Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

The Changing Roles and Responsibilities of an LD Specialist

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

The Changing Roles and Responsibilities of an LD Specialist

Article excerpt

This article chronicles a single teacher's journey from expert resource teacher for students with learning disabilities (LD) to novice inclusion teacher and then expert inclusion specialist over a seven-year period. Through case study methodology, our purpose was to clarify the emerging role of the inclusion teacher by (a) describing her activities, (b) relating her perceptions of her role, and (c) explaining how her role differed in resource and inclusion settings over the years. Four broad categories emerged during our data analysis: assessment practices, teaching, consultation, interpersonal skills. We concluded that the role of the inclusion teacher is complex and multifaceted and depends largely on the teacher's interpersonal and communication skills. The inclusion teacher must be knowledgeable about the general education (GE) curriculum, skillful at anticipating student difficulties with learning tasks, and adept at providing ongoing adaptations and accommodations. As increasing numbers of students with disabilities are educated in GE classrooms, preservice and inservice teacher education programs must address how best to prepare both GE and special education teachers for their roles.

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Joyce teaches students with learning disabilities (LD). When she began her teaching career over 20 years ago, and for several years, she only taught students with LD in pull-out or resource settings. In the spring of 1993 her assistant principal asked if she would be interested in helping to start an inclusion program at her school. Joyce readily agreed. This article describes the changes in her role and responsibilities as she gained expertise as a co-teacher and inclusion specialist.

Inclusion programs that involve collaborative planning and teaching between general and special education teachers are increasingly used as the service delivery model for students with LD in schools across the nation (Council for Exceptional Children, 1994; McLeskey, Henry, & Axelrod, 1999). Yet the extent to which students with LD benefit from full-time placement in general education (GE) classrooms continues to be questioned (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994; McLesky et al., 1999; Klingner, Vaughn, Hughes, Schumm, & Elbaum, 1998). Although a few advocates of the full inclusion movement would like to abolish special education and eliminate the need for "special educators" (Lipsky & Gartner, 1989, 1991; Stainback & Stainback, 1992; Thousand & Villa, 1990), the predominant approach to inclusion appears to be less radical -- one that augments rather than replaces the continuum of services for students with special needs (Council for Exceptional Children, 1993; National Association of State Boards of Education, 1992).

Most seem to agree that nearly all students with LD should spend the majority of each school day in a general education (GE) classroom, and that most of their needs can and should be met in an inclusive environment (Klingner et al., 1998; Marston, 1997; McLesky & Waldron, 1995; Vaughn & Schumm, 1995). Inclusion in this latter sense calls for general and special educators to form partnerships that involve working together and learning from each other. These partnerships require a new role for special educators who previously were able to provide instruction for students with LD using materials and instructional approaches they alone felt were appropriate and in a setting outside of the GE classroom. As articulated by Ferguson and Ralph (1996), "this shift in role represents movement toward merging the parallel systems of general and special education into a single unified system ..." (p. 49). Furthermore, for some resource teachers, "this shift in role threatens a loss of tradition, status, influence, and the very core of what makes special education special" (p. 49).

For the purposes of this article, we define inclusion as the placement of students with disabilities in the GE classroom full time with special education support services provided within the GE classroom setting (Idol, 1997). …

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