Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency

Buena Vista University responds to SPED teacher shortage

According to the National Education Association, the number of students enrolled in special education programming has risen 30 percent since 2005. In addition to this, as schools become more proficient at effective differentiation and inclusion, three out of  four students with disabilities receive the majority of their education in the general education classroom with support from special education services. Yet, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Teaching Shortage Areas report and state-level reporting systems, all 50 states continue to experience critical shortages in special educators. In fact, one in three rural schools, and one in 10 urban schools have positions that remain unfilled or are filled by unqualified staff or substitutes. Iowa is no exception. We currently have shortages in special educators across all categories including teachers for:

  • Strategist I: Mild to Moderate Disabilities
  • Strategist II: Significant Cognitive Disabilities
  • Strategist II: Significant Learning and Behavior Disabilities

Buena Vista University (BVU) has taken a strong interest in this crisis, particularly in the rural communities we often serve. Research conducted at the university indicates that shortages are not the only concern. Special education is also plagued by a higher attrition rate. Through research, BVU has developed a comprehensive program in special education that includes all three endorsements at the undergraduate or graduate level. The special education program targets many of the issues identified in research including effective implementation of Individualized Education Programs, supporting paraprofessional growth and engagement, and collaborating with teachers, students and families in an evolving educational environment.

Dr. Karin Strohmyer, assistant professor of special education at BVU, emphasized the importance of “developing special educators who are flexible thinkers, able to think and collaborate on the spot, but who are also experts in a profession that is heavily ridden with legal requirements and diverse instructional demands.”

In addition to this, BVU has taken a proactive approach to pre-service experiences. Students regularly engage in field experience work with mentor teachers active in classrooms across Iowa.

Many students spend over 200 hours in the classroom and in school professional development with their mentors before they enter student teaching.

Erica Boettcher, instructor of special education at BVU, said, “Our pre-service teachers real-life experiences broaden their understanding of theories learned in the classroom through actively applying these practices in the field. This helps them build more self-confidence and overcome many of the fears that first-year teachers have based on perceptions of students with disabilities.”

Dr. Strohmyer added, “The local schools are an essential part of our program. The mentor teachers we pair our students with not only model and guide them through the applications of science and theory, they also create lasting relationships and a professional network that is often necessary for future teachers, particularly in rural schools where they may not have other special educators to collaborate with. We couldn’t do this without our excellent partner schools.”

For more information on the special education major or endorsement programs at BVU, please contact Debra Lenhart at or 712-749- 2162. If you are interested in becoming a mentor teacher or school for the special education program, please contact Karin Strohmyer at

© 2003-2021 Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency. All Rights Reserved .