Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Disability in Higher Education: A Position Paper

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Disability in Higher Education: A Position Paper

Article excerpt

LEADERSHIP in education, particularly special education, implies both knowledge and application of professional behaviors, decisions, and ethics within the field. University students look for best practices in education to be modeled by faculty; this, in turn, underscores a fundamental belief in inclusionary principles. Such modeling is important on every level in teacher education programs, particularly special education programs. The higher a student's level (i.e., undergraduate vs. doctoral), the more notice that student will take of disparities between rhetoric and actions. While reflective practices are explicitly taught in teacher preparation programs to enable professionals to reflect on their own personal and professional practices, teacher education faculty need to employ the same strategy to ensure that they are indeed modeling the practices they teach. This position paper documents the impressions of a doctoral cohort in special education in terms of inclusionary practices demonstrated in a real-life context.

Reflective practice strategies are not new to special education. They are taught throughout teacher education curricula, modeled in course instruction, required in practicum and internship experiences, and shared through capstone portfolios. Education faculty have long used reflective practice strategies as a means of demonstrating understanding and application of course content to real-life experiences within the teaching profession. College students have been exposed to individuals with disabilities since the implementation of the Education for AU Handicapped Children Act in 1975. As early as elementary and even prekindergarten settings, children without disabilities have been exposed to children with disabilities and introduced to the idea of inclusive practice. Disability awareness and inclusion activities are a staple in schools, as represented by peer buddy and peer tutoring programs between general and special education populations, participation and volunteer opportunities such as Special Olympics and Very Special Arts, and even disability awareness days that include demonstration activities such as wheelchair basketball. At best, these activities offer a glimpse of the impact a disability may have on a person's life; nonetheless, they still prove to be valuable tools in increasing awareness while modeling and teaching inclusion. In contrast, reflective teaching practices reach beyond a cursory look at what has transpired and inform educational decisions.

Core curricula in special education teacher preparation programs directly address inclusion in multiple ways throughout the program of study. In addition, they directly address reflective practices as an informal assessment and evaluation method for teachers to reflect on educational experiences (including academic, functional, and social practices) for the betterment of the student with a disability Through thoughtful consideration of how a lesson or activity went for the student with a disability as well as other students in the setting, teachers can effect change in learning on multiple levels by integrating change based on analysis of the situation. Through this process, both teachers and students grow, regardless of whether the experience is connected to K-12 teachers and elementary and secondary students or faculty in higher education and postsecondary students.

As teacher education students (at each postsecondary level) learn about the education field and their respective areas of specialization, they may find their conception of inclusionary practices to be challenged as personal and professional interests and needs affect a person's ability to fully embrace the ideals that are taught. Faculty overtly demonstrating an inability to "walk the talk" may do more harm than good as teacher candidates strive to make sense of their field in a broader sense.

Doctoral Experiences

A doctoral cohort likely begins their educational journey with expectation and hope as they take an important step toward becoming leaders in their chosen field, particularly in teacher preparation programs. …

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