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Agency in Real Time? Situating Teachers’ Efforts Toward Inclusion in the Context of Local and Enduring Struggles

by Srikala Naraian - 2014

Background: Teacher preparation for critical special education and inclusive education is premised on the ways in which dominant schooling discourses have unfairly positioned students with disabilities and their families. The hope of such teacher preparation programs is that through careful socialization into anti-oppressive discourses, teacher candidates will develop the capacity to go forth into troubled schooling systems and actively work against practices that perpetuate norms of dis/ability. Fundamental to such conceptualizations of teacher preparation is the presumption of teacher agency as a prerequisite for working toward equity in schools. Departing from conceptions of agency as a stable internal property that can be transported across contexts, I adopt a situated notion of agency to disclose teachers’ activities at the confluence of multiple schooling discourses. I deploy the framework of Holland and Lave to both unravel the local and enduring struggles that inform the discursive contexts in which efforts toward inclusion are made and disclose the cultural forms that emerge from the authoring of educators in the project of inclusion.

Research Questions:I reviewed the data generated at four different sites from 2006 to 2011 during the implementation of separate studies that I conducted to investigate inclusive practices. Those inquiries broadly examined how schooling/classroom conditions produce (in)equitable opportunities for students with disabilities. For this project, I re-examined the same data to ask the following questions: What are the particular conflicts and struggles that characterize the engagement of school practitioners seeking to implement inclusively oriented practices? Specifically, how do local discourses/conflicts within schools inform the production of specific forms of inclusive practice?

Research Design: All of the studies were ethnographically oriented and privileged a narrative exploration of participant experiences. Sources of data included participant observations and semistructured interviews. Additional data sources across sites included student work samples, school newsletters, electronic communication with participants, and informal exchanges with students and teachers in the classrooms. Each of the studies that were included in the cross-case analysis within this project was subject to separate and complete data analysis followed by a series of qualitatively written products reflecting the particular questions that guided each study. For this project, data were re-examined inductively with deliberate attention to the framework suggested by Holland and Lave.

Conclusions: Teacher education discourses that privilege a politics of polarity (inclusion vs. exclusion) may be insufficient to meet the complicated demands of enabling inclusivity in practice. I draw on the inevitable entanglement of diverse commitments within educators’ practices to suggest that inclusion as an act of deferring may be a helpful complement to those efforts. A pedagogy of deferral privileges the pragmatic negotiation with local and widely circulating discourses while upholding long-term commitments such as the disruption of norms of ability.

The preparation of teachers of students with disabilities is premised on acknowledging the widespread inequities that have historically characterized the experiences of individuals with disabilities in society (Shapiro, 1994). This remains congruent with the growing recognition of socially just teaching as a crucial frame for teacher education (Cochran-Smith et al., 2009). However, with the balkanization of the special education profession resulting from the perceived urgency to widen expertise in numerous categories of deficit identified within students, attention to inequity has been partially obscured by the proliferation of skills deemed necessary to restore students to a valued status within society (Michalko, 2002). The scholarship on inclusive education that emerged from a critical engagement with special education has, therefore, sought to reinstate the issue of (in)equity at the foundational core of special education (Brantlinger, 2006; Ware, 2010). Teacher preparation for critical special education and inclusive education, therefore, begins with the ways in which dominant schooling discourses have unfairly positioned students with disabilities and their families, commits to a valuation of their knowledge, and concomitantly overturns the control of the meanings of disability by professional narratives (Biklen, 2005; Booth, Nes, & Stromstad, 2003). The hope of such teacher preparation programs (not unlike other programs that are grounded in principles of social justice) is that through careful socialization into anti-oppressive discourses, teacher candidates will develop the capacity to go forth into troubled schooling systems and actively work against practices that perpetuate norms of dis/ability (Booth, Nes, & Stromstad, 2003; Oyler, 2011; Slee, 2011).

Fundamental to such conceptualizations of teacher preparation is the presumption of teacher agency as a prerequisite for working toward equity in schools (Anderson, 2010). Yet, while there may be some accounts of how teachers have worked against ableist practices, we know little about how teachers experience their own agency in this regard and the trajectory of their professional identities when doing so within difficult schooling contexts (Agarwal, Epstein, Oppenheim, Oyler, & Sonu, 2010; Ware, 2001). Framing agency in teaching for social justice as resistance to inequitable schooling conditions automatically triggers certain kinds of questions: What are the forms of resistance in which teachers engage? What qualities distinguish those who resist inequitable conditions from those who seem unable to do the same? What are the components of agentive response to inequitable schooling conditions and practices (Paris & Lung, 2008)? Such questions carry a singular theorization of agency as a stable internal property that can be transported across contexts. This simultaneously evokes a deficit model in understanding teacher activity for social justice where, regardless of the principled basis of resistance, teachers are seen as either actively confronting systems or passively colluding with them (Achinstein & Ogawa, 2006).

Increasingly, however, more situated accounts have begun to emerge that are more likely to describe teachers decision making as inseparable from their developing subjectivities within particular discursive contexts (M. Priestly, Edwards, & Priestly, 2012; Sloan, 2006). Agency is seen as a capacity that develops over time and may emerge differently in various contexts. Holland, Lachiotte, Skinner, and Cain (1998) frame such unpredictability in terms of improvisations that, over successive encounters, build the potential for individuals to adopt singular trajectories of activity. Holland and Lave (2001) deepen such theoretical formulations of situated agency by adopting the struggles that characterize individuals local contexts of practice as the starting point for analyses of individual decision making. They propose that widespread cultural discourses are mediated by local struggles, and that individuals subjectivities are formed as they partake of those discourses when participating in such local conflicts.

In this paper, I adopt the framework proposed by Holland and Lave (2001) to examine the work of teachers engaged in supporting the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms. By disclosing teacher activity at the confluence of multiple schooling discourses, I will illustrate that the focus on local contentious practice (Holland & Lave, 2001) can invest their decision making with greater complexity. My purpose is to underscore the potentially infinite meanings of inclusion when considered as a form of socially just teaching, while always presuming teachers agency in their efforts to accomplish its goals. I reviewed the data generated at five different sites from 2006 to 2011 during the implementation of separate studies that I conducted to investigate inclusive practices. The studies involved multiple schooling contextsurban elementary, suburban elementary, and suburban high schooland included a variety of professionals, including general educators, special educators, dual-certified teachers, therapists, paraprofessionals, and a parent coordinator. All of these studies utilized ethnographic methods and generated rich data on the sociocultural context within which educators sought to implement inclusively oriented practices (Naraian, 2008a, 2008b, 2010a, 2010b, 2011; Naraian & Oyler, 2013). While prior data analyses reflected the specific research priorities within each studypeer relations between students with and without disabilities, significant disability as a lens to understand inclusive classrooms, and professional development for inclusive practicethis paper emerges from a re-examination of the data using the framework proposed by Holland and Lave (2001).


Two important strands may be discerned in the critical education research on preparing teachers to work inclusively with students with disabilities. One seeks to foreground the fundamental and necessary challenge to dominant discourses on dis/ability and difference that can inform novice and experienced teachers approaches to students with disabilities (e.g., Ballard, 2002; Peters & Reid, 2009; also see Slee, 2011; Ware, 2010). This scholarship has accomplished both a re-cognition of special education as premised on etic rather than emic perspectives of disability and a reassessment of schooling systems in general as perpetuating norms of ability that disadvantage students from many historically marginalized groups, including students with disabilities (Baglieri, Bejoian, Broderick, Connor, & Valle, 2011; Dudley-Marling & Gurn, 2010; P. M. Ferguson & Ferguson, 1995; Ferri & Connor, 2006; Gabel, 2005). The presumption here is that examining the sociopolitical context of disability and interrogating notions of normalcy and difference is conceptually prior to innovative teacher practices that can support a range of student learning profiles. The other strand prioritizes teachers reassessment of their conceptions of student learning as a prerequisite for developing the competence to create hospitable classroom environments for diverse learners (e.g., Florian, Young, & Rouse, 2010; Hart, Dixon, Drummond, & McIntyre, 2004; Jordan, Schwartz, & McGhie-Richmond, 2009). This scholarship does not eschew the ideological underpinnings of the movement for equitable instruction for students with disabilities, but remains focused on the pragmatic context of articulating those ideals. Descriptions of teachers inclusive practice in this scholarship offer portraits of hope to spark imaginations for teaching in inclusive ways.

Unavailable in either strand are finely developed accounts of teacher decision making for inclusive practice that capture the complexity of navigating multiple schooling discourses, curricular expectations, and instructional priorities that characterize the practice of teaching in most schooling environments today. In the absence of a substantive account of teachers everyday equity work, theorizations of inclusive pedagogy can easily become confined to broad, ahistorical prescriptions for practice that are detached from contextual specificities (Artiles & Dyson, 2005). Not surprisingly, the notion of teacher agency implicit in this collective scholarship may acknowledge the significance of the context in nurturing teachers sense of efficacy in undertaking teaching for social justice, but still remains located within the individual (Agarwal et al., 2010; McLean, 2008; Peters & Reid, 2009; Rice, 2006). Such formulations are not atypical in the broad research on the experiences of teachers grappling with narrow education mandates and inequitable conditions (Achinstein & Ogawa, 2006).

Recent studies into teacher decision making, however, have used a situated account of agency that sees it as not only intertwined with social context of practice within which it emerges, but also as inseparable from past experiences and future projections of individuals (M. Priestly, Edwards, & Priestly, 2012; Sloan, 2006). In other words, teachers historically formed subjectivities intersect with the material and social conditions of their practice to generate specific assessments of choices available in the present that can accomplish goals oriented to the future. This generates different repertoires of practice to maneuver when working within those conditions. The capacity for agency, therefore, remains fluid and shifting in relation to the individuals encounter with his or her social and material worlds. The intersection of such identity practices and socially just teaching is imbricated within an education for anti-oppressive pedagogy (Kumashiro, 2002).

These identity practices occur with and against other selves within discursive contexts where more enduring historical struggles are infused into locally situated conflicts (Holland & Lave, 2001). Deploying the tenets of dialogism, Holland and Lave contend that the struggles of persons across differences are always predicated on the fundamental addressivity of their coexistence, which requires a response to any received utterance or text. Engaging with conflict, then, always presupposes answering contentious ideas and others. Participating in such mandatory dialogue within local contexts that inevitably carry traces of many immediate and long-term struggles, persons form unique subjectivities, develop various cultural forms of practice, and initiate multiple trajectories of action. By choosing local contentious practice as a starting point for analyses instead of beginning with persons, Holland and Lave offer a mechanism to disrupt direct unproblematic affiliations between widespread cultural discourses and individual subjectivities. Instead, this approach redirects the effort toward tracing out the practices of identification within local conflicts that mediate enduring sociohistorical discourses and struggles.

The utility of this framework to understand the practices of teachers committed to equitable pedagogy for students with disabilities lies in its capacity to disclose the images, texts, and forms that index both teacher agency and the many partial struggles (local and enduring) that have currency within that context. As products of self-authoring, such cultural forms and practices can afford individual persons and groups the tools and opportunities for answering hegemonic discourses and to reposition themselves accordingly. Unearthing the cultural genres produced by educators engaged in enacting their commitments to students with disabilities and their families discloses the interplay of identities with local and long-term struggles and the process by which some identities are foregrounded and others are forced out. Most significantly, it permits recognition that struggles do not occur as universal processes through which participants race singlemindedly toward a goal or join general stampedes for a particular exit (Holland & Lave, 2001, p. 27). Indeed, it affirms the fundamentally unpredictable forms of teacher answers to anti-oppressive discourses while always supporting a situative perspective on teacher learning (Borko, 2004; Kumashiro, 2002). The urgency to establish the relevance of anti-ableist and anti-oppressive discourses for the material realities of teachinglearning conditions call for teacher educators to straddle commitments both to students with disabilities and to a situative perspective on teacher learning. Beginning with the struggles in which educators are engaged when seeking to enact equity in practice ensures that research remains in step with the ways they formulate their questions and the challenges they encounter in addressing them (Booth, Nes, & Stromstad, 2003).



The qualitative studies from which this paper is drawn were undertaken at various Midwestern and Northeastern locations in the United States from 2006 to 2011 (Naraian, 2008a, 2010a, 2011; Naraian & Oyler, 2013). Three of those sites were schools/classrooms where students with significant disabilities were included with their nondisabled peers. Two were elementary classrooms (one urban and one suburban) while the third was a suburban high school. As primary researcher at these sites, I immersed myself in these classrooms, collecting data through ethnographic methods of extensive participantobservation, interviews, and document analysis. Participants included students with disabilities, their peers, families, educators, therapists, and administrators. The fourth site was a universitydistrict professional development partnership on strengthening familyschool relations in which I served as the lead facilitator. Though this did not include participantobservation at a school site, field notes from the yearlong professional development opportunity (meetings were held once a month) coupled with interviews with participants (school personnel engaged in supporting the transition to inclusive practices in the city) supplemented earlier data obtained from schools. Table 1 describes the sources of data for each of the studies revisited for this paper.

Table 1. Summary of data sources for each study within cross-case analysis

Research Sites

Primary Data Sources*

First-grade general education classroom (suburban):

One student with multiple disabilities, one student with physical disabilities, one English language learner, and several students labeled as gifted

One general education teacher; support from one resource special education teacher; and one paraprofessional

Approximately 130 hours of participantobservation over 56 months

Interviews with classroom teacher (2); special education teacher (1); therapists (2); paraprofessional (1); school principal (1); families of students in the classroom (6)

Research focus: Peer narratives of disability in an inclusive classroom (elementary)

Tenth-grade classes in high school setting (suburban):

One focal student with significant disabilities who attended several general education classes as well as classes designed specifically for students receiving special education

Focal student supported by 1 paraprofessional; at least 3 general education teachers; and 2 special education teachers

Approximately 75 hours of participantobservation over 34 months

Interviews: High school students (21); special education teacher (1); 1 general education teacher (1); paraprofessional (1); family of student with significant disabilities (2)

Research focus: Peer narratives of significant disability in contexts of inclusion (secondary)

First grade collaboratively taught classroom (urban):

Included one student with multiple disabilities, at least two students with physical disabilities, and several with other labels of disability

1 general education teacher, 1 special education teacher, 3 paraprofessionals

Approx. 70 hours of participantobservation over 6 months

Interviews: General education teacher (2); special education teachers (4); speech therapists (2); paraprofessional (1); families of students in the classroom (8)

Research focus: The implementation of an inclusive classroom community

Professional development (urban university-school partnership):

PD participants included special educators, related service providers, parentschool facilitators, and administrators.

Field notes from monthly professional development (PD) sessions (3 hours per session) for 9 months; 3 interviews with 3 PD participants (9)

Research focus: Process of shifting to inclusive practices

Note. *Additional data sources across sites included student work samples, school newsletters, electronic communication with PD participants, and informal exchanges with students and teachers in the classrooms.


All of the studies privileged a narrative exploration of participant experiences (Bruner, 1986; Clandinin & Connolly, 1996; Polkinghorne, 1988) as they grappled with the process of achieving inclusion for students with disabilities. Broadly, the main purpose of these studies was to answer the question: How do schooling/classroom conditions produce (in)equitable opportunities for students with disabilities? For this project, I re-examined the same data to ask the following questions: What are the particular conflicts and struggles that characterize the engagement of school practitioners seeking to implement inclusively oriented practices? Specifically, how do local discourses/conflicts within schools inform the production of specific forms of inclusive practice? How does the participation of school practitioners in such discourses mediate their professional identities? My earlier analyses drew unequivocally on disability studies in education scholarship to question the interplay of social and academic norms in the construction of some students (i.e. those with disabilities) as different from others (Gabel, 2005; Slee, 2011; Ware, 2001). My research focus for this project, unlike my earlier analyses, will not, counterintuitively, privilege the experiences of students with disabilities. While I retain my concern for equitable schooling for students with disabilities, I now privilege the experiences of educators in their attempts to create such opportunities for their students. My purpose is to restore the importance of teacher agency within the discourse on inclusive schooling rather than to investigate the mechanics of inclusion (though that is certainly no insignificant goal).

Scholarly guidance on conducting cross-case analysis recommends completing in-depth case studies separately before embarking on comparisons across cases (Bogdan & Biklen, 2007; Merriam, 2009). Each of the studies that will be included in the cross-case analysis within this project has been subject to separate and complete data analysis followed by a series of qualitatively written products reflecting the particular questions that guided each study (Naraian, 2008a, 2008b, 2010a, 2010b, 2010c, 2011; Naraian & Oyler, 2013). A constant comparative method was used to analyze the data in all cases and, in keeping with narrative analysis, longer segments of data were preserved during the coding process (Merriam, 2009; Reissman, 2008). For this project, data were re-examined inductively with deliberate attention to the framework suggested by Holland and Lave (2001). To accomplish this goal, I troubled my own location as a researcher familiar with the fine distinctions between meanings of inclusion within mainstream special education and inclusive education scholarship. I exercised vigilance in monitoring my own responses to the narratives of participants that privileged an understanding of dis/ability not shared by them. Even as I identified a generalized, overarching ideology of ability (Siebers, 2008) in teaching practices, I continually deflected attention from individual belief systems to locate and unravel the discursive context within which participants enacted their commitments. This form of doubled reading (Lather, 2007) ensured that the findings of this study could be grounded in the perspectives of the actors, particularly, educators.

Coding the data across studies yielded several categories that intersected with each other in complex ways. Specifically, the global categories of time, interfaces of general and special education, and personhood emerged as closely related to specific categories of instructional experience, including individualized learning, functional curriculum, accessing general education, measurement/accountability of student learning, professional competence/confusion, and implementing community. I have tried to capture the interrelated nature of these categories in the matrix below (Table 2). Appendix A contains an expanded table that includes sample raw data from which each category was derived.

Table 2. Matrix of categories*

Specific Categories of Instructional Experience

Global Categories


Interfaces of General and Special Education Systems


Individualized Planning


Functional Curriculum


Accessing General Education


Measurement/Accountability of Student Learning


Professional Competence/Professional Confusion


Implementing Community


Note. *Data samples for each section in the matrix are provided in Appendix A

The category of time encompassed the full breadth of its use in participant narratives, i.e., its diachronic character (marking periods of different length) as well as its properties that called for its use in specific ways. Similarly, interfaces of general and special education described the numerous sites of instructional practice where general and special education structures coalesced, colluded, collided, or simply encountered each other, producing specific effects that impacted educators understanding of inclusion. The emergence of personhood was more subtle, though nonetheless persistent, in its intersection with other categories, thereby reflecting its significance for implementing inclusive education. Implementing community intersected strongly with these global categories, but in the practice of elementary educators also subsumed others that included adult mediation of student learning and behavior, academic vs. social-emotional development, relations with families, and professional collaboration.

In the following sections, I build on the data analysis to describe the ways multiple discourses in schools coalesced to produce specific trajectories of inclusion. Specifically, I will illustrate how the theme of time and the structures of general and special education intersected within educators practices to construct inclusion in partial, often inadequate ways. Drawing on a broadened frame of access (Titchkosky, 2011) that encompasses not only the specific category of access to general education but all categories within this axis, I will further disclose how the notions of personhood fused with the project of enhancing accessibility in classrooms. I will subsequently scrutinize the cultural genre of community as emergent within the practices of two elementary school teachers. I will conclude by offering a tentative conceptual route to an enactment of inclusion that imbricates teachers agency within complex schooling conditions.


Among the primary issues that educators identified as challenging their efforts to practice inclusion was the unavailability of time to immerse students in the experiences necessary to accomplish relevant education goals. Whether general educator or special educator, administrator or teacher, therapist or paraprofessional, all seemed to hold time partly responsible for the inadequacy or incompleteness of education programming for students with disabilities in contexts of inclusion. On the surface, most educators appeared to deploy a shared conception of time in understanding the purposes and aims of educational activity. Constructions of time in education have typically upheld a linear structure, though subjective experiences may well privilege its cyclical character (Clandinin & Connolly, 1986; Gray, 2004). Time, then, may be experienced as both linear and cyclical, depending on the vantage point of the observer (Orlikowski & Yates, 2002). When conceived linearly, time may be quantified, measured, managed, consumed, organized, distributed, planned for, via socially normed temporal structures, (e.g., the school year) to accomplish commonly accepted goals. Such management of time is deeply intertwined with the aims of the activities themselves that are usually predicated on a quest for certainty (Metcalfe & Game, 2007). For instance, schools demand that by the end of the academic year, students will be able to demonstrate proficiency in, say, a fixed set of mathematical concepts. Being (un)able to achieve these precise outcomes places students outside time as slow or fast learners, creating a space for delineating the normal or the special child (Gray, 2004).

The conflation of time and certainty has been a persistent characteristic of U.S. schooling. It coheres with the business model of efficiency that has historically informed the organization of schooling (Callahan, 1962; Orlikowski & Yates, 2002; Tyack & Cuban, 1995). Alternatively, the timescapes (Lofty, 1995) that accompany such temporal structuring have inevitably implicated goals, purposes, and values that, over time, assume a natural character. When early reformers like Samuel Gridley Howe retracted grand promises to educate students with disabilities and return them to society as contributing members (Trent, 1994), assumptions of normalcy were implicated as much as their conceptions of the effects of time. Yet, even as the quest for certainty did not deter many of these early educators from pursuing the path of intense institutionalization and fixed categorizations (Osgood, 2000; Trent, 1994; Tropea, 1987), so also special educators across the study sites appeared to have appropriated this tradition and adopted the imperative for establishing markers for certainty within routinized practice, e.g., deploying categories to describe students, achieving fine distinctions between categories and subscribing to level thinking (high-level, low-functioning, average, etc.). As Individualized Education Program (IEP)1 documents frequently attest, education goals for students with disabilities may require that after a fixed period of time, a student will be able to spell 4th grade level words with 90% accuracy, 80% of the time under specific learning conditions such as with prompting or independently. The inextricable entanglement of time and measurement has come to be naturalized within special education discourse.

Still, in the experiential context of inclusion, the intertwining of time and certainty is not easily established. Even as special and general educators across the research sites appeared to subscribe to a common conception of time, in practice, general education time could not be readily reconciled with special education time. Indeed, most educators seemed to agree that they were distinctly incompatible. Laura, a special education teacher in a high school, argued vigorously:

To me it is a lot more difficult to do community-based instruction because we are limited on time. We have two classes back to back, Everyday Math and Everyday English. And with those two classes, we can take them out. Well, at 10:30, they have to have lunch. We have to be back here at 1:30. And to me, that does not give enough time. Whereas, at Meadowview [self-contained school], we could leave in the morning. And so we had the full day. So if we did laundry, we could take what I consider the necessary time to watch them put the quarters in the machines. Here, [mainstream school], we are having to rush them through and so, are you really learning what you need . . . ? (Laura, interview, March 29, 2006).

Instruction time in the general education classroom simply could not permit the easy participation of students with disabilities. The time required to support a student with an augmentative device to communicate with others, or for another student to catch up with peers seemed to invariably signal the temporary nature of inclusion. Jessica, elementary classroom teacher, commented on peer responses: As they are progressing in their academics, I think for some of them it kind of slows them back and they dont want to take that pause (interview, March 22, 2006). In the context of reluctant middle and high school administrations to initiate substantive changes in schooling arrangements to support the inclusion of students with disabilities, one elementary school principal in the same district wondered about the relevance of the extraordinary efforts undertaken in her building to do the same.

The apparent incompatibility of special and general education time may be owed, in some part, to the established route for certainty within special education. At the core of special education is the concept of individualization, presumably unavailable within general education practice where needs are typically defined by chronological age (Goodman & Bond, 1993). This construct is codified in the Individualized Education Program (IEP)ii, a legally binding document that explicates the nature and parameters of specialized supports, services, and accommodations required by this student, a determination that must be based on a deep and thorough assessment of the students learning. Such individualization is accomplished by accounting for the way in which time is organized for this student. How much time in what kind of placement? How much time for therapy? How much extra time for tests? When will services begin and end? When will the plan be reviewed? Individualization, then, becomes a means by which special education programming can control and decelerate time for the student. Stephanie and Angie, two elementary special educators, while collaborating with their general education colleagues, insisted that they slow it down so that it was about what they [the students] need versus what we [the teachers] need (Stephanie, dual-certified teacher, and Angie, special educator, interview, February 27, 2009).

Notwithstanding the affordances of time-centered educational programming for ensuring some measure of accountability to students and their families, the coupling of individualization with presumed differences in time to learn between students with and without disabilities creates other indelible structures. It permits the reapportionment of time through specialized, separate (and presumably more efficacious) spaces for learning designed specifically for students with disabilities. Such spaces are distinguished by the intensity of the needs of individual students, characteristics largely predicated on rate of learning. Though rate of learning may well serve as an indicator for the effectiveness of instructional conditions (Berliner, 1990), by privileging rates of progress over nature and relevance of education goals, the concept of individualization breeds a vertical rather than horizontal structuring of special education (Goodman & Bond, 1993). It strengthens the linkage between objective evaluation and special education via the IEP, leading to a narrowed and impoverished curricular practice. How, and with what instruments will the students progress in this specific education goal be measured with accuracy? Such practices, in turn, allow the easy participation of special educators in the generalized measurement discourse while thickening the boundaries of their professional roles.

The relation between individualization and time was most readily evident in the discourse on functionality that pervaded the language of special educators, elementary or secondary. The emphasis on developing functional skills arose historically from the concern to develop a planned systematic curriculum that would be relevant for students with moderate to significant disabilities (Browder & Spooner, 2006). The significance attached to functionality as a component of individualized pedagogy, in conjunction with the restrictions on manipulating time in the general education building, served to rationalize instruction in separate specialized locations. As Lauras earlier comment illustrated, how could she teach a student with multiple impairments to use the toaster as specified in her IEP when there was no space in the general education building to do so effectively, or when the foods curriculum followed by mainstream students did not permit such extended learning opportunities? Ironically, equally present in educator stories was the suggestion of functionality as an oppressive structuring of time (its repetitive nature could make it tedious for students and teachers) that was not reflective of any specialized knowledge base. Yet, as the same stories suggested, the principle of individualization required not only that functionality be addressed in curricular decision making but that not to do so would be a waste of time for that student.

The construction of time (and the commitments to measurement and certainty embedded within it), in relation to individualized pedagogy, therefore, left intact the divisions between general and special education. Not surprisingly, special educators seeking inclusive experiences for their students remained deeply sympathetic to the concerns of general educators in preserving the sanctity of time and acquiesced to their priorities rather than demand classroom-wide concessions. Kristine Hanson, a special educator working to facilitate the inclusion of a student with significant disabilities, could then see both sides and simply strived to be an informed professional who could support her student in either setting. For her, functionality served as a means to assuage the oppressive effects of time spent in classrooms where the academic content bore little relation to the students individualized goals for learning. So, supporting the student in recycling materials within the building could instantiate a valid education goal. Kristine of course, might or might not have recognized the possibility that such an activity could slide into an isolated learning experience, again reinforcing the distance between general and special education curriculums.

For Paul, a high school special educator who worked with students with a range of disability labels, it may be possible to teach some abilities in the general education classroom, but teach them all? The merging of the discourses of time and individualization equally enlisted general education practice in diffusing the meanings of inclusion. For instance, easier or low-level courses could be offered to all students at the high school with the full expectation that students with various labels of disability would be the primary enrollees in the course. In order to prepare his students to successfully pass the high school examination and avoid an IEP diploma that guaranteed nothing, nothing, nothing, (interview, March 25, 2011), Paul configured a system of flexible tracking with his general education peers. Through such a system, his students would get the individualized supports they needed to achieve the socially valued outcome of a generalized high school diploma. A re-cognition of special education as not a place appeared to have simultaneously led to an unquestioning assumption that inclusion is a place (Lipsky & Gartner, 2008).

For many educators, therefore, the confluence of these discourses created a situation of some confusion, where the rationale for including students in the general education context remained unclear and its outcomes not readily discernible. Such educators were often unable to make sense of the changes in special education practice (and by extension, general education experiences) triggered by inclusion, or questioned its utility for all students with disabilities. Melissa, a high school foods teacher remarked in frustration: I just think they need to be someplace else . . . in a different room where hes learning things that he would really use. . . . I dont know why they do all this (interview, April 26, 2006). Kathy, a speech therapist, wondered if a more structured setting would be suitable for some students with disabilities (interview, January 7, 2009). Laura expressed outrage at family demands that required educators to privilege a few students needs at the cost of all others. For her, the infeasibility of manipulating general education time coalesced with families insistence on preserving inclusion to create a context of change where attempts at reform could simply be rationalized as we are constantly changing names in special ed . . . but, its the same concept (interview, March 29, 2006).


Even as the entangled discourses of time and individualization clearly framed inclusion in uncertain ways for educators, the significance of accessibility remained largely implicit in their implementation of this experience. All educational activity, special or general, is fundamentally about access (Titchkosky, 2011). Learners need to be able to access certain kinds of experiences that can contribute to their growth and learning. Yet, the social response to the phenomenon of disability has made the issue of access particularly visible in a narrowed way. Is this event or location accessible? The presumption is that such events and locations have to contain certain features that will grant specific groups of individuals (mainly with physical or sensory disabilities) access to the information made generally available to those without such disabilities. As Titchkosky (2011) observed, the very notion of access as it has come to be used, implies that environments are not designed with all individuals in mind and begs the questionwho counts as a member of this community? Similarly, access for students with disabilities refers to the ways in which they can participate in the same experiences as their nondisabled peers, for example, access to the general education curriculum. Yet, this notion of access deflects attention from the makeup of the general education curriculum itself and for whom it is designed. In other words, who counts as a student? It concurrently configures the issue of access as a problem stemming from the individual student.

Nonetheless, the discourse of inclusion has constituted accessibility as a predominant signifier of equitable services for students with disabilities. It also serves as a useful means to recognize the work of educators in including students with disabilities, regardless of their severity. How does the participation of students reflect the accessibility of their learning environments? Across research sites, the nature of classroom practices was clearly implicated in opportunities for student engagement, reinforcing the relevance both of this issue for all students and of recent efforts among scholars to create frameworks for teachinglearning that are hospitable to diverse learners (Rose, Meyer, & Hitchcock, 2006; Tomlinson, 1999). Simultaneously, data from the field also suggested more expansive notions of access that prompt inquiry into the ways learning environments are configured for all students. Specifically, in the representation of disability within contexts of inclusion, the data disclosed the intersection of the theme of accessibility with a discourse of personhood. The privileging of personhood in the label person with disabilities is now widely recognized as a more acceptable descriptor than disabled person. Scholars have critiqued such privileging, however, as a devaluation of the experience of disability (e.g., Michalko, 2002; Siebers, 2008). Such critiques question the premise that disability needs to be subtracted from the individual, in order for him or her to be recognized. Still, the notion of personhood, as above and beyond disability, seemed to have served as a ready resource to support educators inclusionary efforts.

For Grace Jackson, being a paraprofessional to Michael, a high school student with significant multiple disabilities, meant representing him to his nondisabled peers in ways that could establish him as someone just like them inside. To this end, she would fill out worksheets that his peers completed and stamp Michaels name on them in the belief that this would establish him as a typical student (participantobservation, February 27, 2006). She also worked determinedly to make him independent, even if that meant interacting publicly with him in tough, no-nonsense ways that, ironically, only emphasized the tragic quality of his experience to his peers. While Graces naïve efforts may have worked against the very goals she sought, it clearly sustained a vision of accessibility that his teachers failed to recognize. Inasmuch as Michaels inclusion was predicated on access to the experiences in classrooms clearly designed for a mythical normative student (Baglieri et al., 2011), representing his personhood to the group was to enable access to him. Stephanie, an elementary teacher, appeared to have understood the significance of such representation for all her students, whether or not they bore labels of disability. She extended a conscientious effort to explain any apparent deviations from normative student behaviors to the whole group. For example, when asking a student to step aside, she might assure the group that the student was not in trouble. Or, if a student was unable to respond to a question, she would proffer a tentative explanation on his or her behalf to the group before moving on (participantobservation, January 5, 2009). Though Stephanies practice was guided by a vision for making her practice transparent to her students (Naraian, 2011), it nevertheless addressed the need for all students to remain accessible to each other, reflecting an understanding of access as bidirectional, unlike conventional notions that seek access to the general education experience for students with disabilities.

Representing dis/ability by mobilizing notions of personhood appeared to have signaled a safe route for many educators to foster inclusion within the classroom. This form of achieving accessibility, however, still remained bound to norms of ability. For instance, elementary teachers like Jessica actively sought to expand repertoires of peer responses to different behaviors in the classroom. Encouraged to partake of a discourse of everybody needs different things and we are not that dissimilar after all, peers could then learn to say to a student, You know, I know you are angry; why dont you go to the safe place? (Jessica, interview, October 13, 2005). Acknowledging the person in such an instance offered a means to respond with respect to non-normative behaviors, satisfying educators concern for promoting tolerance and safety in the classroom. Few educators, however, registered that the discourse of different needs for different students may simultaneously privilege a certain kind of person. In deflecting attention from the ways in which social arrangements in a classroom contribute to the making of difference, the quest for a students personhood becomes, in this instance, a means of reinstating ones own normal state. Stephanie was one of the educators who questioned this adult tendency to offer young children a glib explanation that glossed over some realities. I think its okay to be honest and say, Its very hard for Rafael to write with a regular pencil. Thats why he uses a computer, and even people who are bad spellers do that (Stephanie, interview, February 27,  2009). In other words, the recognition of different needs could be an occasion to explore the diversity of personal capacities and disrupt available norms of what constitutes a person. The work of representing persons to achieve accessibility in the classroom is predicated on a continual suspicion of the ideology of ability (Siebers, 2008), requiring a vigilant monitoring that may have eluded many educators.

The weak responses of educators when asked to describe some of their students may offer some clues in locating the difficulties they experienced in disrupting notions of personhood premised on normative conceptions of ability. Some educators were more than likely to use descriptors of functioning (e.g., high- or low-functioning) or simply struggle with ways to describe the breadth of a students personhood. Kristine commented on Harry, a first-grade boy with significant disabilities: He goes with the flow. He doesnt complain much unless he is not feeling well, just like the rest of us. And, hes a good person. I dont know what else to tell you (interview, October 18, 2005). Other educators might focus on the many experiences to which a student reacted and/or responded. Even Jessica, who could narrate many instances of students relations with Harry, was still more likely to describe him as sweet, cute, or interactive, than to generate insights that could disclose other aspects of his personality. She could do this more readily for his peers, reflecting on their interactions within the classroom, describing the gender-related tensions between them, and interpreting various classroom events and routines to speculate on likely personal characteristics and their linkages with family contexts.

Missing in educators stories of some students, therefore, especially those with more significant disabilities, were textured accounts that could suggest the complexity of their subjectivities (Pedlar, Haworth, Hutchison, Taylor, & Dunn, 1999). The difficulty experienced by educators to come to know the individual student in the face of non-normative behaviors or overwhelming disability also contradicted their expressed desires to know them in stronger ways. Indeed, not knowing a student (and thereby not responding meaningfully) evoked feelings of unsuccessfulness in educators that was clearly uncomfortable. For many, such experiences of failure gnawed at their understanding of themselves as capable educators, especially when set against the backdrop of large-scale institutional changes in special education delivery that reinforced their confusion.

Achieving accessibility through personhood calls for a form of knowing the person that is situated outside the discourse of ability-based measurement in which educators are compulsorily situated. While always intertwined, the experiences implied in asking the question who is this student? attain minimum significance in relation to the more consequential project of addressing is this student meeting grade-level benchmarks?a presumably more convincing indicator of accessible education programming. Some teachers, like Paul, could effortlessly straddle their commitments to building relationships with their students with the simultaneous requirement to locate them in predetermined categories of 1, 2, or 3 to track their academic achievement. Not all, or even many, educators, however, could easily accomplish this traveling between such competing priorities. (It was also not coincidental that Paul could develop rich, inquiry-based mathematical curricula that could be readily differentiated across various learning profiles, while supporting an ability-based flexible version of tracking that could support students individual academic growth.)

The difficulty in reconciling these tensions may itself have, for some, obscured the connection between their (in)ability to access the student and their own approaches to curricular experiences in their classrooms. For instance, Melissa, a high school foods teacher, struggled to understand the relevance of Michaels presence in her classroom and remained unable to assess the value of the experiences she provided to his learning. Her classroom was also largely teacher-directed, with lectures and presentations interspersed with some opportunities for experiential learning. On the other hand, Jessica, who shared stories of all her students, offered greater opportunities for distributed learning. At any time, there were ample occasions for collaborative learning and assessment as well as student choice. Clearly, textured interactions that permitted classroom members to access each other as persons were most readily generated when the design and structure of classroom practice enabled students to represent their own learning and engage with each other in multiple ways. Accessibility, as an overarching construct to support not only the inclusion of students with disabilities, but to create classrooms for diverse learners, may derive its potency from the capacity of instructional practice to establish meaningful connections between its members. It remains, ultimately, about the disclosure of identities and, in that regard, its association with personhood is critical.


The preceding sections offer a glimpse of the many partial struggles in which educators were embedded as they worked to implement inclusion. As they partook of such discursive contexts, they developed unique forms of practice, one such form being community in the classroom. Holland and Lave (2001) suggest that local and enduring struggles are enacted though such cultural production. Cultural forms such as community are authored collectively and individually as teachers work out their identities-in-practice with others against such struggles. The importance of community for successful inclusion has been widely acknowledged (Kluth, Straut, & Biklen, 2003; Sapon-Shevin, 2007). Such visions of community are premised on the hope that creating spaces for learning that acknowledge the diversity of human experience and support communitarian ideals can work against broader cultural narratives of individualism, ableism, racism, sexism, etc. Such communities seek to actively embrace and support individual student differences while inculcating the habits to be in a community.

These communities also reinforce the significance of families as partners for creating nurturing communities for students, but rarely posit them as necessary for the successful implementation of community in the classroom. So, though research has documented the significance of rethinking familyschool relations (Auerbach, 2007; Lightfoot, 2004), there have been fewer descriptions of how this facilitates the creation of classroom community. Secondary educators across research sites were less likely to dwell on notions of community, but it persistently shadowed the anxieties of all educators in both explicit and implicit ways. Acknowledging the stronger currency of this cultural construct in elementary schooling, I examine the work of Jessica, a White first-grade general education teacher, and Stephanie, a first-grade dual-certified teacher of Asian origin, in a suburban and urban context respectively. Both teachers firmly supported the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms.

Jessica always wanted to work with kids (interview, October 13, 2005), and committed to being a teacher very early in her life, reveling in the extensive opportunities for student teaching offered within her academic preparation. Her decision to take the position of a first-grade teacher in an elementary school instead of a teacher at a gifted satellite school was based on needing to develop strong connections with her students. She sought to enlist her students in her own love for learning and to regard it as an enjoyable experience. Her stated main priority was to create a classroom family where students could learn without fear. She actively developed her own competence to reach learners for whom traditional strategies did not appear to work. She took additional coursework to learn to create inclusive classrooms and to understand the perspectives of families of students with disabilities. The latter especially, made her heart ready to receive a student with significant disabilities in her classroom. She yearned to reach the most challenging of her students, acknowledging her own unpreparedness to adequately support students with difficult behaviors. Her principal rated her as one of the star teachers in the school. Jessica recognized that many adultsteachers and parentswondered about the benefits of including students with significant disabilities and attributed this response to fear or simply lack of experiential knowledge of the student. Jessica maintained cordial relations with the families in her classroom, though she was noted to be highly critical of one mother whom she perceived as unduly suspicious of her classroom routines.

At the time of the study, Stephanie served as a special educator in a collaboratively taught integrated first-grade classroom of students with and without disabilities. Her early experiences in teaching middle school students had taught her to avoid adopting an authoritarian role with students and to model thoughtful responses to difficult events. She built on her understanding of the role of teacher talk, imbibed within her own preparation as a teacher, to eagerly take up opportunities for classroom discussions on a variety of matters. She considered it important that students understand the purposes behind her actions, whether undertaking disciplinary procedures or implementing curricular experiences. She simultaneously perceived many of the child-rearing practices reflected within her school community as diminishing the resilience of children. Her support for including students with a wide range of disabilities in the general education classroom was enthusiastic; she found it unfair that student growth had to be measured only in terms of attainment of grade standards. She sought to establish a strong relationship with Trevor, a student with significant disabilities in her class, so that she could more effectively plan for his academic growth. Stephanie also acknowledged difficulties in maintaining an equitable status with her general education partner, a phenomenon that she saw reflected in the institutional privileging of general education knowledge over special education. When her partner went on maternity leave for a few months, she clearly felt liberated and relished the opportunity to shape the classroom community as she desired.

Table 3. Institutional contexts of Jessicas and Stephanies community implementation



West Creek Elementary School, midwest United States (suburban). Data at the time of the study (20052006)

Andrews Children School (K8), northeast United States (urban). Data at the time of the study (20082009)

Located within suburban district established in1853; many historic sites, quaint neighborhoods and community parks; median household income of $65,340; population approximately 27,000, 90% classified as White.

1 of 5 elementary schools in Oakland district; established in 1956; designated accessible elementary school in the district.

Enrollment: 425; Over 75% White, about 21% Black, and remainder Latino and Asian students. 23% of students received free or reduced price lunch.

Spread over 10 acres of land, the school offers a newly remodeled playground that can be accessed by wheelchair users

Located within large urban district that spans wide metropolitan area with a population of several million belonging to diverse racial and ethnic socioeconomic groups.

Established in 1994; school leadership has actively sought to include students with significant physical and communication disabilities.

Enrollment: 695 students; 46% White, 25% Black, 22% Hispanic, and 7% Asian.

2% English language learners; 5% special education students; estimated percentage of students from families receiving public assistance; 2130%

Shares a multistory building with at least one other school.

Note. All school and district names are pseudonyms.

Arranging and planning for community work in the classroom preoccupied these educators within their settings. In their respective enactments of this cultural form, there were many common elements that reflected their concern for preserving communitarian notions of mutual respect, collective work, and shared responsibility for the welfare of peers. Recognizing an emotionally safe place as a prerequisite for academic learning, these educators did not hesitate to mediate conflicts and controversy in the classroom through childrens literature and/or exhaustive dialogues with students. They recognized the significance of humanizing themselves to permit students to enter into relationships with them. They could identify the scenes and moments when children displayed being in a community. With some direction from administration, but little opportunity for collective inquiry for themselves, these educators went about the work of choreographing their communities. Interestingly, their pedagogical approaches to implementing forms of community were not dissimilara firm reliance on rules of group and individual behavior and the likelihood of a top-down approach that prohibited student questioning of such norms. So, for instance when Mark, a student in Jessicas class, repeatedly wondered what Harry, the student with significant disabilities, was learning in the classroom, he was more likely to be judged by her as not supporting community norms.

Both versions of community developed in the context of specific familyschool relations. Jessicas school (suburban) of mostly White, middle-class families had, in recent years, begun to recruit more students from the inner city (who were Black and from low-income families) to maintain a district-sponsored percentage of minority students per school. The principal candidly reported the resistance of the families in the school to welcoming these students unconditionally. Her efforts to educate families about the racist character of existing cultural habits and practices in schools had accomplished very little. The PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) continued its traditions of cocktail party fund-raisers and ice cream socials that drew few families of color and left the divisions between them untouched. Within her own classroom in this building, Jessica directed and arranged various occasions for families to attend in her classroom, but she clearly did not invite their involvement, perceiving it as unnecessary. Her classroom family did not include the families of her students. As the head of this school family, she took full responsibility for ensuring that her students felt safe and that they were imbibing the values of collective citizenship. It was congruent, therefore, for her to welcome students with a range of disabilities into the academic life of her classroom and to learn Spanish to communicate with a recently immigrated working-class parent, but also to criticize the individualistic streak, which worked against her principles of community, in a White, middle-class family that she saw reflected in a student, Mark. In describing Marks policing of other students as a personality trait and her struggles to explain this to his mother, she noted, Mark is very intelligent; he wants everybody to know it. And then, he is trying to control every situation, and I think Mom is also that way. You know, just by her coming in and kind of sitting at the table . . . its like, control, you know (recorded informal conversation, November 10, 2005).

Stephanies urban school was located in a neighborhood with a similar high percentage of White, middle-class families who were actively involved in supporting the schools goals. In this building, however, the halls bustled with families during the morning and at pickup, though they could be also seen cleaning up after a classroom party, sitting with their children during morning meetings, or transporting supplies to classrooms. Though the rhetoric of diversity put forth by the administration and the school community was much stronger in this setting, Stephanies descriptions of the families in her classroom suggested a fragmented community where parents frequently brought concerns about other families to her. She perceived their behaviors as contradicting the messages that she tried to send her students. For instance, outraged at the reluctance of families to facilitate play-dates with one student because of their perceptions of the students family, she did not hesitate to position herself as a parent educator and planned to hold a meeting to publicly chide families for ostracizing one of their own (a young family of color).

The impetus for educating families and for tolerating them as in Stephanies and Jessicas cases, was entangled with the process of creating a learning environment that prioritized communitarian values, but specifically excluded families from those arrangements. Both educators observed that their biggest obstacles in implementing community were the adults. While not all adults they described were family members, it seemed that the very contours of the community they created offered a means by which these educators could position themselves as superior to families in their capacity to advance the goals of community. Stephanie and Jessica may well have sought idealized visions of community that were obscured by the actual family relations that characterized the larger environment they collectively inhabited. In commenting on a parents advice to her son to retaliate aggressively with a peer, Stephanie asked indignantly, Whats the pattern of community you are giving him? I dont like somebody; therefore, I am going to be mean to them?(Stephanie, interview, January 16, 2009). It was not unreasonable then, for her to identify families as poorly aware of the purposes and consequences of schooling. Then you defeat the whole purpose of coming to a school like Andrews Children School. Then you should really think about a private school where you arent going to meet people who dont fit your social category (Stephanie, interview, January 16, 2009).

The positioning of families as incompetent and incapable of supporting communitarian goals not only sidestepped the issue of school responsibilities to foster family participation, but also may have affected the durability of these classroom communities. After all, they were not immune to the implications of the discourse on measurement and certainty that pervaded schools. As sole managers of these communities, Stephanie and Jessica needed to create arrangements that inculcated values unlikely to be measurable, as well as incorporate curricular and instructional arrangements to generate results that would be measured with heavy consequences for themselves and their students. A communitarian pedagogy had to coexist with an individualization premised on a measurement discourse. Not surprisingly, these educators accounts of community were enmeshed with talk of individual accountability and documentation to prove that kids are learning alongside their concerns for their social-emotional growth and collective responsibility. Accomplishing these competing aims, while single-handedly creating communitarian environments, meant that such communities remained vulnerable to behavioral norms and a pedagogical approach that was authoritative rather than participatory. For instance, the rules for caring that informed the community in Stephanies classroom were just as likely to become tools for classroom management. And, Jessica was more thoughtful about setting norms for peer responses to disability, than about helping them understand the experiences of students with disabilities in schools. As Stephanie remarked ruefully, students appeared not to have internalized the kindness (interview, February 27, 2009).

In the light of a polarizing public discourse on the rights of historically marginalized groups, the implementation of community presents itself as an occasion for educators to craft particular trajectories that will, at different times, reflect their own process of negotiating the complexities of democratic citizenship. The exclusion of families from such efforts may afford them the opportunity to achieve greater control over their own learning. The danger lies when their learnings reify an already entrenched schooling narrative that characterizes families and schools as natural adversaries, regardless of the public rhetoric of familyschool partnerships (Lightfoot, 2004). The forms of community enacted by Stephanie and Jessica registered many partial conflicts and struggles. In carving out their identities-in-practice, both worked within and against widespread schooling discourses that included popular constructions of familyschool relations, student abilities as objective and measurable in standardized ways, perceptions of teacher and student accountability, and studentteacher relations, to name a few.


The struggles in which educators within these studies participated spanned the breadth of their everyday activities to encompass competing frameworks of learning (e.g., constructivist vs. rote), education programming choices (e.g., a focus on socially valued outcomes vs. inclusive practices), relationships with students and families (e.g., friend vs. mandated reporter), and relationships with colleagues (e.g., allegiance to general education vs. special education goals). Working within contexts configured by such conflicting priorities and visions meant that their decision making in relation to everyday classroom practice may not always have been neatly distinguishable as indicators of an equity pedagogy. Yet, the inevitable mediation of teacher learning by such contextual specificities (Anderson & Stillman, 2013) attests to the need for a material grounding of inclusion where agency is always intricately intertwined with such struggles. Consequently, teacher education discourses that privilege a politics of polarity (inclusion vs. exclusion) may be insufficient to meet the complicated demands of enabling inclusivity in practice. In the following paragraphs, I draw on the inevitable entanglement of commitments within educators practices to suggest that inclusion as an act of deferring may be a helpful complement to those efforts. I envision such deferral as relevant for educators seeking to support the inclusion of students with all labels of disability as well as the participation of learners struggling to attain prescribed education outcomes.

Linear conceptions of time that currently have currency in schools require that educators evaluate students against expectations about their learning and achievement (Metcalfe & Game, 2007). Students are expected to accomplish goals evidenced through precise measurement. The futility of making highly specific futuristic claims on students learning has already been raised (Goodman & Bond, 1993). But, when educators decouple expectations from their pedagogy and instead privilege the potential of the student, they enter into a different relationship with time. By recognizing the potential of the student as always in process, unfolding, and unfinished, they defer the outcome of student performance. As a form of living in the future such deferral continually privileges the unobserved and unfinished capacity of the student. Objective measurements are not discounted, but their significance is only recognized in relation to an outcome that has not yet been realized. Encountering the student in the present but situating their present learnings within an undetermined future, such educators reconfigure the movement of time and its relationship with certainty. They are now in real-enough time (Orlikowski & Yates, 2002). The concept of real-enough time (versus real time) denies its objective status and restores the agency of actors in temporal (re)structuring (Orlikowski & Yates, 2002). So, an educator seeking to raise the functional performance of a student with disabilities might then assess the affordances of a setting not in terms of the time needed to acquire specific skills within a certain period, but in terms of its potential to generate opportunities for the student to practice skills that might be usable in a variety of future environments. Similarly, an educator perceives behavioral deviation from norms of community behavior as an opportunity to reorient herself in relation to her students to seek untraveled trajectories of collective practice that can imbue those behaviors with meaning.

A pedagogy of deferral, therefore, maintains the centrality of personhood. It acknowledges that the meanings of student responses are never complete in themselves and always signal unspoken utterances and hidden forms of being (Sidorkin, 1999). When Stephanie offered an interpretation of student behavior to establish the students connectedness to the group, she engaged in a form of deferring that notices present action, reorients it to the future through an articulation of possibility, and draws on past experiences with the student to offer an interpretation that can be believable. In deploying such a narrative conception of time, Stephanie substituted certainty with possibility as an education goal, and affirmed personal capacities as inextricably linked with social practices (Bruner, 1996; Polkinghorne, 1988). Issues of access then always remain inseparable from notions of personhood. Persons are constituted through their embodied experiences within social environments that mark some as different from others (Michalko, 2002). A thoughtful inquiry of how are social environments arranged such that (in)accessibility becomes an issue for some, not others? must also simultaneously remain an exploration of what it is about persons that the issue of access is relevant for some but not for others.

My purpose in underscoring embodied differences through the latter question is not to reinstate norms, but to reiterate the complexity of (in)accessibility and understand deferring itself as a form of access. Titchkosky (2011) uses the term half-half to describe the status of persons with disabilities as they negotiate socially conferred meanings of disability stemming from perceived needs (e.g., the labels of dyslexia, visual impairment, deafness, etc.) with embodied experiences within social environments. Deploying a politics of wonder that interrogates the assumptions behind mainstream practices that exclude the difference of disability, she illustrates access as the means to disclose the gap between what is and what ought to be (p. 24). Even as one adopts the labels of disability conferred by others, one is still free to continually stretch and reconfigure its meanings. This half-half location is congruent with the concept that individuals can only understand themselves in relation to others but that the fundamental addressivity of existence requires individuals to respond to such conditions of knowing (Holland et al., 1998; Holland & Lave, 2001). In deferring, i.e., entering into a relationship with a student predicated on a concept of time that eschews certainty in favor of verisimilitude, educators not only afford themselves the opportunity to negotiate implacable discourses that frame their practice, they can also be perceived as responding agentively to them. Each act of deferring, whether in the ascription of meanings as yet to be enacted or in the planning of educational experiences that assume student potential as never fully revealed, serves as an occasion for the educator to improvise a response that will work to minimize the gap between what is and what could be.

Through this relation with norms, a pedagogy of deferral undoubtedly complicates the work of educators (general and special) seeking to establish respectful, nurturing communities that can embrace diverse learners, including students with disabilities. For example, the discourse on everybody needs different things may serve a pragmatic goal for community-building, but it carries the implicit danger that some needs and things may be less socially valued than others. Instead, a students needs may be reconstituted to become an ingredient of an imagined community where choice is privileged over standardized rules of behavior. Visions of such forms of community may necessarily have to be deferred in the present moment, but nevertheless succeed in accomplishing a suspicion of the very rules by which students are categorized as needing something or not. This continual reorientation to time called for in enacting the decoupling of teacher expectations from student potential achieves a concurrent displacement of positioning that leaves educators in ambivalent, in-between spaces that may be as uncomfortable as they can be pervasive. Yet, this is not dissimilar to the experience of master teachers who travel between diachronic and synchronic appraisals of teachinglearning to achieve a sense of rhythm within schooling contexts that can all too easily be made tedious by the repetitive nature of routines (Clandinin & Connolly, 1986; Tochon & Munby, 1993). Continually assessing and weighing longer term visions in relation to immediate educational events and processes affords opportunities for educators to remain creative in the decisions they make. In this regard, the ideological commitments desired by inclusive education scholars assume a critical significance. Remaining vigilant of the ideology of ability may be the only distinctive mechanism to channel those decisions. The movement between seeming polarities in teachinglearning in juxtaposition with biographical narratives informed by such commitments can then generate the rhythms that imbue the work of teachers with meaning (Clandinin & Connolly, 1986).

Despite its potentially unsettling nature, the practice of deferring privileges the pragmatic negotiation with local and widely circulating discourses while upholding long-term commitments, in this case, to the disruption of norms of ability. As teachers increasingly come under attack within popular discourses on public education and are subject to greater state scrutiny and censure, it becomes imperative to better understand and describe the tensions that underlie their commitments to creating equitable opportunities for all students, including students with disabilities. Offering prescriptive guidance for the creation of inclusive classrooms without recognition of the ways competing discourses intersect within individual teacher decision making may be unhelpful in securing commitments from school personnel. It also reinforces notions of educators as docile or compliant within systems that are perceived as dehumanizing to students with disabilities. Inquiring into the complexities of their experiences may unearth other cultural forms besides classroom family or transparent community that are produced in the implementation of inclusive practice. The workings of such cultural forms and the trajectories of their development within these contexts can offer a direct glimpse into the networking of discourses within educators decision-making activity. By incorporating such on-the-ground particularities within larger theoretical commitments, theories of inclusive education are rendered more elastic, with increased capacity to acquire traction in a variety of sociocultural contexts.


1. Within the United States, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) must be developed by a multidisciplinary team of educators for any student with disabilities who is eligible to receive special education services.


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Interfaces of General Ed and Special Ed Systems


Individualized Planning

I have math goals for Trevor, but I just dont have the time. And then, when I spend so much time with Trevor, I feel guilty because I know that Rafael needs something too; and I know there are things that need to be going on for Rafael and Kevin. (DCE, female, ES)

He needs to be in a class with about 4 or 6 kids, you know, that are on his level, that you can work with each one of them and have time with them and do things that are appropriate for them. (SE, female, HS)

I guess the thing is that its so fast-paced sometimes; like, last year was half-day kindergarten; that was really fast-paced. So, it takes a great deal of time just to set up for the activity; by the time essentially you would get set up, the activity would be over. (SE, female, ES)

The biggest challenge is mainly that cognitively he is on such a different level. . . . I think its looking at the IEP and trying to figure out, what do these goals look like in my classroom and making sure you are meeting those goals for that particular student. (GE, female, ES)

The other reason why I write stuff down, because then Michael is turning in some thing. Its not just a blank sheet of paper. . . . Because I think it makes it look like hes doing the work. You know, when he turns in papers, instead of turning in a blank sheet, theres actually writing on there. (Para, female, HS)

He cannot come into the class too late without disrupting the class. There are some teachers who frown . . . they are in the middle of instruction. You come with the wheelchair and you are interrupting the class. (SE, female, HS)

And I think thats such an important part of inclusionrealizing that this child is just like every other child, their parents have hopes for them like every other child (GE, female, ES)

I mean its just, I mean its just me getting him so much involved and getting the other students around him to understand that he is just like them inside. He just may look different on the outside. (Para, female, HS)

Sometimes I think were just trying to make everything sound so nice and make the general ed kids feel comfortable. But I think its okay to be a little bit honest and just say, well, technically, Trevor could write with a regular pencil, like you and me, but its just very hard to read. Its very hard for Rafael to write with a regular pencil. Thats why he tries using a computer and even people who are bad spellers do that. (DCE, female, ES)

Functional Curriculum

To me, its more difficult to do community-based instruction because we are limited on time. We have two classes back to back, Everyday Math and Everyday English. And with those two classes, we are allowed to take them out. At 10:30, they have to have lunch. We have to be back here by 1:30. And to me, that does not give us enough time. Whereas, at [self-contained facility], we could leave in the morning. And we had the full day. So if we did laundry, we could take what I consider the necessary time to watch them put the quarters in the machines. (SE, female, HS)

Because in my mind I am always thinking, should something happen to Mom and Dad, and he cant advocate for himself, we want him to at least be able to count you know, one, two, pills . . . You know, things like that; hed be able to maybe communicate with somebody down the road. (SE, female, ES)

I think, if we find that their academic life in our school is more important than a school that works on activities of daily living, then this is the appropriate setting. But, I think there is a pull between what is important for these children and . . . how much academics do we really want to push? (SE, females, ES)

And thats where it gets hard; because then, when they are finished with all these lower easier level classes, what do you have left? So what we are doing is we are going to have him have a study hall period where hes gonna work for the office . . . placing forms in the teachers boxes, deliver things . . . I think thatll be more beneficial than him sitting in an Art II class. (SE, female, HS)

Maybe, during math time, he can start going in the hallway and collecting recycled cans or bottles or something like that. So, we set up a grid for him yesterday, and he can hold the bag; there is that push or whatever he needs to do, so hell knock into the bag, and he can still be doing some real basic counting. (SE, female, ES)

I know they say inclusion is real life but to me, the bottom line is the happiness of my child. If they are at the level we are talking about as Michael, my concern is, are they enjoying life? I would rather my child know about hygiene than the planets in the solar system. (SE, females HS)

For Harry, he would be one of those guys that, if you really [go] for the pie at the end of the sky or whatever, hed like be a greeter at Wal-Mart or something because we, wed get him to use that switch on a regular basis. . . . I mean, hes sociable, you know. I can see him doing something like that if we are going down the road. (SE, female, ES)

Accessing General Education

The challenge is getting things met in a general ed classroom versus the special. Like passing out papers is all fine, but the general ed teachers themselves maybe do not have the time it takes Michael to distribute papers. It all sounds good in theory. When they write, let him do this, let him do that. Have a child hit the switch. Well, if it takes the child so many minutes to hit the switch, that is a lot of instructional time. (SE, female, HS)

So essentially what happens is that kids that are in theIm going to use the politically incorrect termthe slower section, if a kid has caught up at the end of the year, we say, We think this kid can take the Regents in January and he gets put in that section. So they get it in 3 semesters. Kids that we think no way, they stay the four and then the kids for whom it was too far, go and get another semester of math that way. So, its tracking, but also super-flexible tracking. (SE, males, HS)

And sometimes coming from a general ed point of view, its more broad. Its lessons that are going to get done, and were going to move on, and the kids who dont get it, dont get it. . . . And I think thats where the heart of the common language [with another special educator] is. Its not so much the technical terms, but its the understanding of why we need to do certain things in a certain way, and not just jump and say, Lets just teach then; lets move on. (SE, female, ES)

I feel like I fight with everybody, because . . . you know, sometimes, he cant even get through the class. You know, from one side of the classroom to the other. He always has to sit by the door. I dont feel thats fair either. Thats the way I look at it. How would I feel if that was me? . . . Would I feel comfortable always sitting at the front door? (Para, Female, HS)

I think they want him to communicate. . . . Theres that realization that he is probably having some feeling about the book, no matter how base level it might be. So, a lot of times, ST will scoot over and she will raise Harrys hand up and say, Harry liked your book. He liked the illustrations and the kids love it. Once ST says that, they all smile and say Harry, I liked the pictures, too. (GE, female, ES)

He (Trevor) wants to just feel like, you know, this isnt about me, you know, having certain limitations or anything. Its just like, you know, theres no wrong, theres no right, theres just me. Kind of like when youre with your friends, you know, sitting back and just relaxing. Youre not really trying to follow a role, youre just being yourself. And thats him, thats when I see him being himself. (Para, male, ES)

Measurement/Accountability of Student Learning

So, I think with other kids with disabilities, especially nonverbal kids, sometimes at the beginning of the year, I am not sure exactly what I should be expecting and looking for, but toward the middle half of the year, I feel like the expectations could be upped because otherwise they have not made a years growth. (DCE, female, ES)

I think the challenge right now for me [re: state-wide testing] is our kindergarten and first grade teacher are so developmental, which is wonderful . . . yet at the end of the first grade, I believe we need to up our expectations just a little bit. In the sense that I dont think there is anything wrong with expecting all first graders at the end of the year to be writing complete sentences using capitalization and punctuation, just so that by second grade, hopefully, they can learn to write a paragraph. (Principal, female, ES)

And what also happens with special ed, you know, is prior to high school, through eighth grade, they can get promoted by modified criteria. That cannot happen in high school. So, if they have an IEP, I can put in the IEP, Kaylas goal math is to be able to count by ten. Now you come into ninth grade and guess what? You dont move until you pass the Regents. So youve got a lot of work to make up. (SE, male, HS).

I guess I would want . . . before he came into the room, before day 1, I would want to know he was coming and I would want to have a list of objectives that he should accomplish throughout this semester. And then we can measure those and see how far he came with objectives that he could accomplish. (GE, female, HS)

You know, we are trying to put such a blanket over everybody being just as smart as anybody else, everybody being able to do the same thing. And sometimes that takes more precedence than empowering the children to know who they are as learners, where they are, and that they should be setting goals for themselves. I feel like sometimes, especially in a collaboratively taught classroom, you work out of so much sensitivity, that you forget the accountability in that way. (DCE, female, ES)

Are we meeting his goals? He is increasing with his walking time. He is vocalizing more than he was. He is negotiating the building now. . . . Our goals are being met, but I look at them emotionally . . . is that need being met? I think theres more than just the goal we write on here. (SE, female, HS)

Professional Competence / Professional Confusion

There is lots of stuff you can take home. I can take home some of my IEPs. I can take some of the grading. You are always putting out fires. So . . . yes, I could probably push it more, but then I am going to pay for going there by doing more work in the evening and elsewhere. To be honest, if I thought it would make any difference, I would tend to do it [consult with teachers] more. . . . But if I give you advice and offer suggestions and you dont take them, thats a waste of my time, when my time is already stretched. (SE, female, HS)

I will pass out the papers and the aide will stamp his name on it and do all his work. Whats the point? I dont get it. Its very frustrating. Whats the point for her to sit there and answer his questions? Its a waste of time. (GE, female, HS)

And I guess thats what makes me feel a little bit good, because I feel like hes come a long way with working with me, coz he still doesnt interact with the kids that much, But you know, I am trying. I can at least make him laugh and maybe add a little bit to his day, but thats as much as I can think of that weve accomplished. (GE, female, HS)

Thats the message I am getting, you know. I just dont think your role in the classroom is to teach all the children. And I was very hurt by it. The parents think that too. I think the general understanding of what a special ed teacher is and the purpose of the special ed teacher in a collaboratively taught classroom is really unclear to parents. (SE, female, ES)

I am a special ed teacher, right? Which means I am automatically a dyslexia expert? No, I am not. An autism expert? No, I am not. A Wilson reading expert? A regular reading expert? No I am not. . . . So, I dont mean to separate them, but when we put everyone together, and when we have every ability in the classroom, we need then the resources to teach to every ability. (SE, male, HS)

Today, he walked in, I said Hi, Danny! No answer. And it gets to a point, you know, where its just kind of rude behavior thing. And his special ed teacher told me to kick the chair off from under him and make him stand. I cant do that. Thats not my personality. Plus with all his disabilities, I would be afraid of his reaction, but still thats not my personality. I cant do that. (GE, female, HS).

Implementing Community

In the primary grades, its like they embrace it; they all want to help Harry and M. They want to be around them; but when they get to that age when, its fourth or fifth grade, where they start you know, the peer thing starts happening and it just starts changing. (Principal, female, ES)

Ideally, I would have community time. A community-building time. Once a day. If I cant get it once a day, at least once a week. I like that because it shows the options that are available to them, and it helps them step into other peoples shoes. & And unfortunately, it has to be at the expense of teaching time. (DCE, female, ES)

I think thats why it has been good to work with [another special educator] because its let me step out of that, you know, make-everybody-feel-good type of concept into what-does-everybody-also-need-academically? Why is there a child who still cannot read words like cat? . . . There should not be children who are struggling so much with reading at this time of the year. (SE, female, ES)

Giving them the skill set to interact with kids that they may not have encountered before. I think that can be challenging. . . . Finding ways for the kids to see that he is a member of our room by having him press the Big Mac and start off the poem . . . And so, finding the balance between providing activities that are good for Harry and also . . . helping socially for the kids to understand how to interact with him. (GE, female, ES)

I remember having a conversation with them early in the year. Oh you know, we dont usually say wheelchair kids because then people would be like, wow, wheelchair? Then kid . . . (DCE, female, ES)

And I think its important to show kids that we are human and that we have questions about our lives just as much as they have questions. It shows them that we are part of their community and that we are not just these people who come down with these ideas. (DCE, female, ES)

Key. GE: General Educator; SE: Special Educator; DCE: Dual-Certified Educator; Para: Paraprofessional; ES: Elementary School; HS: High School



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 6, 2014, p. 1-38
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17458, Date Accessed: 10/20/2021 3:33:37 AM

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About the Author
  • Srikala Naraian
    Teachers College Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    SRIKALA NARAIAN is an assistant professor in the Preservice Inclusive Elementary Education Program in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. Situated in the disability studies tradition, her research has centered on qualitative approaches to inclusive education processes in both national and international contexts. She has worked with the Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project on several initiatives, including preparation of school personnel to support families of students with disabilities in New York City schools as well as a coalitional effort with the New York City Department of Education to promote the use of assistive technology in schools. She has published in many journals, including Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Teaching and Teacher Education, and Anthropology of Education Quarterly.
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