Each year, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and similar departments from other states report to the U.S. Department of Education on teacher shortage areas, by subject.

Special education is consistently on the list for nearly every state.

None of that deterred Brooke White, 2004 MSSU alumna and special education teacher at Joplin High School. She said she was motivated to teach students with special needs early in life.

“My mother taught Special Education,” she said. “In high school, I was a teacher’s assistant in a class that served multi-handicapped students.  I did it for two years and loved it. I knew what I wanted to do when I got to college.”

One problem that has plagued the field over the years is a high attrition rate, up to 50 percent according to some national studies.

“I don’t think anyone truly understands everything we do until you’re here,” White said. “No amount of classes or observation prepares you for the amount of paperwork or involvement in student’s lives.”

Dr. Deborah Brown, interim dean of the School of Education, said the Special Education program is growing due to a concerted recruitment and retention effort.

“One of the foundational courses in Special Education has a current enrollment of 16 students compared with five students in fall of 2014 and three students in fall 2013,” she said. “It’s exciting to see this generation of students want to serve special needs students Several approaches exist in teaching Special Education students.

These include self-contained, classrooms, resource classrooms – where students follow general education curriculum but at a different pace – and co-taught classrooms, where both a general education teacher and a special education teacher oversee the class.

White said she has been lucky to have excellent para-professionals assisting in her self-contained classroom. Right now she has up to three, which is a typical amount.

“The payoff in this career is seeing your students become independent,” White said. “At first, they rely on you for so much – self-care, just getting around the building.

“When they get to senior year and they are able to do job shadowing or even finding jobs, it is a very proud moment because you know you helped them get there.”