The Effects of Experience on Teachers' Attitudes toward Incorporating Special Students into the Regular Classroom

Article excerpt

Introduction

Since 1975, Federal law has encouraged the incorporation of children with special needs into the regular classroom, under the supervision of regular classroom teachers (Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975). To better accommodate this Federal policy of "inclusion", the State of Georgia mandated in 1981 that all teachers certified to teach students from kindergarten through grade twelve must take an introductory special education course on the characteristics and behaviors of special students (Special Education Services Act). The latter law is enforced by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission for teachers who wish to become certified, reinstate expired certificates, add new teaching fields, or update certificates.

The goals of the inclusion policy include: a) improving the socialization of special students, b) providing special students access to mainstream educational resources, and c) accomplishing these enhanced educational opportunities at a reasonable cost. Many decisions to include or exclude special students will depend upon the willingness of classroom teachers to accept and support those students. In order for inclusion policy to succeed, it is important that regular classroom teachers have realistic expectations of the special students and their ability to deal with those students. Further, it is highly desirable that teachers' expectations remain realistic with the passage of time and experience.

In the two decades that the above mentioned Federal and Slate laws and their more recent permutations have been in effect, there have been no published reports in which teachers' long-term attitudes towards special students have been quantified. This issue was addressed by the present study. We tested the hypothesis that, in the years following the teachers' completion of the State-required introductory special education course, there would be an erosion of their willingness to manage special students. Willingness to include special students into the regular classroom was quantified using a survey form in which the teachers evaluated specific classroom scenarios.

Methods

The survey population was full-time, regular-classroom teachers who took the course "Identification and Education of Exceptional Students in the Regular Classroom" at Georgia Southern University between September 1987 and December 1991. The survey was originally administered to the teachers immediately after completing the class, and again after they had experienced a minimum of three years in teaching. The survey consisted of 60 classroom scenarios, representing varying degrees of challenge. An example of a scenario in which little difficulty would be anticipated is as follows:

David squints through his eyeglasses, even when he sits at the front of the room. He cannot read the blackboard or his book quite as rapidly as many of the other children.

An example of a scenario in which intermediate difficulty would be anticipated is as follows:

Chuck doesn't seem to catch on to things as quickly as most students. He needs to have things explained over and over again. Eventually he appears to learn everything the others do, even though it has taken longer.

An example of a scenario in which much difficulty would be anticipated is as follows:

Flora has neither bladder nor bowel control and must be taken to the bathroom at frequent intervals.

After reading each scenario, teachers were asked to assess their comfort in coping with the situation, using the 5-point scale on Table 1.

The individual scores for each question were calculated for the respondent cohort. Additionally, the effect of classroom teaching experience on the response to each question was calculated using the following formula:

Response change = final score - initial score.

For example, if a respondent initially scored a scenario as 2, and the final score was 4, this would represent response change of +2 (i. …