Date of Award

Fall 10-18-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Organizational Leadership

First Advisor

Doug DeVore, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Michael H. Stephens, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

Esmirna Valencia, Ed.D.


This study investigated special education teachers and the grit needed to stay in the field especially for those who teach students with moderate to severe disabilities. The purpose was to explore and describe the impact of Grit on retention as perceived by special education teachers who teach students with severe disabilities. This explanatory, sequential mixed methods study included the Grit-S survey as a locator for special education teachers in five California counties and the target population included special education teachers who taught in California.

Teachers self-reported they were hard workers, diligent and finish what they start and they gave examples. Teachers were asked how they perceived the importance of Grit on their retention of special education teachers. The most frequently mentioned themes (100) were: Diligence, Relationships, Perseverance-Passion, Obstacles and Roadblocks, Hard worker and I love my job. Diligence was the most often mentioned theme and the second ranked survey item.

Findings demonstrate teachers perceive the importance of building and maintaining solid relationships as key to their longevity. They described perseverance as what they did. They encountered setbacks and obstacles all the time and they agreed getting through difficult times was possible because it was for the students. Teachers were hard workers but they did not think anything about the numbers of hours they put into the job. Teachers loved their jobs and they could not think of anything else they would rather be doing.

Contrary to initial presumptions, teachers do not choose to leave because of difficulties in teaching lessons, their relationships with the children or even challenging student behaviors but rather, factors beyond the teacher-student relationship affect retention. Recommended actions include systems-wide initiatives focusing on students first and teacher next. Other actions include necessary supports including mentors, professional learning communities, creating a culture of acceptance and inclusion of students and special education staff.

Further research would look at teachers who serve students who have mild disabilities and those who left special education to go to general education. The teacher shortage continues and researchers should continue to find ways to retain special education teachers so that students benefit.