Do Special Education Teacher Personality Profiles Match with the Profession?

Apr 28 2022

Key Takeaway:

A majority of teachers in the study shared an occupational personality that coincided with the Holland Codes of Special Education Teachers (SET). “Social” surfaces as the strongest of six personality types (realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional). Social personalities were described as emphatic and possessing strong social skills. Further studies in this area may be able to positively impact school leaders and reverse the on-going shortage of SETs.—Matt Piercy

The study aimed to answer two questions:

1) What is the personality profile of special education teachers?

2) What difference exists among special education teachers in their occupational profiles?

“Findings from the study reveal that while special educators’ overall personality profile is congruent with the Holland Codes (a theory of vocational choice based on personality type) associated with special education teachers, other features may explain participants’ choices to pursue a career as a special education teacher.” 

Here are the major takeaways from the article:

  1. “Personality fit identifies the compatibility between a person and their profession and can influence an individual’s decision to stay or go.”
  2. Individuals typically continue employment when it is matched to their personality.
  3. Although Social, Enterprising, and Conventional (SEC) is not yet a confirmed occupational code for SETs, “a substantial body of research supports the SEC personality traits for SETs.”
  4. “Several research studies found that SETs have high levels of empathy and social skills.”1 
  5. SETs identify with the enterprising personality type.  Common traits of this personality type are ambitious and agreeable. Work preferences are described as persuading or directing people. “Given this finding, schools could consider increasing opportunities for SETs to express and demonstrate leadership skills to improve individual-to-profession compatibility, which can influence SET’s decisions on whether or not to remain in the profession.” 
  6. “Given the critical shortage of SETs in U.S. public schools, this study is the first to employ the Holland Code as its theoretical model for evaluating SET personality-career profiles and its relevance to teacher retention and attrition.” 
  7. “With the pool of SETs shrinking, understanding the compatible personality profiles of SETs could help boost recruitment, increase retention, and decrease attrition in the special education field…”

Several limitations however were noted. 

For example, self-reporting was subject to bias, and the survey’s length at 252 questions could have affected responses. Furthermore, most educators in the study were in their first through fifth year of teaching. These factors may cause a question of efficacy. Most notable though was that participants in the study were from one teacher preparation program made up of mostly white females.  

Summarized Article:

Scott, L. A., Bruno, L., Gnilka, P., Kozachuk, L. K., Brendli, K., & Vitullo, V. (2021). Comparing Special Education Teachers’ Personality Profile With Their Choice to Teach. Excelsior: Leadership in Teaching and Learning, 14(1), 20-35.

Summary by: Matt Piercy—Matt appreciates how at the heart of the MARIO Framework is a passion to develop relationships and a desire to empower students to uncover their purpose while building upon strengths  Further, Matt is inspired by how the MARIO team supports educators and is quickly and nobly becoming a collaborative force in pursuit of educational equity. 

Researcher Dr. Lauren P. Bruno participated in the final version of this summary. 

Additional References:  

  1. Berkovich, I. (2018). Conceptualizations of empathy in K-12 teaching: A review of empirical research. Educational Review, 72(5), 547-566. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131911.2018.1530196
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