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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 participantsí 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.

Novice special and general education elementary teachers face a number of common challenges as they enter the classroom. Both groups must acquire curricular knowledge; plan and provide instruction; motivate students and manage their behavior; interact with parents, colleagues, and administrators; and carry out noninstructional duties. But beginning special educators have additional obligations that can differ from those of their counterparts in general education. They must modify the curriculum for students with widely varying needs and disabilities, devise Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), employ assistive technology, and comply with federal special education laws (Billingsley, 2004; Gersten, Keating, Yovanoff, & Harniss, 2001). Further, studies have found that the curricular expectations faced by new special education teachers are sometimes more ambiguous that those encountered by new general education teachers (Billingsley & Tomchin, 1992; Zabel & Zabel, 2001) and that special educators’ work lives are sometimes perceived as being separate from general education (Kilgore, Griffin, Otis-Wilborn, & Winn, 2003; Miller, Brownell, & Smith, 1999).


In response to concerns about the work conditions of early career teachers, many districts and states have implemented mentoring and induction programs over the past decade (Education Week, 2009). 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.


This paper addresses this gap in the research literature by using 2006-07 interview data to investigate the induction experiences of two novice special education and two novice general education elementary teachers in one Michigan school district. Our purpose is twofold. First, we explicate differences in the curricular, instructional, and role expectations experienced by beginning special and general education elementary teachers. Here, we provide evidence that the effort exerted by new special educators in meeting the expectations placed on them seems to differ from that exerted by new general educators. Second, the paper documents variations in how novices from both groups addressed expectations they encountered. That is, we provide evidence that the instructional decisions and resources associated with positive induction experiences for the new special educators seemed to differ from those associated with comparable experiences for the new general educators. Based on these results, we argue that principals and school districts should conceptualize and structure induction support for special education elementary teachers differently from the way that it is typically organized for general education elementary teachers.


The first section of this paper reviews research on the induction of beginning special and general education teachers. Second, we describe the theoretical framework that shaped the data collection and analysis for this study. The components of the research design—sample, data collection methods, and modes of analysis—are featured in the third section. Fourth, we discuss the procedures we used to establish the validity of our interview data. The fifth section presents results regarding the varying expectations placed on novice special and general education elementary teachers, while the sixth section includes findings on how these groups differed in the ways they negotiated relationships with mentors and colleagues and accessed support. Seventh, we discuss the implications of these findings for efforts to structure induction programs and experiences for new special educators. We conclude by explaining how this study builds on earlier research and considering some of its limitations.


RESEARCH ON CURRICULAR EXPECTATIONS, LEGAL REQUIREMENTS, OPPORTUNITIES FOR COLLABORATION, AND INDUCTION SUPPORT


Most research on beginning teachers has focused either on special education or general education teachers; few studies have included both groups of educators.1 Thus, it is important to note that in this literature review, we have made comparisons between and drawn conclusions about differences in curricular expectations, induction experiences, and outcomes for both groups of teachers. In other words, since few prior studies have made such comparisons, we have done so here in this review of the relevant research.


CURRICULAR AND ROLE EXPECTATIONS


Research suggests that the curricular and instructional expectations placed on beginning special education teachers are sometimes more ambiguous than those placed on novice general educators and that they can be defined in multiple, conflicting ways (Billingsley & Tomchin, 1992; Conderman & Stephens, 2000; Mastropieri, 2001; Zabel & Zabel, 2001). With regard to their curricula, special education teachers are often responsible for teaching multiple subjects across multiple grade levels, yet most do so without adequate resources for determining how this instruction should look (Kilgore et al., 2003). Further, although students with special needs participate in state assessments and are expected to learn similar material as general education students, the degree to which administrators expect special education teachers to align their instruction with the general education curriculum varies, and little guidance is given on how to adapt materials to meet students’ needs. This burden can be made worse when there are a limited number of models in a given school dealing with how instruction of children with disabilities should be carried out.


For new general education teachers, curricular and instructional expectations are sometimes clearer and more precise than those placed on novice special educators, in part because general education teachers are typically provided with materials such as textbooks, pacing guides, and state teaching standards. In a study in New York City’s District 2, for example, Stein and D’Amico (2002) reported that district policies related to curriculum, assessment, and teacher evaluation provided clear messages and strongly shaped the expectations that were placed on new general education elementary teachers. Further, a study by Achinstein, Ogawa, and Speiglman (2004) found that district policy in two California districts sent precise messages to early career elementary teachers regarding literacy instruction and had salient consequences for their learning opportunities and access to resources. At the same time, other research indicates that new general education teachers sometimes receive little guidance with regard to curriculum or assessment (Kauffman, Johnson, Kardos, Liu, & Peske, 2002).


LEGAL REQUIREMENTS


With regard to legal requirements, the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) recommends that children with disabilities should participate in general education settings as much as is feasible. In addition, the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) mandates that state reading, writing, and mathematics tests be administered to students with special needs. These laws influence the professional work of both groups of teachers. In terms of special education teachers, they have a legal obligation to devise IEPs for students with special needs, to advocate for them, and to maximize the amount of time they spend in general education classrooms. With regard to general educators, they are expected to provide instruction in reading, writing, and math to students with disabilities. While they are to modify instruction based on such students’ special needs, they must also ensure that these students have acquired sufficient knowledge to take state assessments.


OPPORTUNITIES FOR COLLABORATION


Research indicates that the work lives of special educators are sometimes viewed as distinct from general education and the organization of schools can heighten feelings of isolation (Miller et al., 1999). When a school is not committed to the inclusion of children with disabilities, opportunities to collaborate with general education teachers can be limited and such students will often be considered the responsibility of special educators (Kilgore et al., 2003). In addition, with teachers often grouped by teams or grade levels, there can be much physical distance between special education and general education teachers, limiting opportunities for interaction. While general educators generally have more opportunities to collaborate with colleagues, such collaboration can have limited effects if the novices’ beliefs about teaching or instructional practices differ from those around them (Bidwell, Frank, & Quiroz, 1997; Hill et al., 2008).


PAPERWORK


Even when new special educators are located near general education colleagues and/or have regular times to meet with them, procedural demands and paperwork can prevent them from working with colleagues on instructional issues. In particular, along with their teaching responsibilities, special education teachers must complete IEPs, initial and follow-up evaluations of students, and behavioral assessments. Further, paperwork has been cited in several studies as a major reason for leaving the classroom (Billingsley, 2004). For example, in a study featuring a nationally representative sample of special education teachers with less than five years of experience, Billingsley et al. (2004) reported that 72% indicated that routine duties and paperwork interfered with their teaching. General education teachers face similar demands, especially related to assessments and IEPs, but paperwork has been cited less often as a factor contributing to attrition among general educators.


OUTCOMES OF MENTORING, INDUCTION, AND ISOLATION


Research suggests that when relationships with mentors are informal and more personal, new special educators are more likely to intend to stay in teaching (Whitaker, 2000). This finding applies with regard to informal support from other colleagues (Billingsley et al., 2004). It also seems that for beginning special educators, mentors in special education can offer unique pedagogical and assessment skills, knowledge of students, and knowledge of subject matter that general education teachers cannot (Lane & Canosa, 1995; White, 1996). Further, such mentors are well positioned to provide emotional support to early career special educators (Kueker & Haensly, 1991; Whitaker, 2000). If the mentor is in special education, she or he is likely to be one of the few individuals in the beginning teacher’s school who has gone through a similar experience to that of the novice special educator. At the same time, many new special education teachers are not assigned to mentors who teach special education in their schools. Further, even when a beginning special educator is matched with a mentor at their school who teaches special education, the mentor may have a different job description (i.e., they may be responsible for working with disabilities that differ from those to which the novice is assigned), and thus may not be familiar with the novice’s curriculum or caseload.


When new special education teachers remain isolated from colleagues and have little access to professional resources, they are likely to struggle to meet the needs of their diverse students and to experience high levels of stress. In addition, evidence indicates that isolation among novice special educators can have negative consequences for their intent to remain in teaching (Billingsley & Cross, 1992; Billingsley & Tomchin, 1992; Crane & Iwanicki, 1991; Mastropieri, 2001; Miller et al., 1999). In Billingsley et al.’s (2004) study, for example, teachers who reported that they did not feel included in their schools or felt that their principal did not understand what they did were most susceptible to feeling dissatisfied with their job. Lack of administrative support was also cited as a strong determinant of stress for first-year teachers by Billingsley and Tomchin (1992) and Kilgore and Griffin (1998). At the same time, when support from colleagues and administrators was present, teachers were more committed to staying in teaching (Billingsley et al., 2004).


Research on mentoring and induction in general education has produced comparable findings. For example, Youngs (2007a) reported that when mentors were knowledgeable about novice teachers’ curricula and state assessments, they were more likely to help them plan instruction and analyze student learning. In a second study, Kardos, Johnson, Peske, Kauffman, and Liu (2001) found that new teachers were well served in schools where veterans supported novices through mentoring, collaborative work in grade teams and departments, and professional development. In both studies, principals played a key role in successful induction experiences by addressing issues related to instruction, collaboration, and student learning (Youngs, 2007b; Kardos et al., 2001). Other research indicates that within-field mentoring, collaboration with colleagues, and support from the principal can increase the commitment and retention of new general educators (Kapadia et al., 2007; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004).


In sum, research indicates that compared to their counterparts in general education, new special education teachers sometimes experience more role ambiguity and greater isolation from colleagues and they are subject to greater demands regarding paperwork. At the same time, studies have found that mentoring and induction programs can provide opportunities for both groups of novices to collaborate with colleagues and acquire instructional skills, curricular knowledge, and knowledge of students. But it is unclear from existing research how beginning special educators make sense of the curricular, instructional, and role expectations placed on them or how they negotiate key relationships with mentors, special and general education colleagues, administrators, and other individuals in their schools. The purpose of this paper is to explicate differences in the expectations placed on new special education and general education elementary teachers in one school district. It also discusses variations in how novices from both groups understood and responded to the expectations they experienced.


THEORIZING HOW NOVICE TEACHERS MAKE SENSE OF AND CARRY OUT THEIR ROLES


In this study, we drew on sensemaking theory to help us investigate how new special education and general education elementary teachers negotiated the curricular, instructional, and role expectations they faced as well as their relationships with formal mentors, colleagues, administrators, and other key personnel. According to sensemaking theory, action is based on how individuals observe or choose to focus on information in their environments, construct understandings of that information, and then act based on those understandings (Coburn, 2001; Weick, 1995). Since the meaning of information—in this case, messages about curricular, instructional, and role expectations—is not always clear, beginning teachers often must develop their own interpretations of the expectations placed on them. But this occurs by placing new information into preexisting cognitive frameworks (Weick, 1995). Novice teachers, then, focus on messages in their environments and construct understandings of them based on their prior beliefs and practices (Coburn, 2001; Spillane, 2000; Wilson, 1990).


New teachers’ efforts to make sense of the expectations they face are social in two primary ways (Coburn, 2001). First, through social interactions and negotiations, they construct understandings of their roles. For novice special educators, for example, through interactions with administrators, mentors, special education colleagues, and general education colleagues, they learn which students they are expected to teach, whether and how they are to modify the general education curriculum for their students, the amount of time they are to work in general educators’ classrooms as well as their own classrooms, and how they are to handle student assessment. But sensemaking is also social in that it reflects professional norms, including beliefs in the special education profession about inclusion of students with special needs, the use of diagnostic assessments, and appropriate writing instruction for students with learning disabilities. Such norms can shape how beginning special educators make sense of and carry out their roles in particular schools.


Thus, several individuals in novices’ environments can help them (1) make sense of the expectations placed on them; (2) adjudicate among their own beliefs, the expectations they face, and professional norms; and (3) negotiate relationships with others and access resources from them. Principals, for one, can play central roles in helping beginning teachers to define their roles and make sense of the expectations they encounter (Youngs, 2007b; Billingsley et al., 2004; Coburn, 2001; Kardos et al., 2001). Further, for both new special education and new general education teachers, access to mentors and experienced colleagues who have the same teaching assignment and/or knowledge of their curriculum can facilitate novices’ professional growth and efforts to build relationships with others (Author, 2007a; Lane & Canosa, 1995; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004; White, 1996).


At the same time, differences in the ways that teachers are able to access resources may largely be due to their locations within their schools and the nature of their professional relationships (Frank, Zhao, & Borman, 2004). For example, a new third-grade teacher may have frequent access to other third-grade teachers, as well as second- and fourth-grade teachers in their school. In contrast, a beginning special education teacher in the same school may not have access to other special educators and her access to general education colleagues may be limited to those students who are assigned to her. Given the high levels of uncertainty faced by novice teachers, they stand to benefit most from access to resources, but they often struggle to gather information on their own. That is, paradoxically, a new teacher is often handicapped in her ability to draw from multiple resources because she has not yet developed strong relationships with her colleagues. Her location within her school, and the colleagues accessible to her, can have a significant influence on her ability to access potentially valuable resources.


In sum, sensemaking theory suggests that beginning teachers will construct understandings of their roles based on interactions with mentors, colleagues, principals, and others in their environments, as well as professional norms. But the access that novice teachers have to these individuals depends on a variety of factors, ranging from their teaching assignment to their location in the school. While both groups of educators must rely on others in their schools for help in determining their roles and for feedback on their practices, novice special education teachers are sometimes dependent on experienced general education teachers (i.e., for guidance, input, and feedback on their roles and practices) and, thus, are potentially vulnerable. But principals, mentors, and experienced colleagues with knowledge of new teachers’ curriculum and instructional responsibilities can be critically important in helping them to make sense of their positions and to negotiate relationships with others. Thus, the theoretical framework underlying this study posits that differences in special education and general education teachers’ professional relationships (with mentors, colleagues, and principals) are related to variations in how they make sense of their roles and address the expectations placed on them.


METHODS


District Sample


This study is part of a larger mixed-methods study of beginning teachers’ induction experiences in 10 Michigan and Indiana school districts.2 (The larger study is known as the Michigan Indiana Early Career Teacher [MIECT] study.) For the study described in this paper, we primarily employed qualitative methods to conduct research on early career special education and general education elementary teachers in one school district in Michigan during the 2006-07 school year. In selecting a district for this analysis, we sought one that served high percentages of low-income and racial minority students and that had hired 25 or more teachers in 2005-06 and 2006-07. The district that we chose for this study, Kaline,3 served 9,448 students in Grades K–12 in 2006-07. Of these students, 40% were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and 50% belonged to racial minorities. With regard to the inclusion of students with special needs in general education classrooms, all four Kaline elementary schools in the study in 2006-07 were moving towards becoming more inclusive, but none of them had achieved full inclusion at the time the study was conducted.


In August 2005 and August 2006, Kaline provided a two-day orientation before the school year started for elementary teachers who were new to the district. The orientation addressed such topics as language arts and mathematics content standards, classroom management strategies, technology, and the role of the Kaline Teachers’ Association. In addition, each first- and second-year teacher was assigned to an experienced teacher who served as her or his formal mentor. Further, Kaline provided regular workshops through the year for teachers who were new to the district. These workshops took place on weekdays after the school day was over and they addressed such topics as classroom management, student motivation, parent-teacher relationships, and student testing. Finally, new general education elementary teachers in Kaline in 2006-07 took part in professional development related to Everyday Mathematics, the district’s math curriculum for Grades 1–5.


Teacher Sample


In selecting first- and second-year teachers from Kaline to participate in the study, we focused on special and general education teachers who were teaching at the elementary level. With regard to the special educators, we invited teachers who were responsible for providing academic instruction to students in Grades 1–5, but excluded those who did not provide instruction (e.g., school psychologists, speech pathologists, social workers). In terms of the general education teachers, we only invited those who were full-time general education teachers of Grades 1–5. All first- and second-year teachers in Kaline in 2006-07 were invited to participate, but they had to (1) be teaching full-time, (2) have earned a standard teaching certificate, and (3) have completed university-based teacher preparation.4 In addition, the student demographics in the study participants’ classrooms and schools had to be consistent with those throughout their district. That is, we wanted to ensure that a given novice’s experiences were not significantly shaped by having much higher or lower percentages of low-income students than other teachers in the study. In sum, the criteria for selecting new teacher participants included (1) being responsible for academic instruction/teaching in a core content area in Grades 1–5, (2) teaching full-time, (3) having earned a standard teaching certificate, and (4) having demographics in their classrooms and schools that were consistent with those throughout Kaline.


In Kaline, there were 6 special education teachers and 14 general education teachers in 2006-07 who met the selection criteria. Of these, 4 special education teachers and 11 general education teachers completed surveys for the larger MIECT study in fall 2006. Of the teachers who completed surveys, all 4 special educators and all 11 general education teachers were invited to take part in the interview study (described in this paper); of those invited, two special education and five general education teachers volunteered to participate. Due to limitations in resources, we included both of the special education teachers and two of the five general education teachers who volunteered to participate in the study described in this paper; in other words, 33% (2/6) of the special education teachers who met the selection criteria were interviewed and 14% (2/14) of the general education teachers who met the selection criteria were interviewed.5 In sum, two special education elementary teachers and two general education elementary teachers participated in the study. Further, teachers from 4 elementary schools (of a total of 11 elementary schools in the Kaline district) participated in the study. (See Table 1 in the Appendix for information about the study participants and the schools in which they worked in 2006-07.)


Data Collection


Data collection during the 2006-07 school year involved interviewing two beginning special education and two general education teachers twice each (winter 2007 and spring 2007) and surveying all four teachers twice each (fall 2006 and spring 2007). In the interviews with both pairs of teachers, we used similar interview protocols to allow for comparison.6 We probed to learn about 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. In particular, both pairs of participants were asked about their interactions with both special education and general education teachers. We also probed to learn about the study participants’ experiences with the formal teacher evaluation process in their schools and district, as well as their perceptions of how state and district accountability policies influenced their work.


The interviews also included questions about participants’ backgrounds in education and prior professional experience. In particular, we probed to learn the institutions of higher education that participants had attended; the nature of their professional training, including coursework and student teaching experiences; and their areas of certification. In the analysis reported in this paper, we did not focus on how teacher preparation seemed to influence the participants’ induction experiences. While we believe that this is an important research question, we felt that it was beyond the scope of this paper.


The surveys were part of the larger MIECT study, which surveyed 45 beginning special education teachers, 180 beginning general education teachers, and their mentors and close colleagues. The beginning teacher surveys were administered in fall 2006 (prior to the first round of interviews) and spring 2007 (around the same time as the second round of interviews). The fall and spring surveys included items that asked participants about the content and frequency of their interactions with their formally assigned mentors and key colleagues, and their participation in induction and professional development activities. In addition, the spring surveys included items that asked participants about their perceptions of principal-teacher relations in their schools. As noted below, we drew on the survey data from the four interview participants to check whether their responses to certain survey items were consistent with their responses to particular interview questions.


Modes of Analysis


For each round of qualitative data collection (winter 2007 and spring 2007), a detailed analytic memo was written immediately following each audiotaped interview that described the tone and meaning discerned at the time of the interview. In addition, each interview was transcribed verbatim in its entirety. NVivo software was used to analyze data from the interviews in order to generate the initial codes (see Table 2 in the Appendix for our lists of initial and final codes for the special education and general education teachers.) By grouping together categories and using the constant comparative method (Strauss & Corbin, 1990), we moved to higher levels of abstraction and eventually derived the following codes: new teacher background and assignment; curricular, instructional, and role expectations; content and frequency of interactions with mentors, special education colleagues, and general education colleagues; content and frequency of interactions with principals; content and frequency of participation in professional development activities; and teacher evaluation activities (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Strauss & Corbin, 1990).


Once the final codes were established, two members of the research team7 separately coded all eight interviews (n=2 special education teachers x 2 interviews; n=2 general education teachers x 2 interviews). These separate coding efforts were compared and in cases of disagreement, the codings were discussed until consensus was reached. Prior to discussion of the separate coding efforts, the two coders agreed on 65% of the codings.


For the second stage of qualitative data analysis, we compiled case reports by teaching assignment (i.e., special education and general education) and identified emergent themes regarding (1) curricular, instructional, and role expectations; (2) interactions with mentors and colleagues; and (3) interactions with administrators. We then used these themes to explore possible connections between (1) and (2), and between (2) and (3). This technique is recommended by Achinstein et al. (2004) as a way to reveal a number of relationships pertaining to beginning teachers, including relationships between (1) mentoring and new teachers’ instructional practices and (2) interactions with colleagues and new teachers’ instructional practices. At the same time, several linkages between additional factors and outcomes were evident, including ones between new teachers’ successful negotiation of the expectations placed on them and (1) access to colleagues who could communicate expertise and (2) access to administrators who helped them to define their role to general education teachers.


In ascertaining and describing the processes involved in meeting curricular, instructional, and role expectations, teaching position was the key analytical unit (i.e., special education or general education). Thus, data analysis involved looking across the expectations placed on the two special education teachers; this was then repeated with the two general education teachers. Similarly, in developing an account of how the study participants negotiated their professional relationships, we also grouped them by teaching assignment. This enabled us to analyze the varying roles that principals played for special and general education teachers and, in particular, to better understand the key role school leaders played for beginning special education teachers at the elementary level.


When it became evident that the special education teachers had little access to same-field mentors and that their principals played a key part in helping them to establish their roles, we created additional data displays to confirm these patterns in our data, while remaining attentive to disconfirming evidence (Coburn, 2001; Miles & Huberman, 1994). In this way, we were able to analyze the ways in which the absence of a same-field mentor and the presence of strong administrative leadership were associated with the special educators’ ability to make sense of the expectations they faced, negotiate relationships with general education colleagues, and carry out their roles. This also permitted us to consider how the general educators’ induction experiences differed markedly from those of the special educators (e.g., less ambiguity in their role, greater access to same-field mentors and colleagues, less dependence on the principal).


PROCEDURES FOR ESTABLISHING VALIDITY OF INTERVIEW DATA


In this study, we took four main steps to establish the validity of the interview data reported on in this manuscript. These included member checks, use of multiple data collection methods, a multiple case design, and peer review and debriefing (Deyhle, Hess, & LeCompte, 1992; Glesne, 2006). In terms of member checks (Deylhe et al., 1992), we met with the four interview participants during the 2007-08 school year (i.e., six months after data collection was completed) to share and get feedback on emergent themes regarding (1) curricular, instructional, and role expectations; (2) interactions with mentors and colleagues; and (3) interactions with administrators. Second, we employed multiple data collection methods to strengthen the validity of the interview data (Stake, 2004). In particular, we drew on the fall 2006 and spring 2007 surveys of the four interview participants to check on the content and frequency of their interactions with mentors, colleagues, and principals, and their perceptions of administrator-teacher relations in their schools. We found that the participants’ responses to interview questions about these topics were nearly identical to their survey responses concerning the same topics.


Third, by including special education teachers and general education teachers in the interview sample, we incorporated a multiple case design featuring replication logic (Yin, 2008). More specifically, the inclusion of general education teachers in the sample enabled us to test our theory that the two groups of teachers experience contrasting curricular and role expectations and that special education teachers are more dependent on their principals and general education colleagues to establish their roles and negotiate professional relationships. Finally, we received external feedback on our research design and initial findings from faculty colleagues at our university in the areas of teacher induction and special education (Glesne, 2006). In particular, these colleagues encouraged us to (1) restrict the focus of the analysis to the beginning elementary teachers and (2) to narrow the theoretical framework to concentrate primarily on sensemaking theory.


MAKING SENSE OF AND RESPONDING TO VARYING CURRICULAR AND ROLE EXPECTATIONS


The study found considerable differences in the curricular expectations placed on novice special education and general education teachers, the students whom they were assigned, and the classrooms and physical settings in which they were expected to work. Further, the study also found differences 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. The two beginning special educators were required to create their own curricula or to make significant modifications in the general education curricula, while the curricula in general education were more structured and clearly defined. The special education teachers varied in the percentage of time they spent teaching in resource rooms as compared to co-teaching or assisting in general education classrooms. But they both served students with a wide variety of learning needs and disabilities8 and were frequently asked to provide assistance to students who were not formally part of their caseloads. In contrast, the two early career general education teachers taught multiple subjects in the same classroom. While they also taught students with different abilities, they did not work with the same wide ranges of diverse abilities as the special education teachers in the study.


This section explicates differences in the curricular expectations faced by these two pairs of teachers, their teaching assignments, and the physical settings in which they worked, as well as differences in how they made sense of and responded to these expectations. While research indicates that first-year and second-year general education teachers are very different cohorts (Youngs, 2007a; Burden, 1990; Fuller & Bown, 1975; Huberman, 1993), our findings suggest that the first- and second-year special education teachers in the sample experienced similar curricular and role expectations, and that these expectations differed notably from those faced by the two general education teachers in the study. Therefore, in this and the following section, we report our findings for the two special education teachers and then for the two general education teachers.


Curricular Expectations


The two special education teachers in Kaline were asked to develop their own curricula or to make substantive changes in the district’s general education curricula. In contrast to the novice general educators, they devoted substantially more time and effort to creating or modifying curricula. For example, Kelly Potter was a first-year special education teacher at DeGrosta Elementary School in 2006-07 where she worked with 13 second- through fifth-graders. She taught language arts with a focus on reading skills and comprehension, but there was no clear curriculum when she started in August 2006. In her words,


I viewed it as very negative. Everyone tells me to just find something, but it was very difficult as a first-year teacher to figure out what the best resources were to use. And I didn’t know any of the other resource teachers in the district.


Eventually, Potter adopted the Reading A to Z program, which addressed phonics and comprehension, and she supplemented it with running records and fluency tests. In addition, she employed Scholastic guided reading lessons that featured short picture books and helped students practice vocabulary, reading comprehension, and writing. But it took her several weeks to understand what was expected of her and to create her own curriculum.


Similarly, Ann Williams, a second-year special education teacher at Bentley Elementary, taught language arts and math to students in Grades 1–5 in 2006-07. For language arts, she focused on reading, spelling, phonics, and comprehension, but her math and writing curricula were less clearly articulated. According to Williams,


It’s tricky because I don’t have a math curriculum … it’s not given to me. I have to make my own stuff up, borrow from the general ed teachers the stuff they have. Sometimes they will send me stuff they want me to do.


In the absence of a formal curriculum in math, she relied on state and district student content standards, the district report card, and the students’ IEPs to formulate her math curriculum. Williams added, “I would like a little direction from the district to know what I have to teach and how I have to teach. I know what to teach for writing, but do I know what ways, what order, what scope?” The initial challenges experienced by Williams and Potter seemed related to a lack of shared responsibility for student learning between general education and special education teachers at their schools.


In contrast, the curricular expectations for the beginning general education teachers were much clearer and, as a result, they devoted much less time and effort to creating or modifying curricula. Elise Volcker was a first-year, third-grade teacher in 2006-07 at Barnaby Elementary School and she was required to use the Four Blocks approach for language arts: Guided Reading, Self-Selected Reading, Writing, and Working with Words (similar to spelling). Volcker had attended professional development on the Four Blocks and afterward, her principal “encourage[d] me to go in to see other colleagues and watch them use it in the classroom. And I get together with my colleagues and we talk about it.” Similarly, she taught Everyday Mathematics, the required district curriculum, which was similar to Connected Math 2. In Volcker’s words, “It’s a lot of hands on, working with manipulatives, having them generate ideas of how to solve a problem and not me telling them, this is how they should solve the problem.” She had participated in trainings related to Everyday Mathematics and spoke frequently with the other third-grade teachers at Barnaby Elementary about the math curriculum.


Another study participant, Maria Helton, a second-year fifth-grade teacher at Edwards Elementary School in 2006-07, also encountered fairly clear curricular expectations. Helton taught language arts, math, and social studies to a class of 20 students; she also taught social studies to the two other fifth-grade classes. Like Volcker and other K–5 general education elementary teachers in Kaline, she was required to use the Four Blocks approach. While the lessons for Working with Words were prescribed, Helton had more autonomy to determine the curriculum for reading and writing, as long as she followed the basic structure of the curriculum on a weekly basis. In terms of math, Helton felt that Everyday Mathematics was fairly prescriptive, but it provided useful guidance to her. In language arts, though, she noted, “we aren’t given a curriculum and said this is what you teach word for word. They don’t give us that. Math, yes; language arts, no.” For both the Four Blocks and Everyday Mathematics, Helton attended professional development to learn about the curricula and worked with district curriculum specialists to implement them in her classroom.


Role Expectations


Along with these differences in curricular expectations, the two special education teachers faced much greater ambiguity than their general education counterparts in terms of the students whom they were expected to teach and the physical settings in which they were expected to work. These work conditions often led them to exert significant amounts of effort in co-teaching classes and developing relationships with general education colleagues. For example, the 13 students on Potter’s caseload had a wide range of needs (many had speech and language impairments and one had Asperger’s syndrome), and their needs required her to provide instruction both in her resource room and in general education teachers’ classrooms. On average, she spent time in their general education classrooms two to three times a week. But in addition to working with her caseload students, she also provided assistance to other students in general education classrooms. In her words, “my schedule is not the same every single day. I have a set schedule for every day, but it’s not consistent. I don’t have the third graders every day at 11.” She added that she found it “very hard to go into eight different teachers’ rooms.”


Like Potter, Williams taught elementary students with a variety of special needs, including students with learning disabilities, autism, emotional impairments, and cognitive impairments. According to Williams, “it’s interesting trying to involve a program for my learning disabilities kid and then mixing in the autistic students. There are two totally different ways that you need to teach.” Williams also served on her school’s child study team, which addressed the needs of students with academic or behavioral difficulties. As part of her role on the team, she conducted structured observations of students and, when necessary, helped conduct formal evaluations of them. But in neither Williams’ school nor Potter’s school had the principal and faculty made significant progress in moving toward full inclusion of students with special needs. As a result, experienced general educators in both schools did not initially seem to share their expertise with Williams and Potter, which augmented the challenges these novices faced.


In contrast to their special education counterparts, there was more clarity for the general education teachers regarding where they worked and the students they taught. While the novice special educators in this study taught resource room classes and frequently co-taught or assisted in general education classrooms, both of the novice general educators taught multiple classes in a single classroom. For example, in 2006-07, Volcker taught language arts, math, social studies, and science to the same group of 21 third graders. Similarly, Helton faced much clearer expectations in terms of the students to which she was assigned and where she taught. In particular, she taught language arts, math, and social studies to the same group of 20 fifth graders, and she also taught two additional sections of social studies to the other two 5th-grade classes at her school. In exchange, her group of 20 students took science and health with each of the other two 5th-grade teachers.


In sum, as compared to their general education counterparts, the novice special educators in this study seemed to exert much more time and effort in meeting the curricular and role expectations that were placed on them. Both special education teachers were asked to create or significantly modify curricula, to work with students with special needs in resource rooms and general education classrooms, and to make sense of roles that were often ambiguous. In contrast, the general education teachers typically needed to learn the same amount of or less curricular material than the special educators and they usually taught this material in one classroom to students with a narrower range of ability levels. In the next section, we examine how these teachers’ professional relationships affected their efforts to make sense of and respond to the expectations they faced.


HOW TEACHERS NEGOTIATED RELATIONSHIPS WITH MENTORS, COLLEAGUES, AND PRINCIPALS


It is clear that the curricular and role expectations of the special educators seemed to differ from those faced by the general education teachers in this study. But how did these teachers establish their roles in their schools and make sense of and respond to the expectations that were placed on them? What roles did mentors, colleagues, and principals play in this process? And how did the early career teachers negotiate professional relationships with these individuals? In this study, we found that special education teachers seemed to go through much different induction experiences than their general education counterparts as they determined their roles and addressed the expectations placed on them. In particular, 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.


The special educators were also less likely to receive school-based support from mentors or colleagues who taught the same curriculum that they taught or who worked with students with the same disabilities. In addition, principals were crucial in helping the special education teachers to establish their roles and meet their responsibilities. In contrast, the general education teachers were more likely to have access to school-based mentors who were knowledgeable about their curriculum and responsibilities. Further, the general educators seemed less dependent on their principals than the special educators. In this section, we first discuss the ways in which the two special educators negotiated relationships with colleagues and then we consider the experiences of the two general educators.


As a first-year teacher in 2006-07, Kelly Potter faced major challenges because her beliefs about grouping and teaching students with special needs differed significantly from those of her general education colleagues. She believed it was important to group students with special needs by ability and to provide instruction to them in their general education classrooms as well as in her resource room. At the same time, there were “some teachers who disagree[d]. They [didn’t] think it’s my responsibility to be in their classroom helping them out. They would much rather see me take the kid out of their classroom and work with them in mine.” As noted above, these general educators did not initially seem to assume shared responsibility, with Potter or other special educators at the school, for the learning of special needs students. Potter also felt isolated to some degree because the other special education teacher at DeGrosta Elementary worked with a different group of students, those who were cognitively impaired. In addition, Potter’s assigned mentor worked at a different school. While Potter and her mentor had similar teaching assignments and shared the same beliefs about the importance of developing relationships with students, Potter had little contact with her during her first year of teaching because they worked at different sites.


For Potter, her principal was centrally involved in helping her to make sense of her role and establish and maintain productive relationships with her general education colleagues. In particular, she supported Potter’s decision to group students by ability and to provide instruction both in her resource room and in the general education classes. In addition, her principal sent out “a school-wide e-mail talking about NCLB and why it’s important that students with disabilities are in the classroom. She [told] them to put me to work when I’m in there. She’s been very helpful with that.” Potter also received assistance and materials from the social worker at DeGrosta, an early childhood teacher who had previously worked as a resource room teacher, and a paraprofessional at the school. For her part, the social worker helped her write IEPs and talked with her about individual cases. According to Potter, “Really, nobody has a special ed. program whereas the social worker is very willing to help out. We’re on the Child Study Team together and she has a ton of experience with IEPs.”


The other elementary special education teacher in the study, Ann Williams, was in a similar position to Potter. Her assigned mentor was only at her school two or three hours per week because she served as a teacher consultant to five schools and had her own caseload of students. While Williams had a comfortable relationship with her mentor and found her knowledgeable, she had little direct access to her because of the limited time her mentor was at Bentley Elementary. Instead, she exchanged e-mails with her mentor when she had questions about her curriculum or placing students. In addition, Williams shared materials and discussed curricular issues and students with another special education teacher at her school, who was also early in her career, but she had less opportunity initially to access the expertise of general educators at her school. Further, she relied on the social worker at her school when she had questions about students, IEPs, and her other day-to-day responsibilities. But in terms of establishing Williams’ role in the school, her principal helped her set up her teaching schedule so that it was fully aligned with those of the general education teachers. In her words, “my principal has it where everything I teach, the general ed. teachers are teaching the same things at the same time.” Williams added, “She is very good at coordinating and [ensuring] that there is communication between me and the general ed. teachers. There is a lot of communication that goes on that she fosters.”


In contrast to Potter and Williams, the two general education teachers in the study had greater access to school-based mentors who were knowledgeable about their curriculum, and they were less dependent on their general education colleagues in defining and carrying out their roles. Further, while their principals played important roles in supporting their professional growth, they were less dependent on them in building relationships with colleagues or meeting their responsibilities. As a first-year teacher in 2006-07, for example, Elise Volcker was assigned to a mentor at Barnaby Elementary who also taught third grade. In Volcker’s words, “I talk to her every day because she is in third grade. A third grade teacher.” For the most part, their conversations centered on the language arts and mathematics curricula. Volcker described her relationship with her mentor as being “very helpful” and mentioned even being able to talk with her for an hour on a Sunday about a school-related issue. She also mentioned talking with her mentor and the other third-grade teacher at Barnaby about classroom management and discipline.


In terms of her principal, Volcker reported that he encouraged her to observe other teachers at Barnaby and secured resources for her to attend additional professional development related to the Four Blocks approach to language arts. In addition, her principal observed her four times as part of the district’s evaluation system. After each observation, he sent her a sheet with several questions about her behaviors and the learning activities he observed. According to Volcker, “the principal looks at everything from classroom management and instruction to classroom environment and relationships between the teacher and students.” At the same time, she relied much less on her principal in defining her role at the school or maintaining her relationships with colleagues than did her special education counterparts, Potter and Williams.


Like Volcker, Maria Helton was matched with a school-based mentor, the reading specialist at Murray Elementary, in her first year of teaching, 2005-06. During that year, they had regular meeting times and they attended district trainings for mentors and mentees after school. In addition to their meetings, Helton’s mentor taught reading and writing lessons once a week in her classroom in 2005-06 and 2006-07. In 2006-07, she continued to talk with her mentor a few days a week whenever she had questions or needed materials. According to Helton, “I talk to her about everything” (language arts, math, students) “because she has been around for awhile.” Along with her mentor, Helton talked frequently with the other fifth-grade teachers at her school about curricular issues and students, as well as the fourth-grade teachers. With regard to her principal, Helton was observed four times in each of her first two years and, during postobservation conferences, they would discuss students, the curriculum, and classroom management strategies. While Volcker reported that her principal served as a strong instructional leader and a source of motivation for her, she did not feel dependent on her in terms of defining her role at the school or establishing or maintaining relationships with other teachers there.


In sum, the two beginning special educators, Potter and Williams, did not have access to school-based mentors who were knowledgeable about their curricula. Further, they faced severe challenges in setting up their work schedules and establishing relationships with general education colleagues at their schools. In both cases, their principals played key roles in helping them to define their roles and ensuring that general education teachers accepted them and their views of their roles. Both individuals also benefited significantly from support from social workers at their schools, who helped them with IEPs, students, and other issues. In contrast, the two general education teachers, Volcker and Williams, had less need than the special educators to define their roles in relation to others at their schools. Further, while Volcker and Williams both had access to school-based mentors who were knowledgeable about their curricula as well as supportive general education colleagues and principals, they were less dependent on these individuals.   


DISCUSSION


The findings from this study suggest that the curricular and role expectations placed on beginning special education teachers differed substantially from those placed on novice general education teachers, that new special educators were much more dependent on their general education colleagues in defining their roles and carrying out their responsibilities, and that they were expected to develop relationships with a greater number and wider range of individuals. In addition, beginning elementary special educators seemed particularly dependent on their principals for help in defining their roles and establishing productive relationships with general education teachers. But what accounts for the variations in the expectations experienced by these groups of teachers? And what aspects of principal leadership seemed to contribute to positive induction experiences for these novices? In this section, we first examine how federal policies have significantly increased the role expectations for special education teachers. Then we consider how school leadership can help new special education teachers to address the expectations placed on them and negotiate productive relationships with their colleagues.


In public schools in the United States, IDEA emphasizes that children with disabilities should participate in general education settings as much as possible. Thus, special educators have a legal obligation to devise IEPs for students with special needs and establish productive relationships with general education colleagues in order to maximize the amount of time that such students are in general education classrooms. In this sense, their roles and responsibilities can be seen as significantly different from those of general educators. But for new special educators, these challenges can be compounded in a variety of ways. In many schools, especially at the elementary level, beginning special educators do not have school-based colleagues with similar training or responsibilities. As seen in the cases of Kelly Potter and Ann Williams, even when they are assigned to formal mentors, these mentors often do not work at their schools or are unfamiliar with their curricula and roles. Further, general education elementary teachers are generally accustomed to teaching in their own classrooms with the same group of students throughout the day. The notion that special education teachers will co-teach in their (i.e., general education) rooms and work with small groups of their students in and outside their rooms can be threatening and provoke resistance, as seen in the case of Potter.


Along with IDEA, NCLB mandates that students with special needs be included in the administration of state reading, writing, and mathematics tests. Thus, schools and districts have clear incentives to maximize the amount of instruction such students receive in these core content areas. But, as seen in Potter’s case, it can be difficult for a beginning special educator to convince general educators to co-teach inclusive classes or to set high academic expectations for students with disabilities, especially if these colleagues are older, have more teaching experience, and/or have been at the school longer. When principals and district officials do not make inclusion a top priority, they not only leave novice special education teachers vulnerable to the whims of experienced general education teachers who do not support inclusion; they also fail to ensure that their schools are in compliance with IDEA and NCLB.


In considering how principals, mentors, and colleagues can support new special education teachers, the findings from this study indicate that it may be important to consider both (1) the individual special education teacher’s curricular and instruction practices (i.e., her direct work with students) and (2) the extent to which novice special educators are integrated into their school faculties (i.e., the nature of their professional relationships). Principals can play a key role with regard to (1) in a number of ways. First, they can provide clear guidance in terms of curricular expectations. Second, they can ensure that new special education teachers have access to mentors or colleagues who are knowledgeable about their curriculum and the types of disabilities with which they are working (Whitaker, 2000). Further, school leaders can support novices by identifying appropriate professional development activities and arranging for them to participate in such activities (Youngs & King, 2002).


But principals can also play a critical role by communicating their beliefs about inclusion to all school staff, taking steps to ensure that special educators are integrated into core content instruction, and reducing the degree of isolation that many experience. When school leaders help new special educators establish and maintain productive work relationships in their schools (with both general educators and other special educators), they increase the likelihood that both groups will have common learning goals, that they will collaborate on instruction, and that faculty will share responsibility for students’ academic progress and behavior (Lee & Loeb, 2000; Newmann et al., 1996). Over time, for example, Potter and Williams came to share common instructional objectives with their general education colleagues and experience fairly strong collaborative cultures at their schools. In contrast, when novice special educators have weaker or more limited professional relationships, the extent to which they are influenced by same-field mentors or clear curricular guidelines may be lessened because they may feel less integrated into their schools and less supported by their colleagues.


CONCLUSION, IMPLICATIONS


Given the challenging work conditions faced by beginning special education teachers, it seems necessary for school administrators and district policy makers to consider new ways of organizing induction for such novices that will support full inclusion of students with special needs. By analyzing the expectations placed on new special and general education teachers and the varying ways in which they negotiated professional relationships, this article suggests new ways to conceptualize and structure induction support in special education. We argue that beginning special educators exert tremendous amounts of effort in creating and modifying curriculum, addressing ambiguity in their assignments, and building relationships with colleagues. Thus, 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. Other studies have documented the professional isolation and role ambiguity experienced by beginning special educators (Billingsley, 2004; Gersten et al., 2001; Miller et al., 1999; Zabel & Zabel, 2001). This study builds on earlier work to describe the curricular, instructional, and role expectations that such teachers confront, to contrast these expectations with those experienced by new general educators, and to consider how both groups make sense of and respond to the expectations placed on them. As compared to their general education counterparts, we found that the two novice special educators in the study allocated much more time and effort to devising and modifying curricula, co-teaching classes, and forging relationships with general education colleagues. Thus, ensuring access to within-school mentors who are special educators, as well as providing explicit curricular expectations, should be a key aspect of induction for special educators.


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. The new special educators in the study, Kelly Potter and Ann Williams, did not have access to same-field mentors or colleagues in their schools; this was a function of school size and the nature of the disabilities at their schools. For these teachers, their principals were critical in helping them to establish their roles, develop productive relationships with colleagues, and carry out their responsibilities. While researchers have documented the key roles that principals play in induction and professional development for general education teachers (Youngs, 2007b; Carver, 2003; Coburn, 2001; Goldstein, 2004), there has been less attention to how school leaders affect novice special educators’ experiences. The findings from this study suggest that principals may be able to support such novices by communicating with all school staff about the importance of inclusion and ensuring that special educators are well integrated into their faculties.


Third, based on the results presented here, 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. When general and special education faculty have common learning goals, when they collaborate on instruction, and when responsibility for student learning is shared, it seems likely that novice special educators will face clearer curricular and role expectations and will be able to establish productive relationships with their general education colleagues. This notion builds on research that has documented the importance of such relationships for efforts to implement curricular or technology reforms (Coburn & Russell, 2008; Frank et al., 2004). Such collaborative relationships also seem relevant for efforts to integrate special educators into their schools and effectively address the requirements of IDEA and NCLB.


LIMITATIONS


In terms of limitations, this study focused on a relatively small number of special education and general education teachers in one school district in Michigan. In future research on the induction experiences of special education teachers, it will be important to include larger numbers of teachers in multiple districts and/or multiple states. Second, the challenges faced by the two special education teachers in the sample may have been due in part to the fact that their schools were moving toward, but had not achieved, full inclusion. Thus, it would be useful for future research to examine the curricular and role expectations faced by beginning teachers in schools characterized by full inclusion. Third, this study did not investigate how teacher education affected the participants’ induction experiences. Professional preparation can influence novice teachers’ abilities to function, cope with challenges, and thrive in their first years of teaching, as well as their dispositions toward sharing expertise and responsibility for student learning. In future research, it would be helpful to assess the impact of different preparation experiences on new special and general education teachers.


Finally, the findings reported here suggest the importance of principals and relationships with general education colleagues for new special educator induction, but we were not able to discern significant quantitative relationships between these factors and the new teachers’ induction experiences. Therefore, a goal for future research could be to use larger datasets to examine connections between (1) principal leadership, (2) special education teachers’ relationships with general education colleagues, and (3) the induction experiences of and key outcomes for beginning special education teachers.


Acknowledgment


This paper was supported by funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Any opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the supporting agency.


Notes


1. There seem to be two main reasons for the fact that few research studies have examined beginning special education teachers and beginning general education teachers as part of the same research design: (1) the professional work lives of these two groups of teachers have traditionally been viewed as separate, and (2) researchers who have studied special education teachers generally do not also study general education teachers, and vice versa. With special education students and teachers being increasingly integrated into general education classrooms (i.e., core content instruction), there is a growing need for research studies that investigate both groups of teachers simultaneously.

2. The 10 districts in the larger study ranged in size from 8,242 students in grades K–12 to 27,066 students, the percentages of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches ranged from 29% to 64%, and the percentages of racial minority students ranged from 19% to 83%.

3. Pseudonyms are used for the district, schools, and teachers named in this paper.

4. We sought special education teachers who were responsible for academic instruction and general education teachers who were teaching in core content areas (e.g., reading, writing, mathematics) because we were interested in understanding possible connections between resources (e.g., mentors, colleagues, professional development) and new teachers’ experiences determining, negotiating, and meeting the curricular, instructional, and role expectations placed on them. We sought teachers who were teaching full-time because we believed that their needs and instructional growth would be different from part-time teachers and that they were more likely to develop close working relationships with mentors, colleagues, and/or principals. We sought teachers who had earned standard certificates because we felt that their needs and instructional growth would be different from teachers who had entered the profession through alternative or emergency routes.

5. There is no reason to believe that those new teachers in Kaline who volunteered to participate in the interview study had significantly different induction experiences compared to those who did not volunteer their participation. Indeed, there are several reasons why the induction experiences of the two groups (i.e., those who volunteered to participate and those who did not) were similar. For one, first-year teachers in both districts were invited to participate in the study in September 2006, at a time when they were just beginning to develop relationships with mentors and other colleagues; this decreases the likelihood that only novices receiving strong support would have selected to participate and vice versa. Second, the experiences of special education and general education teachers in Kaline were strikingly similar within—but not across—these two groups

6. The interview protocols used with the special education teachers and the general education teachers are included in the Appendix.

7. The lead author and the second author of the manuscript were responsible for coding the interview data.

8. See Table 1 in the Appendix for more information about the students served by the four study participants.


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APPENDIX


Table 1. Study Participants (2006-07)


    Name

       Position/Students

        

         Year of

School

       Teaching


Kelly Potter

Special Education, Grades 2–5; learning disabilities, speech/language impairments, Asperger’s syndrome

1st year

DeGrosta Elementary School

Ann Williams

Special Education, Grades 1–5; learning disabilities, autism, emotional impairments, cognitive impairments

2nd year

Bentley Elementary School

Maria Helton

General Education, Grade 5; learning disabilities

2nd year

Edwards Elementary School

Elise Volcker

General Education, Grade 3; learning disabilities

1st year

Barnaby Elementary School


Definitions of Terms


Asperger’s Syndrome: A developmental disorder characterized by impairment in language and communication skills, as well as repetitive or restrictive patterns of thought and behavior. The most distinguishing symptom of Asperger’s is a child’s obsessive interest in a single object or topic to the exclusion of any other.

Autism: A developmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests.

Cognitive Impairments: Disorders that affect the ability to understand or use spoken or written language or do mathematical calculations.

Emotional Impairments: Disorders that affect the ability to understand or communicate one’s emotions.

Learning Disabilities: Disorders that affect the ability to understand or use spoken or written language, do mathematical calculations, coordinate movements, or direct attention.

Speech/Language Impairments: Disorders that affect the ability to use spoken language


Table 2. Initial and Final Codes


   

Initial Codes

    

            

Final Codes

Background, Student Teaching

Background, Teaching Assignment

Beliefs About Teaching

Curricular and Instructional Expectations

Classroom Management

Role Expectations

Commitment to Teaching

Content/Frequency of Interactions with Mentor

Curriculum

Content/Frequency of Interactions with Special Education Colleagues

Dist. Curriculum/Special Education Coordinators

Content/Frequency of Interactions with General Education Colleagues

General Education Colleagues

Content/Frequency of Interactions with Principal

Induction, Professional Development

Content/Frequency of Participation in Induction and Professional Development

Instruction

Teacher Evaluation

Mentor

 

Organization of School for Special Education

 

Parents

 

Principal

 

Role, Learning About Role

 

Special Education Colleagues

 

Student Assessment

 

Students with Special Needs

 

Teacher Evaluation

 

Teacher Assignment

 


2006-07 EARLY CAREER SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER INTERVIEW QUESTIONS


Initial Questions


1.

Could you describe your background, your current responsibilities, and how long you have been teaching at this school?

 

2.

Could you describe how your school organizes special education?


3.

For which students (grade level and disability category) are you responsible?


4.

Could you describe the curriculum you are responsible for teaching?


5.

How have you learned about the curriculum (i.e., the main topics and themes) that you are expected to teach?

6.

Could you describe any other job responsibilities that you have specific to special education?


7.

How have you learned about the school’s expectations for how you should complete these responsibilities?

8.

Do you have a formally designated mentor?


9.

How often do you meet or talk with your mentor about work-related issues?


10.

What do you discuss when you meet or talk with your mentor?


11.

How often do you meet or talk with special education colleagues?


12.

What do you discuss when you meet or talk with your colleague(s)?


13.

How often do you meet or talk with one of your grade-level colleagues?


14.

What do you discuss when you meet or talk with these colleagues?


15.

Name 3 individuals at the school who have provided you with the most useful assistance related to your work.


Follow-Up Questions


16.

As a first-year teacher, do you receive any other forms of support from your district?


17.

Do school administrators and staff have a consistent, effective approach to discipline and managing student behavior?


18.

Do people at your school take your ideas seriously? How comfortable do you feel sharing your opinions?


19.

To what degree do you feel committed to teaching special education next year? In five years?


20. To what degree do you feel committed to teaching in your school next year? In five years?


2006-07 EARLY CAREER GENERAL EDUCATION TEACHER INTERVIEW QUESTIONS


Initial Questions


1.

Could you describe your background in education and prior professional experience?


2.

Could you describe your current responsibilities and how long you have been teaching at this school?


3.

Could you describe the language arts curriculum at your school and in your district?


4.

How have you learned about the language arts curriculum for your grade(s) at this school?


5.

Could you describe the mathematics curriculum at your school and in your district?


6.

How have you learned about the mathematics curriculum for your grade(s) at this school?


7.

How often do you meet or talk with one or more colleagues?


8.

What do you discuss when you meet or talk with one or more colleagues?


9.

Do you have a formally designated mentor?


10.

How often do you meet or talk with your mentor about work-related issues?


11.

What do you discuss when you meet or talk with your mentor?


Follow-Up Questions


12. Could you describe the teacher evaluation process at this school?


13. How often do you meet or talk with your principal?


14. What do you discuss when you meet or talk with your principal?


15. Do school administrators and staff have a consistent, effective approach to discipline and managing student behavior?


16. Do people at your school take your ideas seriously? How comfortable did you feel sharing your opinion?


17. Do you know the union representatives in your school or district?




Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 7, 2011, p. 1506-1540
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16097, Date Accessed: 10/21/2021 2:43:40 PM

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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 teachersí 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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