10 SES 14 D, Research on Professional Knowledge & Identity in Teacher Education: Difference and disability
The art.24 on Education of the UN-Convention for Rights of Person with Disabilities (UN, 2006) declares the right to access all levels of education and to receive reasonable accommodation in order to make accessibility and participation possible. Focusing on the topic of student teachers with disabilities attending teacher education programs, several articles argued that not only the institution’s attitude and services are relevant for their successful university career.
We use the terms “Dilemma of professional competence” to describe the tension that connects two apparently opposite conceptual poles in the discussion on inclusion of students with disabilities in teacher education programs: on one side, the right of person with disabilities to access education, also with facilitating accommodations, and then pursue the teacher profession and, on the other side, the responsibility of becoming/being competent teachers that can grant high quality teaching for all students.
For discussing the dilemma, the way the teaching skills of a competent teacher are defined is crucial. Some countries have admission standards that need to be met (Riddick & English, 2006). This discussion in the working field that juxtaposes personal specific differences and a dominant definition of being competent teacher is reflected also in the personal level of teachers or of students teachers with disabilities. Research shows the internal conflict they experience for example for what the disclosure issue concerns that on one side signs a crucial step towards self and social acceptance (Hauk, 2014), but is connected with shame and fear for discrimination(Valle et al., 2004). Other studies shows how the awareness of strengths in being a teacher with a disability is also connected with a clear awareness of the limits that the disability produces in a given school context (Burns, Poikkeus & Aro, 2013).
In many countries the teacher education degree entitles the person to teaching and, indirectly, the institution delivering it grants for this person to be equipped with all the necessary teaching skills. For universities in charge of teacher education this concretely means finding ways of responding simultaneously on one hand to the students’ right to have access to education and on the other to the social responsibility of training competent teachers.
In Italy, law 17/1999 extends to universities the provision of the law 104/1992, the most relevant national law dedicated to integration of persons with disabilities. For what teacher education concern, in this country the law that describes teacher education courses defines a skills profile, a sort of essential functions of teaching that qualified teachers must be able to perform.
In our research project - that involves students with disabilities attending teacher educational courses for primary school and kindergarten; school principals and in-service teachers with and without a disability working in primary school or in kindergarten in the Italian context - the dilemma takes practical form on three level:
- The individual level of student teachers or in-service teachers with disabilities that experience their personal strengths and weaknesses, but also the context’s barriers and facilitators and struggle to find a balance between their vocation of becoming/being a teacher and the limits they experience (Dvir, 2015)
- The training level of teacher education institutions that looks for ways that grant at the same time: not discriminating students with disabilities, reasonable adjustment where they would be disadvantaged and ensuring to equip them with the necessary teaching skills (Leyser & Greenberg, 2008)
The working field level that needs to imagine solutions that on one side empower differences and support to use of alternative strategies of being good teachers for teachers with disabilities and, on the other side, grant quality teaching to all students at school.
The research project is organized in two parts: in the first one, 20 students teacher with disabilities, 10 school principals and 30 in-service teachers with and without disabilities will be interviewed on their opinions about the dilemma of professional competence and on how they concretely experience/imagine difficulties and possible compensation strategies at work for teacher with disabilities. Both students teacher and school principals will be selected on a voluntary basis through a call for research. The interviews will be conducted at the university attended by each student and, for school principals and teachers, during selected professional conferences. The chosen format for the interviews in semi-structured, and they will be recorded and transcribed. For the data analysis, categories will be determinate both inductively (Kuckartrz, 2014) and deductively (Schreier, 2012). Deductive categories are based on literature and will be represented in the chosen topics for the interview guideline. In the second part, rector delegates for students with disabilities of the Italian Universities – persons of the academic staff that becomes the point of reference for matters concerning the integration of students with disabilities (Law 17/1999) – or their representatives at the teacher education department/faculty, will answer a structured interview on the basis of an online questionnaire on: - the numbers of students with disabilities attending the teacher education course; - offered accommodations; - evaluation of offered accommodation in terms of the dilemma of professional competence. The sample comprises the entire population of rector delegates – that will be informed through the CNUDD (national conference of rector delegates for students with disabilities) mailing list -, and 120 teacher educators in the field of math, Italian, physical education and general didactics working at the 30 Italian universities that offer teacher education courses for primary school and kindergarten. They will be contacted through the rector delegates or their representatives at the teacher education department/faculty. The structured interview will be conducted by phone. Instruments developed in previous research projects (Leyser & Greenberger, 2008) could be an interesting starting points for the structured interview and the structured outline will be developed starting from a draft based on literature analysis. Statistic explorative methods will be used to analyze the generated data in a descriptive prospective.We would like to use this opportunity to present our research design, the characteristics of the identified sample, and the questions that constitutes the semi-structured and structured interview for the sample involved in the research.
The research group think that the results of this project can contribute to understand more deeply the dilemma that arises when students with disabilities attend teacher education courses: on one side students’ right to have access to all forms of education, on the other side the social responsibility that the institution has in training competent teachers. The results will offer two original point of view on the topic that have not been studies by now: - the opinions of the in-service teachers’ and school principals’ on the phenomenon; - data from the Italian context that has an established 40 years old experience of school inclusion and in which inclusion in universities can be seen as an extension of an already affirmed right. Furthermore, in a broader perspective, the dilemma is relevant not only for teacher education, but for all the trainings lead to the qualification for a profession with high social responsibility, such as nurse for example. From a national and applied perspective, the research results will fill the lack of reliable data on the phenomenon, both for what the quantitative description of the numbers of students with disabilities attending teacher education for primary school and kindergarten and for what the description of offered accommodation concerns.
Burns, E., Poikkeus, A. M., & Aro, M. (2013). Resilience strategies employed by teachers with dyslexia working at tertiary education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 34, 77-85. Dvir, N. (2015). Does physical disability effect the construction of professional identity? Narratives of student teachers with physical disabilities. Teaching and Teacher Education, 52, 56-65. Hauk, A. (2014). Authentic Inclusion: A Celebration of Exceptional Teachers and Student Identity. A Phenomenological Self-Study. Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal, 6(2). Kuckartrz, U. (2014). Qualitative Text Analysis: A Guide to Methods, Practice & Using Software, Sage publications. Leyser, Y., Greenberger, L. (2008). College students with disabilities in teacher education: Faculty attitudes and practices. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 23 (3), 237-251. Riddick, B., English, E. (2006). Meeting the standards? Dyslexic students and the selection process for initial teacher training. European Journal of Teacher Education, 29 (2), 203-222. Schreier, M. (2012). Qualitative content analysis in practice. London. Sage publications. UN (2006). Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Retrieved from: https://un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities Valle, J. W., Solis, S., Volpitta, D., & Connor, D. J. (2004). The disability closet: Teachers with learning disabilities evaluate the risks and benefits of “coming out”. Equity & Excellence in Education, 37 (1), 4-17.
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