ERG SES G 14, Professional Development and Education
This paper examines special educators’ professional identity emergence and shift in the context of a researcher-facilitated teacher learning community (TLC).
Special education teacher identity. Teacher identity formation and change has been conceptualized as a process all teachers engage in over their careers (Beauchamp & Thomas, 2009). Throughout, elements of individual identity as a whole (Gee, 2001) and how individuals define themselves as a teacher intersect to create dynamic, complex identities (Beijaard, Meijer & Verloop, 2004) that impact perceptions of how they teach, set up classrooms, engage in professional development, (Assuncão Flores & Day, 2006) and facilitate student learning (Korthagen, 2004).
These elements of identity remind us that educators, including special educators, are socialized through previous experiences and beliefs, teacher education program structure and philosophy, and professional setting (Zeichner & Gore, 1990). Special education teachers’ professional identities and roles have been described in a largely technical or dispositional fashion in U.S. and European (e.g., U.K., Germany) inclusive education research (Slee, 2001), with discussion of the former centering around technical knowledge of teaching that is predominantly behavioral in method, and special education policies and procedures, both of which Pugach (1992) critiques as limiting robust teaching practices.
More broadly, special education teachers’ beliefs about their roles vis-à-vis their field and their beliefs about students have been critiqued on the basis of historical discourse that frames students with disabilities as struggling due to inherent deficits (Mehan, 1996, Varenne & McDermott, 2006). Disability studies scholars have condemned such framings as justifications for the exclusion of students with disabilities from general education settings and curriculum (Reid & Knight, 2006) and criticized individualized instruction and placement in segregated educational settings as hegemonic (Reid & Valle, 2004) when emphasized over goals and feelings of those served in special education (Brantlinger, 2006). These critiques are not surprising, given that special education, and relatedly, special education teaching emerged from a larger socio-historical context within which notions of disability as abnormality were pervasive and contributed to the exclusion of disabled individuals from educational opportunities altogether (Armstrong, 1993; Sullivan & Thorius, 2010).
These critiques elucidate that the ways educators understand and respond to disability influence how students are “disabled” by schools: a key concern of the inclusive education movement. Accordingly, one way to assess the role of teacher learning approaches in disrupting and transforming notions of disability as a deficit and relatedly, normative and hegemonic educational practices of special education, is through the examination of shifts in special education teacher identity formation that emerge within such learning opportunities. Accordingly, the theoretical framework for this study is grounded in a sociocultural notion of identity as produced by individuals within “practices and activities situated in historically contingent, socially enacted, culturally constructed “worlds”: recognized fields or frames of social life...,”(Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998, p. 7). Moreover, we introduced artifacts to create opportunities for disrupting the status quo and evoking and addressing inequities in the educational system, and in doing so, aimed to expand the recognized professional frames of the special education teacher participants. The concept of an artifact in this study is based on Wartofsky’s (1973) initial, and later, Cole’s (1996) elaborated, three-level hierarchy of artifacts in which primary artifacts are materials which have been transformed over time through their use as tools within human activity. Due to limited space, I am unable to elaborate on these constructs, herein, but do so in the complete paper.
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