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How Beginning Special and General Education Elementary Teachers Negotiate Role Expectations and Access Professional Resources


by Peter Youngs, Nathan Jones & Mark Low — 2011

Background/Context: Studies have found that within-field mentoring, collaboration with colleagues, and administrative support can increase new general education teacher commitment (Kapadia, Coca, & Easton, 2007; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004). In the area of special education, studies have reported that support from mentors and colleagues is associated with increased commitment among novices (Billingsley, Carlson, & Klein, 2004; Whitaker, 2000). Despite these advances, there has been little research on how beginning special educators make sense of the curricular, instructional, and role expectations placed on them or how they negotiate relationships with and make use of supports from mentors, colleagues, and administrators.

Purpose: One purpose of the study was to explicate differences in the curricular, instructional, and role expectations experienced by beginning special and general education elementary teachers. A second purpose was to document variations in how novices from both groups addressed expectations they encountered.

Research Design: Data collection during the 2006-07 school year involved interviewing two beginning special education and two general education teachers twice each and surveying all four teachers twice each. All four teachers were working in a medium-sized urban district in Michigan where 40% of students were eligible for free/reduced-price lunches. The interview questions addressed the study participants’ professional backgrounds, teaching assignments, and the curricular, instructional, and role expectations they experienced in their schools. The teachers were also asked about the content and frequency of their interactions with their formally assigned mentors, colleagues, and school and district administrators, and their participation in induction and professional development activities.

Findings/Results: The study found considerable differences in the curricular expectations placed on novice special education and general education teachers, the students they were assigned, and the classrooms and physical settings in which they were expected to work. In addition, the study also found variations in how these teachers made sense of the expectations placed on them and the nature and amount of the effort they seemed to exert in meeting these expectations. Further, due to the nature of the curricular and role expectations they faced, the early career special educators were much more dependent on their general education colleagues (as compared to the general educators in the study) and they were expected to develop relationships with a greater number and wider range of individuals.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Based on the study findings, there are three main induction practices or activities that school leaders and districts should consider. For one, it is important for new special education teachers to have access to same-field mentors and clear curricular guidelines that can help them determine their curriculum and carry out their instructional duties. Second, in order to further reduce role ambiguity for new special educators, ensure that they meet their legal obligations (enshrined in IDEA and NCLB), and integrate them into their schools, it may be helpful for principals and district administrators to take strong, visible positions in support of inclusion and help them establish productive relationships with other teachers in their schools. Third, we argue that it may be useful for induction programs for beginning special education teachers to address the nature of, and help them build, their relationships with general education colleagues.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 7, 2011, p. 1506-1540
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16097, Date Accessed: 4/24/2014 6:58:41 AM

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About the Author
  • Peter Youngs
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    PETER YOUNGS is an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University. His research interests focus on policy and practice in the areas of teacher education, induction, and professional development. Recent publications have appeared in Educational Administration Quarterly, Journal of Education Policy, and Elementary School Journal.
  • Nathan Jones
    Northwestern University
    E-mail Author
    NATHAN JONES is a postdoctoral research associate at Northwestern University. His research focuses on teachers’ subjective responses to their work experiences as well as the induction and commitment of special education teachers.
  • Mark Low
    Policy Studies Associates
    E-mail Author
    MARK LOW is a research associate at Policy Studies Associates. His research focuses on factors that influence the hiring experiences, induction, and commitment of public and Catholic school teachers.
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