Middle school inclusion: An exploration of general and special educators' perceptions
Johnson, Deborah Roden
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The education of students with special needs in the United States has undergone significant changes since the mid-1990s. These changes were instigated by parent advocacy groups and later supported by legislative intervention. Children who were once ostracized from society and institutionalized because of disabilities were first welcomed into schools and later into general education settings within those schools. Including students with disabilities in general education classrooms requires critical changes at the district and campus level. True inclusive school environments depend on a joint philosophy of inclusive education, the development of cooperative learning structures, and focused attention to scheduling, professional development, and ongoing support structures. The purpose of this study was threefold. The first purpose was to explore the perceptions of special education and general education staff regarding inclusion and inclusion practices in their current job setting. The second purpose was to examine the shared level of communication between inclusion staff and general educators regarding classrooms and students. The final purpose was to study how special education and general education teachers perceive their individual and collective roles in the education of individual students. This qualitative inquiry was conducted using an instrumental case study design in order to examine the perceptions of inclusive educators and provide general insight into inclusion at one particular school. Nine themes and ten subthemes emerged through analysis of the data surrounding inclusive education. These included attitudes toward co-teaching and inclusion; segregation, integration, and inclusion; familiarity resulting from experience with inclusion, working with the same partner, and consistency in curriculum; personality, collaboration, and communication of expectations; education and training; differentiation of instruction and group work; co-teaching and barriers to co-teaching; inclusion scheduling; and the absence of special educators from inclusive settings. This study sought to increase understanding of the educational change of inclusion at the classroom level through the identification of strengths and/or weaknesses of the inclusion process. This study involved five specific goals. The first aim was to discover and share best practices with other schools in the district. The second goal was to identify teachers’ needs and concerns at the classroom level that could assist campus administrators with scheduling, personnel assignments, and student schedules. The third intention was to shed light on professional development needs in the area of inclusion. The fourth aim focused on possible improvements to pre-service teacher preparation programs. The final goal was to add to the body of research regarding inclusion, the needs of inclusive educators, and the collaborative relationships of general and special educators who work together in inclusive settings.