between expected roles, with unclear job descriptions and responsibilities.

•Sense of efficacy: This refers to people's beliefs about their capability to produce the designated level of job performance, shaping how they feel about and motivate themselves. A high level of self-efficacy is also related to the professional commitment of individuals. Mentorship, as mentioned in the letter, is critical in helping novice teachers raise their sense of efficacy.

•Attractive remuneration: Though working in the field of special education requires passion and commitment, suitable monetary reward is a motivating factor. With the Compulsory Education Act, children with moderate to severe special needs will need to attend a government-funded school starting next year, with more teachers needed to cope with the demand. It is timely to look into better salaries to attract more special education teachers.

When the welfare of special education teachers is looked after, we can retain more of them in the profession and, in turn, help students with special needs maximise their learning potential.

Chua Chee Keong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2018, with the headline 'Take care of special needs teachers to better care for students'. Print Edition | Subscribe