School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy in Education (PhD)


Janet Deck


special education teachers, motivation, self-determination theory, burnout


Special Education and Teaching


The purpose of this phenomenological study was to describe the challenges that lead to special education teacher burnout and how these challenges influence the motivation of special education teachers in North Georgia. In this study, factors that lead to special education burnout were generally defined as potential challenges, such as quality teacher preparation, inadequate professional development, and lack of administrative support, and how these challenges impact motivation and extrinsic influences of special education teachers. The theory that guided this study was Deci and Ryan's (1985) self-determination theory, which allowed for a deeper understanding of motivation and how intrinsic and extrinsic influencers affected a person and their willingness to continue to work in a difficult profession. The foundations of motivation were characterized predominantly through introspective means, therefore, aligning this study to qualitative methodology. The study occurred in two public pre-K through 12th grade schools in North Georgia. Participants of this study were 10 special education teachers with varying ethnicities, genders, ages, backgrounds, and student exceptionalities. The central research questions explored how special education teachers in North Georgia describe the effects that professional challenges have on their motivation to continue in the field. Data collection was completed through semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions, and audio journaling. Data was analyzed using a modified version of Spradley's (1976) thematic content analysis. Participants from this study reported several factors that contributed to the loss of motivation, as well as factors needed to maintain motivation. The leading causes for loss of motivation were lack of support, paperwork, and exhaustion. The elements needed to encourage motivation were recognition and support, money, more time, and witnessing student progress.