Special education teachers feel mostly competent in their own ability to work with students who have disabilities. But they have less confidence that their general education peers and supervisors have the same skills—a deep concern when inclusion in general education classes is a priority for most children with special needs.
That finding is one of several from a survey of special education teachers conducted by the Council for Exceptional Children and released at its recent national conference in Indianapolis.
Only 14 percent of the special education teachers who responded to the survey said they felt they were given sufficient time to plan with partners. And despite the interest in recent years in co-teaching, just over half of respondents, 54 percent, said they felt highly confident in their co-teaching skills.
Mary Ruth Coleman, a former president of CEC, who spearheaded the survey along with William K. Bogdan and Susan Fowler, also former presidents of the organization, said even the sobering findings have an upside: They show that special education teachers expect a lot from themselves and others.
“They feel competent, they understand the role of the [individualized education program], they understand collaboration and they value it. They want to do it more, and better,” said Coleman, a senior scientist emerita at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute in Chapel Hill, N.C.
System Change Needed
Nearly 1,500 teachers responded to the survey; general education, self-contained, or resource-room settings each accounted for roughly 30 percent of respondents’ teaching environments, with the remainder saying they taught in other places. Fowler said she was gratified to see how many teachers saw the student’s IEP as an essential document—not just paperwork.
“We were delighted and maybe even a little bit surprised that the IEP is a living, useful, frequently referred-to document,” Fowler said. More than half of respondents said they referred to the IEP daily to weekly; more than 70 percent said they individualized their curriculum using the IEP as guidance most or all of the time.
Bogdan, a retired special education administrator with the Hamilton County Educational Services Center in Cincinnati, which provides support to local school districts, said the findings underscore that there must be a systemwide change in education so that teachers can have the collaboration time, planning time, and other resources they say they need.
“It’s not just one resolution that’s going to take care of problems,” Bogdan said. “It’s how we think about the entire system of education.”
A version of this article appeared in the February 27, 2019 edition of Education Week as Survey: Ground-Level Perspectives on Spec. Ed.