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Moving Beyond “Its Not My Job”
Preparing General Ed Teacher to Succeed with Students with Disabilities
96% of students with disabilities spend at least part of their day in general education classrooms. But how prepared are general ed teachers to work with those students?
Not very. And that may be part of the reason why students with disabilities perform significantly worse than their peers – even those students whose disabilities should not prevent them from reaching the same academic outcomes.*
Yesterday, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the National Center for Learning Disabilities released a white paper that lays out a new vision for preparing general education teachers to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. It also offers recommendations to federal and state policymakers, as well as providers of teacher education, as to how to make that vision a reality.
I was fortunate enough to attend a briefing on the paper, and one major theme stuck out at me: We’ve got to move beyond this notion that some general ed teachers have – and that our education system in many ways reinforces – that it’s not their job to handle all the issues that students with disabilities bring.
The paper points out that while teachers often work with a wide range of students in the classroom, their teaching license typically limits them to work in an elementary or secondary school, and as a general ed, special education or bilingual teacher. And teachers tend to identify as being that type of teacher, sometimes resisting efforts to include students with disabilities or English Language Learners in their classrooms on the grounds that they are not equipped to teach them. (To be fair, there appears to be some truth in that – less than a third of teacher prep programs formally require candidates to work with students with disabilities during their student teaching, according to one study).
The authors argue that this mentality – reinforced by teacher preparation programs that have separate tracks for each “type” of teacher, the way many states license and certify teachers, and the way that education services are often structured and delivered – is a key barrier to improving how teachers learn to work with diverse populations, and ultimately to the success of those populations.
To help us get over this mental hump, the authors recommend entirely redesigning teacher preparation programs, and they suggest two models for doing so. One is an integrated program, in which both general and special education teacher candidates study a common curriculum that prepares them to be general ed teachers, with those specifically interested in special education moving on to gain deeper knowledge and an additional license. The second is a merged program, in which all graduates obtain both a general and special education license after completing one combined curriculum.
Of course, breaking down the general/special education silos in teacher preparation programs is just one piece of a proposed revamping of teacher education. The paper also advocates more clinical experience for aspiring teachers and requiring aspiring teachers to pass a valid and reliable performance assessment prior to becoming a teacher of record. And it offers concrete suggestions to policy makers about how support this redesign from the federal and state levels.
But how to improve teacher education is a conversation that has been largely ignored, at least at the federal level, where policy efforts appear to concentrate on easing requirements to entering the teacher profession through alternative certification programs, rather than strengthening the pre-service experience of teacher candidates. Hopefully this paper will help bring some of the concerns with that approach to light.
*Information cited in the AACTE/NCLD report, from http://www2.ed.gov/about/reports/annual/osep/2007/parts-b-c/index.html and https://www.ideadata.org/default.asp