In most states, secondary vocational and technical education teachers obtain their teaching licenses as a result of their occupational experiences and not as a result of their vocational teacher training. This licensing option is significant within the trade and industry, health occupations and marketing program areas (American Vocational Association, 1993; Jones & Black, 1995; Kraska, 1996; Weber, 1989). This creates a need to understand what attitudes, knowledge, and skills related to working with individuals with special needs that new vocational teachers should possess. In reviewing the literature in this area, very little was published specifically targeting vocational education teachers and their attitudes and/or pedagogical skills related to students with special needs. Yet the population of students with special needs in vocational classrooms has been increasing over the past two decades beginning with The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (Sarkees-Wircenski & Wircenski, 1992; Repetto & Neubert, 1992). This trend will continue due to incentives and mandates in recent legislation such as Carl D. Perkins Vocational-Technical Act Amendments of 1998, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997, The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and The School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994.
Though general research related to students with special needs is plentiful, studies that address the preservice and inservice training needs of vocational and technical education teachers related to students with special needs is not. Many studies addressing the training and assistance needs of teachers are conducted with teachers in academic areas and not vocational teachers. Vocational and technical education teachers generally work with students for longer periods and for multiple years, so it is even more important for these persons to be adequately prepared to work with students with special needs.
It is useful to examine new vocational and technical education teachers, and the experiences to which they are exposed in their first year of teaching. In Indiana, teachers certified to teach through work experience and not through teacher training are required to attend training during their first year as a condition to apply for subsequent certification (Indiana Department of Education, 1989). The Occupational Specialist I training program in Indiana for the 1992-93 academic year trained 49 new vocational and technical education teachers with all program areas except agriscience and business represented. Several of these teachers left primarily because of the special needs of students for which they felt inadequately prepared. Many of the student problems were related to weaknesses typical of learners with special needs (i.e., low math and reading skills, hyperactivity, poor social skills, and attitude related problems) (Harris, 1993).
Teacher attitudes toward students with special needs
Beck (1985) compared undergraduate/graduate and preservice/postservice regular academic teachers who were receiving training related to students with special needs. It was determined that significantly more positive attitudes existed for teachers working with students with disabilities in the graduate and postservice groups than those in the undergraduate and preservice group. This implies that training and preparation can affect the attitudes and abilities of teachers when working with special populations. Lanier and Jones (1988) determined that generally teachers and students had negative attitudes about mainstreaming students with disabilities, but parents of students with disabilities were positive about the effort to mainstream. Another study found that teachers' perceived ability to make suitable modifications for students with disabilities was related to the attitudes held toward mainstreaming of students with special needs (Luckner, 1991). …