How Beginning Special and General Education Elementary Teachers Negotiate Role Expectations and Access Professional Resources

Jul. 10, 2011

Source: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 7, 2011, p. 1506-1540.


The purposes of this study were twofold: (1) to explicate differences in the curricular, instructional, and role expectations experienced by beginning special and general education elementary teachers, and (2) to document variations in how novices from both groups addressed expectations they encountered.

Research Design
Data collection during the 2006-07 school year involved interviewing two beginning special education and two general education teachers twice each and surveying all four teachers twice each. All four teachers were working in a medium-sized urban district in Michigan where 40% of students were eligible for free/reduced-price lunches. The interview questions addressed the study participants’ professional backgrounds, teaching assignments, and the curricular, instructional, and role expectations they experienced in their schools. The teachers were also asked about the content and frequency of their interactions with their formally assigned mentors, colleagues, and school and district administrators, and their participation in induction and professional development activities.


The study found considerable differences in the curricular expectations placed on novice special education and general education teachers, the students they were assigned, and the classrooms and physical settings in which they were expected to work.
In addition, the study also found variations in how these teachers made sense of the expectations placed on them and the nature and amount of the effort they seemed to exert in meeting these expectations.
Further, due to the nature of the curricular and role expectations they faced, the early career special educators were much more dependent on their general education colleagues (as compared to the general educators in the study) and they were expected to develop relationships with a greater number and wider range of individuals.


Based on the study findings, there are three main induction practices or activities that school leaders and districts should consider.
Firsts, it is important for new special education teachers to have access to same-field mentors and clear curricular guidelines that can help them determine their curriculum and carry out their instructional duties.
Second, in order to further reduce role ambiguity for new special educators, ensure that they meet their legal obligations (enshrined in IDEA and NCLB), and integrate them into their schools, it may be helpful for principals and district administrators to take strong, visible positions in support of inclusion and help them establish productive relationships with other teachers in their schools.
Third, the authors argue that it may be useful for induction programs for beginning special education teachers to address the nature of, and help them build, their relationships with general education colleagues.

Updated: Oct. 27, 2011