The Itinerant Special Education Teacher in the Early Childhood Classroom
Sadler, Faith Haertig, Teaching Exceptional Children
Every state is now applying the early childhood itinerant model (Dinnebeil, McInerney, Roth, & Ramaswamy, 2001). In this model, early childhood special education teachers act as inclusion specialists supporting preschoolers with disabilities in community settings. Unfortunately, this new role for teachers is not clearly defined by states the or the school districts within them (Dinnebeil et al., 2001). Wesley, Buysse, and Skinner (2001) interviewed 86 early interventionists providing [itinerant] consultative services and reported that "despite a growing reliance on consultation as a primary support for general early childhood professionals ... there is little agreement in the field on a particular approach or set of procedures to guide consultation practice" (p. 113).
As an itinerant teacher for the past 9 years, I have found the job, at times, to be an overwhelming one. In my experience, it's been particularly difficult to keep abreast of the best practices for teaching preacademic skills and to know what to do when confronted with conflicting practices in the community.
This article discusses the itinerant model from a practitioner's perspective and suggests ways that itinerant teachers might apply their knowledge of best practices in preacademic instruction to their work within community settings.
Variety of Approaches in the Community
In the large metropolitan school district where I teach, the itinerant model is particularly popular for 3- to 5-year-olds with only mild delays. In our situation, parents choose their own community preschool programs. Itinerant services are offered within these settings as a combination of direct services (usually once a week) and collaborative-consultation services. The direct services portion could best be described as: "individualized within classroom routines." (See Wolery & Odom, 2000, for their continuum of itinerant consultation models.)
The consultation portion is aimed at helping classroom staff address the individualized education program (IEP) objectives during the remainder of the week. The early childhood programs in our community vary widely in the content of their preacademic instruction, as well as in their instructional methods. This variability, combined with the vague procedural guidelines provided for itinerant teachers, makes the job a confusing one.
What Do Nin Teachers Need to Know?
What do itinerant teachers need to know and do to ensure that their students receive effective preacademic instruction? Itinerant teachers need to
* Stay current on best practices in preacademic instruction and guide families to quality programs.
* Know when children need an annual goal for preacademic skills on their IEP.
* Know how to write preacademic objectives that are relevant to the child, family, and classroom.
* Know a continuum of techniques that could be used to teach these objectives in community settings.
Stay Current on Best Practices in Preacademic Instruction and Guide Families to Quality Programs
What are the current views of writers in the field regarding preacademic instruction for preschoolers, and why is it important for itinerant teachers to be familiar with them? The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) endorses the "developmentally appropriate practice" (DAP) approach as the acceptable method for teaching skills in all developmental areas (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997; Neuman, Copple, & Bredekamp, 2000).
It is characterized by active learning within enriched free play with teachers who are responsive and expand upon children's interests.... Emphasis is equally on all aspects of each child's development. Intellectual learning is fostered, but is not given priority over physical, social and emotional learning. (Greenberg, 1990, p. 72)
The Council for Exceptional Children's Division for Early Childhood has also recognized these practices as essential ingredients in programs for young children with disabilities (Sandall, McLean, & Smith, 2000). …