Itinerant Teaching: The Inside Story

Article excerpt

The number of students who are deaf or hard of hearing attending local neighborhood schools has increased steadily over the past 20 years (Holden-Pitt & Diaz, 1998). This increase has led to larger numbers of teachers serving these students as itinerant teachers. However, little research has been conducted to examine the efficacy of this model of service delivery (Brelje, 1992; Luckner & Miller, 1994). Qualitative research methods were used to investigate itinerant teachers' perceptions of their responsibilities, job satisfaction, and effectiveness. Individual interviews were conducted with 10 itinerant teachers. Participants reported they preferred working directly with students rather than consulting with general education teachers and families. They noted the primary advantages of working as an itinerant teacher were variety, autonomy, time for reflection, and the diversity of students with whom they worked. Some of the most significant disadvantages they cited were isolation, time and budget constraints, and the distances required to travel from school to school. Essential skills and challenges to being an effective itinerant teacher are identified, recommendations for future itinerant teachers are discussed, and suggestions for future research are presented.

Our interest in itinerant teaching with students who are deaf or hard of hearing is kindled both from our own direct experience as itinerant teachers and from preparing preservice teachers for positions as itinerants. Although itinerant teachers share many common experiences with resource and classroom teachers, there are many differences, also. First, in the course of a week, itinerant teachers often work with students of all ages, preschool through high school (Smith, 1994). Second, itinerant teachers often have little influence over what will be taught; daily lesson plans are determined by the general education curriculum and teachers (Smith, 1997). Third, itinerant teachers do not have their own classrooms. Teaching without a classroom means itinerant teachers regularly are reduced to working in such locations as hallways, gymnasiums, libraries, closets, and lunchrooms. Staff members in one small rural school made an itinerant teacher and her pupil move several times during one 30-minute session, and with 10 minutes remaining, the student and teacher again were expelled from the hallway when a kindergarten paraprofessional needed the space for individual work with another student. Clearly, it is difficult to be effective when an appropriate work area cannot be established. Fourth, the very nature of itinerant teaching that is, traveling between schools, cities, towns, and districts in order to provide services is isolating, and often contributes to the itinerant teacher's feeling distanced from other professionals (Luckner & Miller, 1993; Seitz, 1994).

What's more, in addition to the fact that itinerant teachers rarely work with other teachers of students who are deaf or hard of hearing, they typically have little time available to spend in each location. Itinerant teachers often cram the back seats of their cars full of amplification equipment, teaching materials, and office supplies and then carry these items in and out of schools at a frenzied pace.

These differences raise many questions about the itinerant model of serving students who are deaf or hard of hearing, including:

1) What are the challenges faced by itinerant teachers of students who are deaf or hard of hearing?

2) What do they perceive as the advantages of the itinerant model of service delivery?

3) How do they collaborate effectively with families and professionals, given significant time and travel constraints?

Because of these questions and the fact that few teacher preparation programs focus on the unique needs of these teachers (Brelje, 1992; Luckner & Miller, 1994; Schmidt, Stipe, 1991), we were interested in gathering information about itinerant teachers. …