Source: Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, VOL. 23, NO. 2, 153–170, 2017
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The aim of this study is to examine how special education teacher trainees who were about to begin their training perceive their professional world.
This is a qualitative study and based on a constructivist approach.
The participants were ninety-eight special education teacher trainees who were about to begin their professional training in a large teacher-training college in the central region of Israel participated in the study. Of them, 91 were women and 7 were men.
The research instrument was a questionnaire.
The data were analyzed according to the grounded theory approach.
The findings revealed that participants described the world of special education as being very closed, consisting of only teacher and students, completely devoid of any learning environs or community and organizational systems. In the world they described, special education teachers serve as role models for others, devote their lives to their students, enable them to live full lives, and mold their characters. Through these actions, they save a failing society and leave their mark on the world.
The role of special education teachers was perceived mainly as caring for students and their parents; the trainees expected that during their training, they would become completely familiar with the range of disabilities and how to deal with them, as well as learn about themselves and strengthen their teaching skills. Teacher training is expected to enable teachers to fill their needs by means of the world they create in their mind’s eye.
The author suggests that the perceived image of the world of special education reflected the motives of the participants for choosing it and the significance it is likely to have for them.
However, the professional world of special education as perceived by the teacher trainees was different than that actually waiting for them, and for which teacher training institutes must prepare them. Unlike their expectations that they will be working in a closed environment in which they are solo players, they will have to work in complex, multidimensional working environments that also comprise children without special needs, other teachers and professionals, parents, and members of the community.
In addition, their perception of parents of students with special needs as powerless and despairing will need to be replaced through effective training with the perception that the parents possess the strengths necessary to raise their children effectively and to encourage, motivate, and support them. Treating the parents as requiring care will have to be replaced with treating them as full and equal – or some would suggest, senior – partners who make and carry out educational decisions for their children.
The author argues that generally, the ‘medical’ view held by the special education trainees, based on exact diagnoses and categorizing, will need to be replaced by a social view that appreciates that people with special needs have a vast variety of qualities, skills, and abilities relating to different circles of life. Teachers and educators now must possess more extensive and sophisticated teaching skills, as well as more extensive knowledge of the discipline, than those possessed by special education teachers in the past.