Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

First-Year Special Educators' Relationships with Their General Education Colleagues

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

First-Year Special Educators' Relationships with Their General Education Colleagues

Article excerpt

Teacher researchers have documented the experiences of beginning teachers, describing novices who have been challenged by the responsibilities of managing and organizing classrooms and meeting the diverse needs of students (Blase, 1985; Burden, 1990; Feiman-Nemser, 1983; Huberman, 1993; Kagan, 1992; Lortie, 1975; Ryan, 1986; Sprinthall, Reiman, & Thies-Sprinthall, 1996; Veenman, 1984). These beginning years have been described as the "discovery and survival" phase of teaching (Huberman, 1993), characterized as either "easy" (marked by a sense of discovery) or "painful" (a focus on survival). According to Huberman (1993), "easy beginnings are consonant with a sense of discovery and enthusiasm (openness, inventiveness, creativity) and good rapport with pupils. Painful beginnings have to do with exhaustion ... and coping" (p. 244). These two distinct types of beginnings eventually stabilize, moving either into a phase of increasing commitment to teaching or increasing disillusionment with the profession.

During the past decade, researchers in special education have begun to investigate the unique and complex challenges encountered by novice special educators (e.g., Billingsley & Tomchin, 1992; Billingsley, Carlson, & Klein, 2004; Boyer & Lee, 2001; Busch, Pederson, Espin, & Weissenburger, 2001; Griffin, Kilgore, Winn, Otis-Wilborn, Hou, & Garvan, 2006; Kilgore, Griffin, Winn, & Otis-Wilborn, 2003; Otis-Wilborn, Winn, Griffin, & Kilgore, 2005; Whitaker, 2000; 2003). These investigations have documented numerous factors in special education settings that contribute to the stresses of the first year of teaching for them, including: role ambiguity, students posing complex behavioral and academic challenges, large caseloads, insufficient curricular and technical resources, inadequate administrative support, inadequate time for planning, few opportunities for collaboration and professional development, and excessive procedural demands. In the following section, we review pertinent literature regarding novice teachers, with a focus on the changing roles of special educators, relationships between novice teachers and their colleagues, and accessibility of the general education curriculum to students with disabilities.

Changing Roles of Special Educators

As novice special educators assume positions in schools, they frequently face ambiguous, conflicting, and fragmented expectations from their colleagues, supervisors, and the families of children they serve. Many educators, as well as some novice teachers, hold traditional views of special education, believing that the role of the special educator is to teach small groups of children using specialized instructional strategies (CEC, 2000). The field of special education, however, is changing. The 1997 and 2004 amendments to the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act) mandate placement opportunities for students with disabilities within general education classrooms and emphasize participation and progress in the general education curriculum. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 provides further support for the participation of students with disabilities in the general education curriculum by requiring their involvement in accountability systems (NCLB, 2002). Confusion, however, and sometimes, resistance to the aims of more inclusive educational opportunities for students with disabilities have created challenges for novice teachers (e.g., Conderman & Stephens, 2000). Inclusion requires novice special educators to collaborate and co-teach with their general education colleagues; yet they are also expected to provide intensive, individualized instruction. Juggling these varied, and often, competing responsibilities is a particularly difficult task for a beginning teacher.

Relationships between Novice Teachers and Their Colleagues

According to Darling-Hammond and Sclan (1996), "at all levels and sectors . …

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