Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

First Advisor

Justin D. Garwood

Second Advisor

Kathleen Kennedy


Researchers have noted that burnout in the United States is a problem among special educators and is getting worse (Brunsting et al., 2014; Garwood et al., 2018; Garwood, 2022), resulting in an annual attrition rate of 33%, leading to massive special education teacher shortages (Brownell et al., 2018; Garwood, 2022). This problem is exacerbated by shortages and the need for more highly qualified special educators.

Special educators’ roles are unique and differ from their colleague counterparts, and their working conditions place them at high risk for stress and burnout (Garwood, 2022; Soini et al., 2019). This role is so unique that it is necessary to conduct exploratory studies of special education burnout before assuming that interventions from other fields can be applied to this role. To explore this phenomenon, this research focused on the role of a special educator, the role-related stressors, and the relationship quality with students related to burnout. It was conducted using a sequential explanatory mixed-methods research design. A mixed-methods approach is the best way to explore special educators’ perspectives and stories within this phenomenon.

There were significant findings that could be explored further despite the differences in quantitative and qualitative results. The quantitative data showed most participants indicated a high level of conflict with their relationships with students. Additionally, role conflict and role ambiguity were statistically significantly positively correlated to emotional exhaustion and depersonalization. Focus group participants reported role conflict and role ambiguity in their current positions.

Although this study may indicate positive correlations, further research and larger sample sizes are needed to confirm these findings. Within this national crisis, more critical research is needed, focusing on understanding the causes of burnout and how to manage and reduce its effects.



Number of Pages

164 p.

Available for download on Thursday, December 11, 2025