Teacher Training: Recommendations for Change
Teacher training is one of the most promising opportunities for improvement in providing students with disabilities genuine access to the curriculum. Disability identification is on the rise, while the push for inclusion and least restrictive environment has begun to erode the traditional wall between special and regular education settings. Yet college students studying education do not receive extensive training in special education, and governments and districts have not provided funds for restructuring the regular classroom to meet the changing landscape. Adequate funding will always represent an important component of effective change. The recommendations below, however, represent approaches for which awareness and commitment are at least as important as money.
An information infrastructure is perhaps an obvious, yet frequently weak, component to teacher preparation.
More broadly, teachers and even administrators, in public as well as charter and career development schools, are often ignorant of the requirements of the law and the resources available through the relevant state agencies. Career and technical development schools in one state reportedly have even received inaccurate information from an organization headed by a former state board of education head. Some states have taken advantage of the Internet revolution to post regulations, administrative announcements, and handbooks for educators online, including special education components. Yet state officials and advocates have expressed concern that educators do not take frequent enough advantage of these resources. Providing teachers with access to computers and the Internet along with basic Internet training, and requiring a weekly online check-in as part of their planning may go a long way to ensuring that teachers and administrators understand their responsibilities and receive access to innovations. An added benefit is access to resources provided by advocacy organizations. Besides the information and links that these sites provide, one, at least, is working to develop an educator-to-educator bulletin board that will preserve student confidentiality while allowing teachers to share ideas that work. This will be particularly helpful for teachers in small districts presented with a student with a rare or demanding disability.
A second infrastructural recommendation frequently mentioned is to require more special education training to education majors in colleges. This can be implemented by institutions themselves or through stricter certification requirements. Those who will specialize in separate setting special education may be required to demonstrate knowledge of the substantive general curriculum. Many states face shortages of all teachers—particularly of special education teachers—which is probably a function of combined low salaries and an increasingly stressful professional environment. Again, these issues must be addressed at the state and federal level.
At the district and school level, implementation of best practices can help improve special education. LR Consulting, based in Austin, Texas, has received a state grant to work with five middle schools that already are attempting to improve special education practices. One example, developed by Dr. Mary Lasatar, and outlined in Turning Points 2000: Educating Adolescents in the 21st Century, by Anthony Jackson and Gayle Davis, urges the use of teams composed of a subset of all the students in a grade and a few teachers among whom the group rotates. Because the same teachers see the same group of children, they can more effectively design lesson plans and interventions targeting each child's needs. Team planning can lead to common curricular themes across subject areas, enhancing the continuity of skill building that is crucial for many students with disabilities. Rotating by team also allows special education teachers, as well as paraeducators, to remain actively involved by moving with the group whom they instruct, rather than running between disconnected classrooms or teaching in totally separate environments. Finally, part of the team approach is to train regular education students to engage with students with disabilities, promoting the social and academic skills of all involved.
Providing better training, support, and satisfaction for teachers is critical to improving both special education services and education for all students. Allocating funds to training programs, salaries, and class size reduction will help; shifting paradigms of instruction to provide continuity within the classroom for students as well as teachers will do as much.
This content was developed pursuant to cooperative agreement #H324H990004 under CFDA 84.324H between CAST and the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. However, the opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Department of Education or the Office of Special Education Programs and no endorsement by that office should be inferred.
Cite this paper as follows:
Minow, M. L. (2001). Teacher training: recommendations for change. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. Retrieved [insert date] from http://aim.cast.org/learn/historyarchive/backgroundpapers/train_rec_chg