Academic journal article Education

Encouraging Discussion between Teacher Candidates and Families with Exceptional Children

Academic journal article Education

Encouraging Discussion between Teacher Candidates and Families with Exceptional Children

Article excerpt

Upon entering their practica and student teaching, many teacher candidates have had no to limited contact with exceptional students. Often they are unaware of the realities of having a student with disabilities in their classroom. While issues such as listening to and accepting family input, medication and therapy requirements, and financial needs are often addressed (Muscott, 2002), the presence of one or more of these factors may produce a teacher who is uncomfortable working with exceptional families. It is imperative that candidates understand the needs of families of exceptional children, which can further complicate academic and functional growth. When families share their experiences, needs, and ultimately their stories to candidates, budding teachers are more likely to see the heartache, the uncertainty, as well as the potential of exceptional children.

The Families as Faculty (FAF) program introduces teacher candidates to families of exceptionality in a safe atmosphere. These visits exposed teacher candidates to the special needs populations and revealed ways in which they can comfortably interact and understand family needs and experiences. The FAF experience is different for all participants, whether from the role of parent or teacher candidate. It is important that candidates complete their university teacher training with a complete understanding of the child with disabilities as well as discover the needs of the families of these children.

Teachers of children with disabilities often overlook the needs of exceptional students from the family perspective (Eberly, Joshi, & Konzal, 2007). They often associate organizational issues, academic incongruence, and memory deficits with motivation rather than exceptionality (Fish, 2006). While courses such as introduction to special education and special education methodology are included in many teacher preparation programs, teacher candidates may not internalize disability information. Ratcliff and Hunt (2009) posit that because the classroom teacher has the responsibility to craft positive working relationships with families, teacher educators have the duty to provide appropriate experiences for their candidates while they train for teaching. The FAF visits, described in this article, accomplished the task of introducing candidates to the needs of families, gave them a personal experience with at least one disability, and helped them to incorporate a philosophy of exceptional family knowledge into their practice as classroom teachers.

Schools of education, as well, are challenged to find ways to link knowledge-acquisition to authentic experiential-learning opportunities for teacher candidates in relation to parental involvement (Patterson, Webb, & Krudwig, 2009). Patterson et al. theorized that authentic instruction supports classroom applications at the k-12 and university levels alike. Paired students visited families of children with exceptional needs with the purpose of learning about disability from the perspective of the family and student. Research supports candidate knowledge in family interactions. Klemm & Schimanski, (1999) suggested that because parenting a child with exceptional needs is often a life changing experience, teachers should strive to learn from parents who have experienced these challenges.


The present study explored professional growth within the scope of the Families as Faculty experience by coded theme. While special education teachers strive to get to know families on their caseloads in the personal setting of the self-contained classroom or resource room, such relationship building is often difficult or even absent in the inclusion setting. The FAF project sought to help teachers understand families of disability through family visits. Their goals according to the FAF Student Handbook (Families as Faculty, 2010) were 1) to give students an opportunity to see a child beyond his or her illness or diagnosis and as a member of a family and community, 2) to help students recognize and acknowledge their own values, attitudes and personal beliefs while still respecting the perspective of the family, 3) to provide students an opportunity to view families as knowledgeable partners from whom they can learn, and 4) to provide students an opportunity to explore the complex needs and strengths of families coping with a chronic condition or disability. …

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