The Risk of Special Education Teacher Shortage

By Chris Jones and Nadia Pflaum

Jamie Moffitt had a substitute teacher job lined up at Rose Springs Elementary in Tooele County. She was excited — she was about to do what she’d always wanted to do: Work with kids.

The morning, however, started with some concerning warnings from people who greeted her at the school’s front desk. Seasoned school staffers told Moffitt she should change her clothes to something more durable, and she certainly needed to take out her earrings because, by the end of the day, one of the special education students she would be working with would surely rip them out.

Concerned but undeterred, Moffitt entered a classroom as a low-paid para-professional or special needs assistant. She made $600 a month.

Moffitt says the first day went well — so well, in fact, that by lunch time, the principal had offered her a job.

“I felt really, really good,” Moffitt said.

Those initial feelings of elation soon changed, however, when Moffitt, paired with a student school officials admit was the most challenging in Tooele County, began to be assaulted on a regular basis.

By her sixth month, Moffitt says she had been bitten more than 100 times, had her hair pulled more than 100 times, had suffered three concussions, and had gone to the hospital three times as well. During all of this, Moffitt says she never got any training, with the exception of sexual harassment guidelines.

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