Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 35, No. 3, August 2012, 327–346
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This study aimed to explore how teacher candidates (TCs) from Serbia and Slovenia understand the level of responsibility that they feel towards vulnerable pupils in mainstream elementary schools.
Specifically, the study sought to elicit teacher candidates’ views about division of responsibility for the academic achievement and additional support of vulnerable pupils and their views on the factors that most affect learning difficulties in those pupils.
The participants were teacher candidates enrolled at the Faculty of Education (FE) Ljubljana and Teacher-Training Faculty (TTF) Belgrade in the school year 2009/2010.
All participants were preparing to be primary school teachers.
Data were collected through questionnaire.
At FE Ljubljana, the questionnaire was completed by 109 females and 4 males.
At TTF Belgrade, the questionnaire was completed by 135 females and 9 males.
The findings suggest that participants from both faculties perceive the teacher and the parents as very important, in terms of responsibility for academic achievements and in terms of providing learning support to the pupil.
Parents and teachers are also described as factors that affect a pupil’s learning difficulties, but the pupil’s disability is seen as more important.
However, the Serbian participants perceived the teacher as the most responsible party, whereas the Slovenian participants perceived the parents as the most responsible parties.
The authors explain that teacher candidates’ responses cannot be interpreted outside of the social contexts in which they were obtained.
The Slovenian participants’ attitudes reflect their own school experiences.
Slovenian participants ascribe the academic achievements of vulnerable pupils to the efforts of their parents.
Slovenian participants are aware that the education system is very demanding and that they, as teachers, will be supervised and evaluated on the results of their work.
Slovenian participants’ responses can be also interpreted as suggesting that vulnerable pupils cannot achieve the general education standards established for all pupils in Slovenian schools.
Therefore, these TCs are not willing to take responsibility for the pupils’ achievements.
In contrast, the Serbian TCs were educated in a system with separate mainstream education and special education.
In their schooling experience, pupils with intellectual and sensory disabilities were educated in special schools. Therefore, teachers working in mainstream schools had no professional obligations or responsibilities towards pupils with special educational needs.
Serbian participants’ greater willingness to accept responsibility for vulnerable pupils might stem from an insufficient understanding of the complexities of teaching heterogeneous classes.
Furthermore, the teaching process and classrooms in Serbia are infrequently observed and largely unmonitored.
Teachers have little incentive to achieve high-quality results in their teaching practice, making their professional duties less demanding.
Therefore, Serbian participants ascribe the academic achievements of vulnerable pupils to the efforts of teachers.
The authors assume that this desirable result emerges from the Serbian participants’ lack of knowledge and experience in instructing vulnerable pupils – they do not perceive working in heterogeneous classes as difficult and demanding.
In addition, the authors found that most participants from both countries believe that a vulnerable pupil’s disabilities have the greatest influence on his/her learning difficulties.
They explain that in both countries, teachers strongly believe in the expertise of special educational needs professionals and they are not willing to accept the mandated responsibility for inclusion.
As a result, teachers emphasise the label of disability as an explanation for underachievement and consider pupils with disabilities and underachieving pupils the sources of their own learning difficulties.
Implications for teacher education programmes
The authors suggest that teacher education programmes should place more emphasis on issues related to teachers’ responsibility for the academic achievements of vulnerable pupils. Teacher education programmes should focus on TCs’ tacit beliefs related to inclusion.
These issues can be implemented through courses that provide TCs with opportunities to analyse their attitudes through peer discussion and to receive exposure to positive attitudes toward inclusion.
The authors believe that there is an urgent need for teacher education institutions and teacher educators to build partnerships with schools and to focus on how they can respond together to ongoing changes in teachers’ roles and responsibilities, and to enable TCs to have experience of teaching vulnerable pupils on a regular basis.