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A Teacher's Role and Student's Perception in Today's Educational System

In today's educational system, teachers are arguably called upon to do more than ever before. This is in part because of high-stakes standardized testing and the model of accountability that is currently in vogue with the advent of No Child Left Behind. According to Valli & Buese (2007), teachers' roles in the classroom have changed greatly in the past few years. The researchers performed task and role analysis and found that teachers are especially expected to do more in terms teaching special education students, because of the mandate of inclusion currently in place. Teachers have mixed feelings about these changes, and it is important, if possible, to understand why this is.

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Like teacher roles, professional development in general has changed a lot in the past few decades. Darling-Hammond, Bullmaster, & Cobb (1995) reflect on some of these changes, especially within the domain of teacher leadership. This relatively new concept is being explored in part through professional development that partners with area universities to help local teachers get better at their jobs. This kind of professional development equips teachers to be leaders, and this is the kind of development that is needed as teachers take on the myriad new roles and tasks that are now asked of them in the No Child Left Behind era.

Student Perception
Schechtman, Levy, & Leichtentritt (2005) add more credence to the view that professional development is increasingly important, especially for those who will work with special education students. Their study of educators learning to teach a life-skills based curriculum found that teachers who had more and longer professional development expressed great confidence in their teaching of this program and greater self-efficacy over all. These teachers were also more likely to view their work environment and relationships with colleagues in a positive light. Clearly, good, long-term professional development can have a positive impact on teachers' behavior and experiences both in and outside of the classroom. This is perhaps especially true for educators who will be working with special education students.

Vaughan, Hughes, Schumm, & Klingner (1998) agree that professional development models that involve a long time-span are best. They also believe that the best and most effective professional development involves collaboration between researchers and teachers. In their study, teachers who had long-term professional development and developed relationships with researchers were more likely to implement the things they learned and continue implementing them from year to year. This, then, is the sort of professional development needed for special educators and for general educators who must suddenly become special educators in the regular classroom. Leko & Brownell (2009) focus specifically on special educators, and find that quality professional development for these teachers can be somewhat elusive. Teachers who teach special education students have different levels of knowledge and different strengths and weaknesses, and even when they try to address their deficiencies, sometimes the help they need is not there (especially for older teachers, who used to teach special education under a different model.)

Indeed, special education today is very different from what it was in previous eras. Nowadays, the best practice is inclusion, placing as many children as possible in a general education classroom environment as much as possible. According to Hocut (1996), this is effective for some students, though placement alone does not ensure success for all. The strategy of inclusion, according to Hocut's ideas, would be more effective if teachers had more training on how to teach special education in the regular classroom, including on which interventions work best for these special needs students in their new environment. According to Pijl & Pijl (1998), special education students can benefit hugely from inclusion, since the slow pace of special education classrooms might have been holding them back. However, their research, like Hocut's, establishes the importance of the general education classroom teacher in promoting the achievement and success of these students. Clearly, the way general education teachers are trained to deal with special education students in the regular classroom is crucial to the success of these students. Inclusion is certainly part of the answer, but certain techniques must be used within inclusion to make the experience of special education students a good and successful one for learning.

The idea of inclusion is a wonderful one, but Guay (1994) casts doubt on whether or not general educators are equipped to handle it on a day to day basis. Looking specifically at art teachers, Guay's study finds that most teachers have special education students in their classrooms (in keeping with the concept of inclusion) but that few have received any training on how to deal with these students. This is true both of those teachers who were already at work before inclusion came into favor, and of new teachers who have just completed pre-service training. Casale-Gianola (2011) looks at inclusion practices in Career and Technical Education and finds that these teachers too face unique challenges for which they are often not prepared, though it is likely they would benefit from the same professional development and strategies as regular teachers who teach special education students.

Sprague & Pennell (2000) also discuss preparing teachers-in their case, specifically new teachers-for the day to day realities of working with special education students in the inclusion model. The authors find that course content in universities that prepare educators is due for redesign, and that these teachers need to observe more experienced educators in inclusion classrooms and learn about the adaptations these more experienced teachers are making for their special needs students. All of these recommendations are well and good, and can make huge differences for new teachers and their students.

According to one study (Broderick, Mehta-Parekh, & Reid 2005), disability is in fact in many ways a socialized notion, and disabled students should never be referred to as such. However, this is not to discount their need for special educational adjustments: in fact, the authors make it clear that, in part due to our society's socialized notion of disability, teachers cannot be expected to know how to teach these students without the proper training and professional development. This training, according to the authors, needs to include training specifically in differentiated instruction and co-teaching.

Differentiated instruction is one of the tenets of inclusion teaching, but Woodward and Talbert-Johnson (2009) state that teachers and principals alike need to reflect upon the best practices used for reading instruction in particular, including differentiating. Teachers note ostracization of students in the "low" readers group, and while differentiation undoubtedly has many positive outcomes, this study makes it clear that it can be something of a fraught process for students emotionally and in terms of their self-esteem. This is another reason for better professional development and training in the area of differentiated instruction, especially in reading. Painter (2009) suggests that multi-genre projects, allowing students to write creatively, for example, about social studies and science, are a wonderful way to provide differentiated learning experiences, and this is one area in which literacy and other skills could be combined to create dynamic differentiated instruction.

Fuchs & Fuchs have done several research studies on the topic of general educators' adaptation to teaching special education students, culminating in a comprehensive article (1998). The authors have found, over the course of their research, that planning was crucial, but that even teachers who had not really been trained in differentiated instruction found it to be a useful strategy for educating special education students. The information in this article, though general, can be mined for some ideas as to recommendations for differentiation and professional development for differentiation. Because the researchers are experienced within the field, their perspective on the issue of differentiated instruction is invaluable.

Per Duchardt, Marlow, Inman, Christensen, & Reeves (1999), co-teaching, another important tenet of inclusion, is a positive tool for both students and learners. Co-teaching, which involves collaboration in the classroom between special educators and general education teachers can be productive and useful both for teachers and students. However, there needs to be greater understanding of how best to implement co-teaching. For this, again, teachers may need professional development focused on helping them implement this strategy.

Tobin (2005) thinks that some of this professional development should focus on routines and structure in the classroom, which her study found helped teachers to get better at co-teaching and to effectively teach more students. These routines and the co-teaching relationships they help support should, as much as possible, be of long duration, which Tobin finds helps teachers become better at co-teaching, though without targeted professional development few of the teachers in her study reached the highest levels of co-teaching proficiency. However, routines and relationships are part of what is necessary for co-teaching, and while Tobin's study related only to language arts teachers, her findings can be extrapolated to teachers of all subjects.

Dieker and Murawski (2003) also offer ideas for characteristics of effective co-teaching that should be considered desirable in the classroom. The authors make it clear that teachers have issues with co-teaching, which can include not understanding their roles and feeling that collaboration is ineffective. These issues are some of the ones that can be addressed with further instruction and professional development for teachers who are engaged in co-teaching, and this article is also useful for its strong and easy to understand description of what, exactly, co-teaching should be. In fact, this article would be a useful professional development tool in and of itself.

Salovita & Marjatta (2010), however, found that while co-teaching is widely accepted as a best practice, it is not yet being used everywhere. The authors' study was based in Finland, where the teachers surveyed reported positive experiences with regard to co-teaching, but did not feel comfortable using it. This was especially true of subject teachers, who were less likely than special educators (who had more training) to use this instructional method. The authors conclude that co-teaching is a positive for teachers and students alike, and teachers need to know better how to use it so that it can be implemented in more classrooms the world over.

Friend, Cook, Hurley-Chamberlain, & Shamberger (2010), in contrast, point out that little is actually known about how co-teaching actually goes in the classroom. Teachers, as in many of the studies mentioned above, report using it and liking it, and there are articles with advice on how to do it, but there is as yet little observation of how it is actually working in the classroom. The authors suggest that the quality and type of research on co-teaching will help determine whether the technique is just a flash in the educational trend pan, or whether it is here to stay. According to McDuffie , Mastropieri, & Scruggs (2009), peer teaching and tutoring can even have some of the same effects as co-teaching. Surely there is more to the strategy than what can be gotten from a student working with a fellow student-teachers have perhaps not been able yet to explore co-teaching as much as they should. Murawski too points out in a recent article that teachers do not entirely know how to co-teach. Even when they have received some training in the method, little of what is actually considered to be co-teaching seems to go on in their classrooms. (Murawski 2006). One problem with the way co-teaching is currently done, according to Weiss and Lloyd (2002) is that co-teaching, though it involves the same roles as teaching in a s epical education classroom, involves different strategies for these roles (which include everything from providing support to directly teaching content.) Strategies for teaching in the special education classroom cannot, according to this article, translate directly to the inclusion classroom, and yet little has yet been done to figure out how they can move from the special education classroom to the inclusive classroom model. Clearly, something needs to change and there is work to be done.

In order to avoid co-teaching disappearing, teachers, then, need more professional development in the technique. They also need more development in differentiated instruction, and these twin issues are perhaps part of why some students in the inclusion model are not thriving. It is certainly not, according to the literature, a consequence of students' dissatisfaction with the model itself. Indeed, according to Miller (2008), students have positive reactions to and ideas about inclusion, feel that it is a positive for themselves and their classmates (be they special or regular education students), and want the model to continue. Student perception or attitude, then, is not likely to be the culprit when we look at low achievement levels for those in special education inclusion. Wilson & Michaels (2006) found in a survey-based study that general and special education students both has positive impressions of and experiences with co-teaching in particular, and felt that teachers should get a sense of what they are doing right in terms of co-teaching from their students, as well as soliciting the students for ideas on what might bear improvement. Teachers should also examine their own beliefs about co-teaching, since Austin (2001) found that general education teachers feel that an unfair amount of the burden of content teaching falls on them in the co-teaching model and they do not know how to fix this: again, the answer is more and better professional development.


Austin, V.L. (2001). Teacher's beliefs about co-teaching. Remedial and Special Education 22(4), 245-256.

Broderick, A., Mehta-Parekh, H., & Reid, D.K. (2005). Differentiating instruction for disabled students in inclusive classrooms. Theory into Practice 44(3), 194-202.

Casale-Gianola, D. (2011). Inclusion in CTE-What works and what need fixin'. Tech Directions 70(10), 21-23.

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Darling-Hammond, L., Bullmaster, M.L., & Cobb, V.L. (1995). Rethinking teacher leadership through professional development schools. The Elementary School Journal 96(1), 87-106.

Dieker, L.A., Murawski, W.W. (2003). Co-teaching at the secondary level: Unique issues, current trends, and suggestions for success. The High School Journal 86(4), 1-13.

Duchardt, B., Marlow, L., Inman, D., Christensen, P., & Reeves, M. (1999). Collaboration and co-teaching: General and special education faculty. The Clearing House 72(3), 186-190.

Friend, M., Cook, L., Hurley-Chamberlain, D., & Shamberger, C. (2010). Co-teaching: An illustration of the complexity of collaboration in special education. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation 20(1) 9-27.

Fuchs, L.S., & Fuchs, D. (1998). General educators' instructional adaptation for students with learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly 21(1), 23-33.

Guay, D.M. (1994). Students with disabilities in the art classroom: How prepared are we? Studies in Art Education 36(1), 44-56.

Hocutt, A.M. (1996). Effectiveness of special education: Is placement the critical factor? The Future of Children 6(1), 77-102.

Leko, M.M., & Brownell, M.T. (2009). Crafting quality professional development for special educators. Teaching Exceptional Children 42 (1), 65-70.

McDuffie, K.A., Mastropieri, M.A., & Scruggs. T.E. (2009) Differential effects of peer tutoring in co-taught and non-co-taught classes: results for content learning and student-teacher interactions. Exceptional Children 75(4), 493-510.

Miller, M. (2008). What do students think about inclusion? Phi Delta Kappan 89(5), 389-391.

Murawski, W.W. (2006). Student outcomes in co-taught secondary English classes: How can we improve? Reading & Writing Quarterly 22(3), 227-247.

Painter, D.D. (2009). Providing differentiated learning experiences through muti-genre projects. Intervention in School & Clinic 44(5), 288-293.

Pijl, Y.J, & Pijl, S.J. (1998). Are pupils in special education too "special" for regular education? International Review of Education 44(1), 5-20.

Salovita, T., & Marjatta, T. (2010). Frequency of co-teaching in different teacher categories. European Journal of Special Needs Education 25(4), 389-396.

Schechtman, Z., Levy, M., Leichtentritt, J. (2005). Impact of life-skills training on teachers' perceived environment and self-efficacy. The Journal of Educational Research 98(3), 144-154.

Sprague, M.M., & Pennell, D.P. (2000). The power of partners: Preparing pre-service teachers for inclusion. The Clearing House 73(3), 168-170.

Tobin, R. (2005). Co-teaching in language arts: Supporting students with disabilities. Canadian Journal of Education 28(4), 784-801.

Valli, L. & Buese, D. (2007). The changing roles of teachers in an era of high-stakes accountability. American Educational Research Journal, 44(3), 519-558.

Vaughn, S., Hughes, M.T., Schumm, J.S., & Klingner,J. (1998). A collaborative effort to enhance reading and writing instruction in inclusion classrooms. Learning Disability Quarterly 21(1), 57-74.

Weiss, M.P.& Lloyd, J.W. (2002).Congruence between roles and actions of secondary special educators in co-taught and special education settings. Journal of Special Education 36(2), 58-69.

Wilson, G., & Michaels, C. (2006). General and special education students' perceptions of co-teaching: Implications for secondary-level literary instruction. Reading & Writing Quarterly 22(3), 205-225.

Woodward, M.M., &Talbert-Johnson, C. (2009). Reading intervention models: Challenges of classroom support and separated instruction. The Reading Teacher 63(3), 190-200.

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