The Case for Cases in Preparing Special Educators for Rural Schools

Article excerpt

Abstract

The challenges of teaching in rural settings present those who prepare special educators with particular issues. The case study method is described as a promising way to accomplish this. Two sample cases are used to illustrate how case studies can be used in the preparation of special educators for rural schools.

Teachers in the twenty-first century assume a challenging role. The classrooms they teach in include a diverse set of students in background, in languages spoken and in their exposure to the pre-requisite skills that students necessary to respond successfully to standardized curriculum. The students in today's classrooms are assessed with unprecedented frequency and teachers are increasingly held accountable for their progress (Linn, 2003). The number of students identified with disabilities has risen, especially those with mild disabilities (Lyon, 1996).

In the past, many of the challenges involved in teaching diverse learners were viewed as concentrated in urban schools. If this were ever true, it no longer appears to be the case (Ludlow & Brannan, 1999; Rosenkoetter, Irwin, & Saceda, 2004;). Like their urban counterparts, rural teachers are struggling to be successful teaching increasingly diverse students. In addition, the particular context of rural schools adds complexity to the teachers' tasks. The availability of resources, geography, and distance may make it difficult for teachers to collaborate with colleagues and the families of their students. Teachers in rural schools struggle to maintain connections to the digital world and they are more likely to teach both in and out of the field in which they are certified (Beeson & Strange, 2000).

Special educators in rural places, like their colleagues in urban or suburban settings, sometimes teach students with multiple disabilities. However, rural special educators may lack access to resources to help them develop coordinated, comprehensive intervention plans for their students with multiple needs. Rural schools often have difficulty attracting and retaining specialists such as school psychologists, physical, occupational or speech and language therapists (Ludlow, 1998). Special educators may be the only one person trained to teach students with disabilities at the site. Under these circumstances, they do not have colleagues to help them solve the pedagogical problems students with disabilities present. It is clear, therefore, that preparing special educators to be active in solving complex educational problems becomes essential.

Although one-fourth of US school children go to schools in rural areas or small towns of less than 25,000 populations, the particular issues of rural schools are largely ignored in the discussion about the direction of American education (Beeson & Strange, 2000). Many rural schools are in regions of the nation that are chronically economically depressed and have high percentages of students from families in poverty. Declining enrollment and school consolidation combined with low teacher pay combine to challenge the circumstances of teaching in these schools. Yet in a recent review about personnel needs for rural areas in special education, Rosenkoetter, et al. (2004) point out that the numbers of personnel preparation projects sponsored by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) targeting rural areas have declined in recent years. Given this challenging context, the question for teacher educators is how to best facilitate the training of pre-service special education teachers for rural schools. Infusing teacher education curricula with situations and dilemmas specific to teaching in rural schools is essential because doing so provides preservice teachers with opportunities to consider pedagogical problems in rural context.

The use of videotapes, CD-based instruction and various forms of distance education hold promise for connecting novice special educators in rural locations with university-based preparation programs. …