Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


College of Education


Department of Education

Primary Advisor

Dr. Patti LeBlanc

Second Advisor

Dr. Thomas Gollery

Third Advisor

Dr. Lynsey Seabrook


The purpose of this study was to examine the relationships between the proportions of students with special needs in elementary classrooms and regular elementary teachers’ stressors and needs for professional development support. The conceptual framework for the study was derived from critical mass theory and tipping point theory. The design of this dissertation study was non-experimental survey research of a non-random, purposive sample of 52 regular elementary classroom teachers who taught students with special needs. The researcher used a broad definition of students with special needs to include those who were working on a RtI Tier 2 or Tier 3 plan in addition to the students with Individual Education Plans or 504 Plans. In this sample of elementary teachers, the mean proportion of all special needs students to total students was .55 or 55%. Survey respondents indicated the extent to which the domains of student behavior, parent, administrative, classroom, professional competency, and personal competency issues were stressful on a four-point Likert scale. All six of the survey’s domains of teachers’ stressors were significantly related to the sample’s mean composite stressor score (Mean = 2.52; p ≤ .001); however, there was no significant relationship (p < .34) between the proportion of students with special needs and teachers’ stressors. Seventy-six percent of the teachers agreed or strongly agreed on the need for more professional development related to meeting the needs of special learners. The relationship between the proportion of students with special needs and teachers’ needs for professional development approached significance (p < .07). Teachers reported that their greatest stressors were related to work required outside contract hours. Keywords: teacher stress; teacher burnout; critical mass theory; tipping points; inclusive education; teacher attrition; teacher turnover; teacher churn