Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education Policy, Planning, and Administration

Committee Chairperson

Merry Staulters, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Beatrice Adera, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lesley Siegel, Ph.D.


High school-aged students who qualify for special education services with the disability of Emotional Disturbance (ED) are at elevated risk of experiencing negative school and life consequences (Balagna et al., 2013; Billingsley & Bettini, 2019; Maag, 2006). Likewise, special education teachers who instruct this population of students are at greater risk of leaving the occupation within the first couple of years (Billingsley & Bettini, 2019; Cancio et al., 2018). These two alarming trends create the need for research to provide insight into how retention can be increased and attrition can be reduced for Emotional Support Teachers (ESTs). This study utilized an explanatory sequential mixed-methods design by conducting (1) a questionnaire, (2) semi-structured focus groups, and (3) final clarifying questions with both novice and veteran ESTs. Billingsley’s (1993) framework on the factors that impact attrition and retention and Ryan and Deci’s (2000) motivation theory guide this dissertation study to understand what strengths and challenges the participants perceive to face. This study will provide educational decision-makers and policymakers with implications to reduce the frequent teacher turnover for students with ED.