Burnout in Special Education Teachers

Background and Introduction

Being the largest state in the Middle East, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is proud of its fast social and economic development and growth. At the same time, there are still some aspects in which the state does not succeed. Unfortunately, special education and support services for people with disabilities are some such areas. Due to the lack of research focused on populations with disabilities, the exact numbers and distribution of such populations are unknown (Al-Jadid, 2013). Consequently, there is insufficient understanding of the nature of disabilities that leads to the marginalization of the vulnerable population. However, over the last several years, a significant effort has been undertaken aimed at the improvement of the current situation. Namely, several special education programs were successfully launched, and many special education facilities were built (Hadidi & Khateeb, 2015).

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To achieve a high level of development in special education, Saudi Arabia, just like many other developing countries, is recommended to balance out its medical and social support for people with disabilities, activate intervention-based research in the field that would help to stimulate further evidence-based instructional practices (Altamimi, Lee, Sayed-Ahmed, & Kassem, 2015). In addition, for the purpose of boosting educational inclusion and the quality of special education in the state, it is necessary to engage policy-makers to help regulate legal attitudes and eligibility criteria for learners with special needs (Aldabas, 2015). Moving towards inclusive education, educational leaders of Saudi Arabia are required to advocate for their students as well as their peers and colleagues in order to improve readiness for change in the field (Murry & Alqahtani, 2015). Practically, teachers who work in special education facilities today are exposed to a great number of risks, pressures, and threats due to the lack of professional support and the insufficient preparedness of the educational system of the country to the provision of high-quality special education.

Occupational burnout among specialists working with people who have limited physical abilities presents an important topic that needs to be explored. Employee burnout in special education teachers living and working in different countries has been investigated by many researchers. For instance, Bataineh and Alsagheer (2012) make an attempt to identify and study “the sources of social support” that can shed light on possible measures to reduce burnout. Regardless of the differences in cultures, lifestyles, and mentalities high levels of burnout remain a persisting tendency peculiar to the profession of intellectual disability teachers in such countries as Turkey (Küçüksüleymanoğlu, 2011), Greece (Platsidou, 2010), and the Sultanate of Oman (Mohamed, 2015). A variety of reasons drive the importance of studying various dimensions of occupational burnout in different cultures.

It is accepted that work-related stress is detrimental to a sufficient level of job satisfaction and healthy well-being of special education teachers and that teaching is “a highly stressful profession” (Hamama, Ronen, Shachar, & Rosenbaum, 2013). Among the factors that are responsible for high levels of stress in intellectual disability teachers all over the world, there is a large number of students’ specific needs that these professionals are supposed to meet. Studying factors that are consistent with occupational burnout rates in special education teachers, it is possible to use the available data in order to improve the existing programs and initiatives helping education specialists to manage stress. The present review involves seventeen studies that have been chosen based on their applicability to the research on burnout in special education teachers in Saudi Arabia. Among the subtopics that the selected studies cover, there is burnout in general and special education, burnout in support workers taking care of students with intellectual disabilities, the state of knowledge concerning burnout and demographic characteristics, and methods helping to measure work-related stress.

Problem Statement and Significance of the Study

The problem of occupational burnout among specialists who provide services to people with disabilities is extremely important due to the fact that it affects both specialists and people with disabilities. In this connection, focused attention must be paid to the problems that special education teachers face on a daily basis. General education teachers are known to have a range of work-related difficulties caused by inappropriate behavior of their students, conflicts, and the lack of collaboration with students’ parents. Occupational burnout still presents one of the major challenges for the professionals working in this sphere. Nowadays, special education teachers belong to the number of individuals who are the most susceptible to work-related stress and occupational burnout. Due to the levels of stress that are extremely high, almost half of teachers who work with children and adolescents with physical, intellectual or other disabilities are leaving the profession very soon after the onset of their career. Taking that into account, it is clear that turnover rates among special education professionals are very high in different countries.

The problem of employee burnout in Saudi Arabia has not been thoroughly studied yet whereas there are numerous materials related to burnout in special education in European countries and the United States. The failure to fill the given knowledge gap can have a range of negative consequences such as a lack of adult special education professionals in Saudi Arabia and a decreased number of students who would like to obtain degrees in special education. At the same time, the topic of burnout in Saudi Arabia requires further research because there is a lack of effective methods helping to reduce work-related stress in such specialists and, therefore, design effective employee retention strategies such as mentoring to motivate specialists working with people with physical, intellectual or other disabilities.

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There are many reasons why it is important to study the way in which various dimensions of occupational burnout are manifested in teachers in different cultures. To begin with, many researchers in the field prove that work-related stress has a significant influence on the life satisfaction of special education teachers and consider teaching as “a highly stressful profession” (Hamama, Ronen, Shachar, & Rosenbaum, 2013). As it follows from this information, the failure to study the specific characteristics of work-related stress in intellectual disability teachers from Saudi Arabia has negative consequences. In particular, it can lead to a significant decrease in life satisfaction levels of special education teachers. Moreover, this negative tendency can encourage more specialists working in the sphere of special education to leave the profession due to the growing dissatisfaction and stress.

Another reason why it is important to study the proposed research topic is inherent in the particularities of the discussed profession. In general, teaching has always been considered as a profession associated with high levels of stress. The situation becomes even worse when it comes to the field of special education as the latter involves additional challenges for professional teachers. Among the factors that are responsible for high levels of stress in intellectual disability teachers all over the world, there is the large number of students’ specific needs that these professionals “showing the high levels of exhaustion” are supposed to meet (Hakanen, Bakker, & Schaufeli, 2006). Also, it is known that many specialists working with students affected by intellectual disabilities are exposed to “challenging behavior including aggression” that reduces their motivation (Hensel, Lunsky, & Dewa, 2012).

In addition, the presence of positive outcomes for learners with intellectual disability is often unclear, and many educational practitioners fear that they will be incorrectly “accused of abuse” or the use of harsh treatment during the work (McConkey, McAuley, Simpson, & Collins, 2007). Combined with the high levels of stress peculiar to the profession, this factor significantly increases employee turnover rate in different countries. Studying factors that are consistent with occupational burnout rates in special education teachers, it is possible to use the retrieved data in order to improve the existing programs and initiatives helping education specialists to cope with stress. Paying special attention to the characteristics of intellectual disability teachers who are affected by work-related stress the most, it will be possible to single out the categories of professionals from Saudi Arabia who need additional training. This way, the research on the effects of burnout in special education professionals in Saudi Arabia is expected to have significant practical outcomes.

As it follows from previous statements, the proposed study is going to make a unique contribution to the field, expand the knowledge on occupational burnout in intellectual disability teachers in Saudi Arabia, and provide the data helping other researchers to improve stress management techniques that are currently applied in the country. In particular, the use of the specific data on work-related stress among intellectual disability teachers can help to increase the “prosocial motivation” of such specialists (Hickey, 2014). In its turn, the latter has a positive influence on life satisfaction of education professionals. Therefore, the positive changes that can be encouraged by the proposed study are numerous.

Theoretical Framework

Theoretical and conceptual framework remains one of the most important aspects to be identified prior to conducting research. In general, the topic of occupational burnout and stress management has not been studied for many years even though work-related stress has always influenced people in different countries and career fields. The proposed research is aimed at studying the effects of occupational burnout on special education teachers working in Saudi Arabia focusing on three key dimensions – exhaustion, depersonalization, and accomplishment. The theory that has been used to explore the topic and identify hypotheses and research questions is the work by Maslach, Schaufeli, and Leiter (2001).

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The chosen study touches upon the most significant inventions in the field. For instance, reflecting on the topic of research tools used worldwide, the authors describe the MBI scale “that was originally designed for use in human service occupations” (Maslach et al., 2001, p. 401). Another theoretical aspect that is extremely important for the proposed research is the exact definition of occupational burnout that should not involve any inconsistencies. According to the researchers, job burnout that used to be a slippery concept presents “a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job” (Maslach et al., 2001, p. 397). The discussed source provides one of the most comprehensive works devoted to the topic because it generalizes the knowledge on occupational burnout in an effective manner.

The primary research question refers to the effects of burnout on special education teachers in Saudi Arabia whereas the additional ones that are expected to shape the study were constructed in accordance with the statements from the chosen theory. As specified by the authors, “there are important characteristics of some occupations that affect workers’ experience of burnout” (Maslach et al., 2001, p. 408). The additional research questions focus on the extent to which four individual factors are related to occupational burnout in special education teachers in Saudi Arabia. These four factors include the degree earned by specialists, their gender, the level of teaching, and the number of years in the profession.

As it follows from the discussed theory, “age and formal education” belong to the number of personal factors related to burnout (Maslach et al., 2001, p. 409); therefore, the use of education degrees and the number of years of professional experience as variables is approved by the discussed theory. The situation is a bit different in connection with gender because the source states that there are “some arguments that burnout is more of a female experience”, but these claims have not been confirmed (Maslach et al., 2001, p. 409). The study suggests that gender has not been proved to be a strong predictor of occupational burnout. Nevertheless, considering that Saudi Arabia belongs to the number of patriarchal societies, it is important to use this research question. It will help to check whether or not the results for the country with strong religious traditions are different from the results for countries where gender roles are more flexible. In terms of the level of teaching, it is supposed to be an appropriate variable to be studied in the proposed research, as there is a lack of knowledge on the role of this factor.

Research Question

The chosen theory has been used to conceptualize the topic that will be investigated. The source presents a thorough discussion of individual factors that can be regarded as predictors of burnout. Based on this discussion and the knowledge gap related to some of the proposed variables, the research questions were formulated.

Main question

What is the effect of burnout on special education teachers in Saudi Arabia who works with students with intellectual disabilities?

Sub-questions

  1. To what extent does the degree earned influence the rates of burnout in special education teachers?
  2. To what extent does the gender influence the rates of burnout in special education teachers?
  3. To what extent does the length of professional experience influence the rates burnout in special education teachers?
  4.  To what extent does the level of teaching influence the rates of burnout in special education teachers?

Null hypothesis

Null hypothesis:

  1. Special education teachers in Qassim State in Saudi Arabia experience professional burnout.
  2. Special education teachers in Qassim State in Saudi Arabia do not experience professional burnout.
  3. There is a positive burnout for special education teachers in Qassim State in Saudi Arabia.

Rationale for Methodology

The researcher will use the quantitative method by applying a survey instrument. This study will rely on multiple regression analysis because it is appropriate for the proposed research as it will help to describe the connection between each independent variable identified and burnout in special education teachers in Saudi Arabia.

Sample Plan

The sampling strategy chosen for the proposed research is one of the subtypes of probability sampling – simple random sampling. The discussed strategy is often regarded as “the most popular and rigorous form” of probability sampling (Creswell, 2012, p. 143). In fact, the chosen sampling strategy possesses many advantages that make it suitable for the proposed study. To begin with, using this sampling strategy, it is easier for researchers to analyze data as they are not required to divide the sample into several groups. Another important advantage that needs to be mentioned is strictly connected with the purpose of the proposed research. Considering the necessity to study the situation with burnout in special education teachers in Saudi Arabia and fill the knowledge gap that exists in the field, the research is aimed at identifying the relationships between burnout and four independent variables. At the same time, simple random sampling is regarded as an appropriate strategy allowing the generalization of results and the identification of the most obvious tendencies. Also, the sample size will include around 500 special education teachers working in Qassim State in Saudi Arabia, and I expect half of the anticipated sample to complete the survey.

Definition of Terms

Definitions

  1. Mental disability or Intellectual disability represents a kind of disability that is associated with a significant weakness in both in adaptive behavior and intellectual functioning. Additionally, this form of disability usually tends to affect many socials and practical skills. Also, this disability occurs before the age of 18 (Schalock, Luckasson, & Shogren, 2007).
  2. According to Hakanen, Bakker, and Schaufeli (2006), Attrition, stress or burnout is a syndrome of exhaustion, the cynicism that could limit or reduce the professional work.

Summary

Based on the information presented and discussed in this chapter, it is possible to conclude that special education in Saudi Arabia is complicated by a multitude of factors. Mainly, such factors stem from the lack of readiness to provide special education in the country’s educational system as well as the lack of social support for students with special needs. The provision of education to people with disabilities is known to be a highly complex and challenging task due to a variety of reasons such as emotional outbursts of the students, the lacking family involvement, and a risk of being accused of mistreatment or abuse. Educators who work with learners affected by intellectual disabilities in Saudi Arabia are faced with all of the aforementioned challenges and also have to perform their professional duties in an environment of insufficient social, professional, and financial support.

In turn, working in such demanding and complicated conditions may affect the providers of special education in a variety of negative ways. To be more precise, having to perform under much pressure, teachers are more likely to experience a low level of job satisfaction, an increased turnover intention, and a degree of professional burnout. In order to ensure whether or not this hypothesis is true, it is necessary to carry out detailed research that will focus on several aspects of workers as variables. Such aspects include the degrees of the included sample of educators, their gender, and the length of their professional experience. The proposed research project is anticipated to offer much practical value to the field of special education in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that is currently in need of information and exploration.

References

Aldabas, R. A. (2015). Special education in Saudi Arabia: History and areas for reform. Creative Education, 6, 1158-1167.

Al-Jadid, M. S. (2013). Disability in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Medical Journal, 34(5), 453-460.

Altamimi, A., Lee, W., Sayed-Ahmed, A., & Kassem, M. (2015). Special education in Saudi Arabia: A synthesis of literature written in English. International Journal of Special Education, 30(3), 98-117.

Hadidi, M., & Khateeb, J. (2015). Special education in Arab Countries: Current challenges. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 62(5), 518-530.

Murry, F., & Alqahtani, R. (2015). Teaching special education law in Saudi Arabia: Improving pre-service teacher education and services to students with disabilities. World Journal of Education, 5(6), 57-64.

Burnout in Special Education Teachers
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