WCU receives $600,000 federal grant to help special education teachers

CULLOWHEE — Western Carolina University has received a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to implement a support program to help special education teachers survive the challenges that cause high stress, rapid career burn-out and early departure from the profession.

The three-year grant will enable Western’s special education program to provide support services designed to counter the difficult conditions faced by special education teachers, who often deal with the most challenging demands within the teaching profession, said project director David Westling.

“In recent years, the problems faced by special educators and the impact of these problems have become well-recognized,” said Westling, the Adelaide Worth Daniels Distinguished Professor of Special Education at Western Carolina. “Some studies have reported that the average professional life of a special education teacher is only about six years.”

Westling initiated a series of collaborative problem-solving workshops in Asheville in the spring of 1998, providing an informal support network for teachers and other professionals who work with children and adults with special needs. The Department of Education grant will enable expansion of the Teacher Support Program to three sites in Western North Carolina — Asheville, Cullowhee and Murphy.

Up to 55 teachers from 16 urban and rural school districts in Western North Carolina will be offered an array of services intended to provide personal support, improve instructional skills and reduce attrition. Among the services participating teachers will receive are weekly collaborative problem-solving sessions, on-going electronic networking and communication, peer mentoring, participant development sessions, information and materials searches, and on-site, in-class consultations.

Westling and other project personnel will monitor the participating teachers’ progress over the three years of the project to determine which intervention strategies work best at alleviating job-related problems that lead to stress and burn-out.

“We want to help the participants find solutions to their problems, reduce their stress, increase their teaching effectiveness and help them stay on the job longer,” said Westling, who joined WCU’s faculty in 1997 through a $1 million endowed professorship fund created by a gift from Adelaide Key of Asheville. The professorship is designed to provide expert training and instruction to students enrolled in Western’s teacher education programs so that they may better serve children with special education needs, and to assist current teachers of students with special needs.

The special education program, housed in the department of human services at WCU, is currently seeking special education teachers from across WNC who are interested in participating in the Teacher Support Program. Each teacher selected for the program will receive a $200 honorarium per semester to help offset the expenses related to participation, such as travel and child care.

For more information, contact David Westling at telephone number (828) 227-3287 or via e-mail at westling@wcu.edu.