“Less Afraid to Have Them in My Classroom”: Understanding Pre-Service General Educators’ Perceptions about Inclusion
Source: Teacher Education Quarterly, Volume 38, No. 4, Fall 2011. P. 135-155.
(Reviewed by ITEC Portal team)
The purpose of this study was two-fold: (1) to understand the perceptions of pre-service general educators about the inclusion of students with disabilities (SWDs) prior to and at the end of a required course on integrating exceptional students; and (2) to determine if there was a difference by program (e.g., elementary or secondary education).
This study was conducted at a large, urban research university in the Southeastern United States.
The sample was comprised of 77 undergraduate elementary education majors (EEM) and 38 undergraduate secondary education majors (SEM), who were enrolled in the course on integrating exceptional students in general education settings.
Data were collected a survey.
The findings reveal that a small number felt better prepared to meet the needs of SWDs in their classrooms. Further, those that discussed instruction primarily offered differentiation and accommodations as key factors. Participants were interested in more information on instructional approaches and characteristics of specific disabilities. SEMs were more likely to express affective changes as a result of the course, but also felt their greatest strengths were knowledge/skills related. Also, their remaining questions about their role were largely about increasing their knowledge and skills. EEMs provided nearly twice as many responses as SEMs indicating that they still needed support in knowledge and skills.
When asked specifically about their perceptions of including students with disabilities as a result of the course, participants responded more often than not with affective terms and concepts.
Moreover, the teacher candidates’ willingness and ability to acquire such knowledge and skills once in the field may largely be dependent on the contexts in which they are employed.
Even with the many positive comments, a number of them signified hesitance and “othering” which is still troubling. The teacher candidates in the present study seem to have provided what they viewed as socially acceptable responses with underlying meanings, whether intended or not. The responses suggest compliance rather than affirmation or acceptance of the strengths or even the rights of SWDs.
In addition, the teacher candidates indicated overwhelmingly that they needed specific knowledge and skills to operationalize their changed perceptions and beliefs. Yet, it is difficult to suggest that they will receive intensive instruction in this area beyond this single course. A few mentioned having some information in other courses and internship experiences that were meaningful, but the majority did not. This suggests additional coursework and experiences may be necessary if general educators are expected to provide quality instruction to all students in their classroom regardless of need or ability. For most degree programs, however, adding additional courses is not feasible because of guidelines provided by each state. It is a dilemma that must be addressed through conversation across multiple levels (i.e., local, state, IHE). The same concern holds true for students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
The limited ability to add courses suggests that the solution rests in infusing content in the general education program of study. If pre-service general educators are going to be well prepared to provide appropriate services to SWDs, it must happen across the curriculum.
Finally, proportionately fewer participants responded to the last question about what questions remained, which may reflect that perhaps they do not know what knowledge they lack leaving them unable to articulate specific needs.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The traditional organization of the teacher-education-programs, these students were completing, requires only one course devoted to inclusion and special education.
Infusion of special education content across the curriculum is one recommendation for enhancing and understanding of SWDs, but the quantity and quality of content in this area will vary based on the background knowledge of each instructor. This could be ameliorated by structuring opportunities for collaborative teaching in which faculty from special education and general education work together to deliver instruction. Also, requiring a foundational special education course for all teacher candidates at the beginning of their program is a deliberate option. In another vain, examining beliefs of pre-service teachers in other programs that may be more collaborative or infused, or include field experiences that explicitly focus on inclusive teaching practices would be worthwhile.
The authors also suggest that teacher educators can only strengthen programs by building relationships across disciplines. Instructional strategies and accommodations that seamlessly grant students with disabilities maximum access to the general education curriculum should naturally be infused in methods courses. Further, co-teaching at the higher education level, provides an optimal opportunity for pre-service teachers to see an effective model of collaboration. Preparing teachers to collaborate to provide the most effective instruction, however, can leverage knowledge and skills. Moreover, teacher candidates need structured and supported opportunities to work collaboratively so that they are already skilled when it is required of them on the job.
The highly qualified teacher mandate requires that special educators be certified in special education and their primary content area. Yet, the needs of students in inclusive settings call for certain knowledge, dispositions, and skills to ensure positive outcomes.