Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

A Model for Preparing Special and General Education Preservice Teachers for Inclusive Education

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

A Model for Preparing Special and General Education Preservice Teachers for Inclusive Education

Article excerpt

The widespread practice of including students with exceptionalities in general education classrooms, often called inclusive education, has increased expectations for both special and general educators and has sparked discussion, debate, and structural changes in teacher preparation programs (e.g., Blanton, Griffin, Winn, & Pugach, 1997; Fisher, Frey, & Thousand, 2003; Kilgore & Griffin, 1998; Stayton & McCollum, 2002; Strawderman & Lindsey, 1995). Along with the expanded responsibilities of educators in inclusive environments have come cautionary reports suggesting that special (Fisher et al., 2003; Kilgore & Griffin, 1998) and general (Davern, 1999; Lesar, Penner, Habel, & Coleman, 1997; Schumm & Vaughn, 1991) educators may not have the necessary attitudes or dispositions, or perhaps more important, the professional skills to successfully instruct students in diverse, inclusive classrooms. Although professional development for in-service teachers remains a prominent approach to preparing for inclusive education, increased emphasis has been placed on the roles and responsibilities of teacher preparation programs to prepare new educators for teaching in inclusive classrooms.

Restructuring of teacher preparation programs has been widely recommended as a means to better prepare preservice special and general educators for inclusive settings. Literature describing programmatic changes suggests that restructuring may include a range, or continuum, of initiatives designed to improve readiness of graduates for inclusive education. At one end of the continuum are initiatives in which distinct programs for special and general educators have been melded into a "unified" teacher preparation program in which all teacher candidates undertake an expanded program designed to meet the guidelines and standards for both special and general education certifications (e.g., Jenkins, Pateman, & Black, 2002; Sindelar, Pugach, Griffin, & Seidl, 1995). Although they are viewed as an ideal model for teacher preparation (Blanton et al., 1997; Hinders 1995; Lesar et al., 1997), unified programs may never achieve large-scale adoption because of potential barriers such as cost, disincentives to extend the length and requirements of undergraduate programs, and both human and institutional resistance to dramatic changes in the structure of colleges of education and individual teacher preparation programs (Lesar et al., 1997).

A more prevalent initiative to improve teacher preparation involves what may be called "enhancement" of existing programs by adding new courses or field experiences, or by revising the content and requirements for existing courses or experiences for special and/or general education programs (Strawderman & Lindsey, 1995). Program enhancements may also involve the creation of shared, even collaborative, experiences for special and general education preservice teachers (e.g., Nowacek & Blanton, 1996; Peterson & Beloin, 1998). Infusion of content into existing classes has also been used to enhance the preparation of general education teacher candidates (Cook, 2002; Lombardi & Hunka, 2001). Generally speaking, initiatives within teacher preparation programs to improve readiness of special and general educators for service in inclusive classrooms have varied significantly in scope and content.

A positive attitude or disposition toward students with exceptionalities is a prerequisite for development of effective strategies in inclusive classrooms (Blanton, 1992; Brantlinger, 1996). Examples of curricula designed to facilitate positive attitude and disposition include use of simulation activities and personal interactions with students with disabilities (Peterson & Beloin, 1998). Although attitudes provide the basis for being willing to support inclusive practices, it may be more meaningful to focus on the development of skills and/or competencies necessary for supporting students in inclusive classrooms. …

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