Looking through a Peephole or an Open Door?: Insights into Inclusion

By Filson, Caryn Hoerst; Whittington, M. Susie | The Agricultural Education Magazine, May/June 2011 | Go to article overview

Looking through a Peephole or an Open Door?: Insights into Inclusion


Filson, Caryn Hoerst, Whittington, M. Susie, The Agricultural Education Magazine


The time had come. After four years of preservice education, I was finally on my own, teaching in my classroom, with my students, and my carefully constructed lessons. I anxiously waited for my first students to walk through the door so I could grab their attention and immerse them in my love of agriculture. However, students weren't the first through the door that initial morning on the job, the special education coordinator was. She walked in, handed me a stack of file folders labeled with students' names, asked me to sign a sheet of paper, and waltzed back out, all within one minute. Curious, I opened the top folder and scrolled down until I saw the intimidating word "Accommodations." Suddenly, I realized my carefully, yet narrowly constructed lessons weren't going to work for my students, at least not the way I had originally planned. My excitement dwindled and panic took over.... was I really ready to teach ALL of my students? How was 1 going to accommodate the varied special needs of my students? How, in my preservice education, did my view of what my students needed to be successful become so narrow? Was I alone in this feeling, or were my peers feeling the same way?

Brief Evolution of Inclusion

The inclusion of learners with special needs is not only mandated by law, but is a civic and moral duty for secondary agriculture teachers. The driving force behind federal mandates that schools must follow is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which was originally established in 1975 and known as Public Law 94-142. It was this landmark legislation that established mainstreaming and prescribed that which schools must do to serve the handicapped (Iverson, 1993).

Inclusive education of learners with special needs "recognizes that special learning needs can arise from social, psychological, economic, linguistic, cultural, as well as physical (or disability) factors, hence the term 'children with special needs' rather than 'children with disabilities'" (Kisanji, 1999, p. 3); they are learners first, and their special needs should not define who they are. Disability advocates argue that disability is socially constructed and that society places barriers on certain groups of people. Therefore, these advocates believe that learner-centered classrooms provide the most effective education for learners with special needs.

Preservice Teacher Education

Teacher education programs, designed to address the instruction of learners with special needs, have existed since at least the late 1800s. However, as the number of learners with special needs increases in agriculture programs, agriculture teachers' needs for additional training also increases (Elbert & Baggett, 2003).

The need currently exists to prepare teachers to use effective methods of teaching for learners in an inclusive setting. A 2007 census study of secondary agriculture teachers in Ohio was used to report that teachers needed more competency when teaching learners with special needs (Hoerst & Whittington, 2009); the preservice agriculture teachers from the land grant university in Ohio were required to complete only one course on teaching learners with exceptional needs. Thus, teacher preparation programs need to be aware of the limitations and consequent concerns of those teachers who are currently serving learners with special needs.

Special education teachers often work in their own classroom or office and can be underutilized by agriculture teachers. The continued separatist approach in teacher preparation considers special education as a separate entity "and one that did not and need not involve intensive collaboration or even cooperation with regular classroom teachers..." (Osgood, 2005, p. 120). However, special education teachers are responsible to collaborate with all teachers to develop effective Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) for learners. Agricultural education teachers, given their current preservice education curriculum, typically have limited experience with IEPs. …

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