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Teacher Efficacy: Crucial for General and Special Education Classrooms

Updated: May 26, 2021

By Kelsey Remeis, CEI Intern

With the recent times of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been changes in almost every aspect of life. Our understanding of the education system continues to grow as it evolves and adapts. Now more than ever it is vital to understand what practices lead to the most success in students. Teacher efficacy, a “teacher’s belief in their ability to effectively teach and promote student engagement and learning,” can affect a teacher’s successful delivery of a lesson, to students with and without disabilities (Johnson, Hund, Meyers, 2020).

Impact of Teacher Efficacy

A teacher’s efficacy plays a key role in students’ success within the classroom community. Efficacy is how confident a teacher is in their abilities to promote an engaging and advantageous learning environment. Research has shown that a teacher’s belief in their own abilities is often an indicator of how well students will do. Efficacy can be built through vicarious experiences, social persuasions, and overall educational background (Protheroe, 2008). With a strong sense of confidence in their teaching abilities, teachers can cultivate an environment conducive to learning and growing. A sense of confidence within teachers will be reflected onto the students and they will feel a sense of positive reinforcement in their learning. When both teachers and students are confident in their work, open communication is more likely to ensue and work is done more efficiently.

Efficacy of General Vs. Special Education Teachers

From Illinois State University, a small study was done to compare general and special educators’ efficacy when teaching students with disabilities. This study had a total of 142 public elementary school teachers, 95 of which were general educators and 47 special educators. Using a survey that collected demographics and scores on the Teacher Self Efficacy Scale (TSES) and Teaching Students with Disabilities Efficacy Scale (TSDES), as well as miscellaneous information on their education, experience, and support, they were able to collect enough data in order to gain insight into teacher efficacy.

Throughout the study, both special and general educators tended to receive around the same scores from the TSES, however, general educators reported a lower self-efficacy than special educators. This means that although the TSES scores of both general and special education teachers were similar, general educators personally rated themselves lower in their abilities and overall confidence.

Building Efficacy

Promoting a positive and engaging learning environment is more crucial than ever during COVID-19. Teachers of all backgrounds can work to increase their efficacy to create a positive environment for students, even while virtual. The shift into virtual learning is a change for all involved, but teachers can continue being their best and pushing their students to do the same by:

  1. Engaging in professional development on how to address challenges in virtual learning

  2. Offering a range of resources for students to increase engagement and provide face-to-face relationship building time (online office hours, virtual team building events, e-mail or phone call check-ins, etc.)

  3. Facilitating continual contact with families to stay better connected and more involved as a community

  4. Reevaluating goals and tasks to best match needs of the individual students in the classroom, as those needs change

With more resources and continued willingness to evolve to best support students and the community, teachers have the ability to be present and confident in their abilities, as this creates a strong learning community for their students. Now more than ever, it is important for teachers to be strong efficacy role models, so that students begin to see examples of confident adults.

Moving Forward

It is important now more than ever that teachers and school officials work to build efficacy to best support their students. As the study from Illinois State University showed, each teacher has the ability to encourage and be confident in their teaching abilities for their students. However, if there is no confidence in their ability to teach and create environments conducive to engaging students, then the students implicitly feel this self-doubt and are less likely to succeed.

To push through this pandemic and continue fostering success in students, educators have the opportunity to get out of their own comfort zones. They have the ability to try new lessons, activities, and more in order to really dive into their teaching and find what works best. High efficacy is something that all educators have the ability to achieve, and now more than ever it is necessary to bring hope to a population that needs it most.


Hamilton, L., Kaufman, J., & Diliberti, M. (2020). Teaching and leading through a pandemic: Key findings from the American Educator Panels Spring 2020 COVID-19 surveys. RAND Corporation. doi:10.7249/rra168-2

Johnson, M. E., B.A., Hund, A. M., Ph.D., & Meyers, A. B., Ph.D. (2020). Elementary general and special educators’ efficacy teaching students with disabilities. Illinois State University.

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