Degree Name

EdD (Doctor of Education)


Educational Leadership

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Dr. Catherine Glascock

Committee Members

Dr. Cecil Blankenship, Dr. Virginia Foley, Dr. James Lampley


Over the past few decades thousands of special education teachers have been teaching students with disabilities on emergency or temporary certificates (Barnes, Crow, & Schaefer, 2007). The majority of these teachers entered the field of education with little to no preparation. Most of these under qualified teachers were hired in rural areas. Prior to the establishment of the cohort between the Tennessee Department of Education and East Tennessee State University-Sevier County Schools in 2000, there had been little to no planning in addressing the challenge of teacher shortage, specifically teacher attrition, in East Tennessee for special education teachers (East Tennessee State University, 2009; State of Tennessee, Office of Research and Education Accountability, 2006).

The challenge of teacher shortage is secondary to teacher attrition for many school systems. Reasons teachers leave the profession are family or personal reasons, school staffing issues including layoffs, school closings, reorganizations, and retirement (Shakrani, 2008). The cost of high teacher attrition is felt in many ways. Examples include loss of outlays from states and local school districts, the challenge school districts face searching for replacements; and most of all, the cost to the student (Carroll, 2007).

This qualitative study investigated the experiences of 12 paraprofessionals who completed the first East Tennessee State University-Sevier County Special Education Cohort to earn special education teaching certification. The 2000 ETSU-Sevier County Cohort started with 16 3 members. Currently 13 are teaching in special education, one cohort member is deceased, and two cohort members moved so that the other members do not know of their status. Cohort members received a 100% grant subsidy to participate in the program of study. The goal of the grant was “to improve the quality of instruction to students with disabilities from birth to 21 by increasing the number of appropriately endorsed special education teachers in Tennessee” (ETSU Special Education Institute, 2010, p. 2).

The most dominant findings were the experience and background of paraprofessionals as they made their way to becoming certified teachers. These experiences were helpful in a variety of ways. Examples include completing course work, developing instructional strategies, behavior management, coteaching, and providing training for their paraprofessionals. Another finding and a major theme was group bonding among the cohorts. This bonding provided a support group in meeting the course work demands.

Having access to local administrators who were their instructors and mentors was a consistent theme. Members of the cohort were supported by a 100% grant that provided the financial support necessary to make their journey possible; the necessity of that support was a common theme. The increased stress level, additional paper work, and responsibilities of being a certified teacher were other emerging themes. Time management was a prevalent theme throughout their experience. Finally, the support and admiration from their colleges, professors, and family members were major themes in their completing the cohort and becoming certified teachers.

Document Type

Dissertation - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.