Introduction: Preparing Special Education Teachers and Learning to Teach

Article excerpt

Special education teachers are often prepared to work with special needs children in programs that are separate from the teacher education programs that regular education student experience. This fact raises a lot of questions about the kinds of knowledge and practices students who are preparing to teach in mainstream classes learn about how to best serve the learning needs of special education students who are likely to be in their classrooms. Moreover, most special education coursework is geared to elementary level classrooms. While secondary education students often take the same coursework as elementary education students, there are clearly differences in ways to work with older and younger children who have mild to moderate learning and/or behavioral needs.

We are fortunate in this issue of Teacher Education Quarterly to have four articles that directly address these concerns in the context of teacher education credential programs. Working mostly with manuscripts accepted during the editorship of Tom Nelson, and consulting about these materials with Tom, I have assembled this Spring 2011 issue to bring to light some of the issues and new work that special education educators are doing and proposing to ensure that all teachers are better equipped to understand and meet the needs of special education students.

I think that, at times, those of us who work in teacher education do not pay enough attention to special education. There are some reasons for this. Special education is a specialized field that typically relies on research methods and a knowledge base that is informed in fields that fall outside of the general teacher education curriculum. For example, special education students take coursework in reading disabilities, where the focus is on phonics, decoding, and cognitive approaches to language processing. They may study behavior modification strategies, with pre-and post-test assessments. Regular education students study reading and writing across the curriculum, first and second language acquisition, inquiry approaches to improving their teaching, and subject matter content teaching methods.

In this issue, the first three articles examine combined special education and teacher education programs, one elementary and one secondary. At both levels of preparation, the focus is on professional socialization in combined programs, with an eye toward the better understanding of the norms and values that emerge within these differing types of programs. In the opening article, Kathryn S. Young points out that one of most difficult issues to overcome within dual certification programs is finding ways to socialize teachers toward the needs of all students, when the educational bureaucracy requires teachers to distinguish among different types of learning needs and students with disabilities.

Ann Fullerton, Barbara J. Ruben, Stephanie McBride, and Susan Bert at Portland State University set out to find ways of doing just that, combining special education coursework and experiences with secondary teacher education requirements. As students progress in the credential program, they learn how to plan for and teach in ways that stress collaboration and inclusion. A special feature of the Portland State combined program for secondary teachers is that students also continue for a Master's degree in which they conduct inquiry into their classroom practices. The entire merged program is presented in the second article in this issue. In the third article, Fullerton and her colleagues present an evaluation of the merged special education and secondary program. One finding that stood out for me was that candidates in the merged program "first learn to assess and consider the learning needs of every students in the actual classroom; to view learning diversity as a given that must first be assessed and understood before one can plan instruction. …