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JTE Author Interview: Analyzing Historical Intersections Between General and Special Education to Support More Inclusive Practice

Check out the latest the JTE Insider blog interview by the Journal of Teacher Education (JTE) editorial team. This blog is available to the public, and AACTE members have free access to the articles in the JTE online archives—just log in with your AACTE profile.

This interview features insights from the JTE article, “Interrogating the Intersections Between General and Special Education in the History of Teacher Education Reform” by Linda P. Blanton, Marleen C. Pugach, and Mildred Boveda. The article appears in the Sept/Oct 2018 issue of JTE.

Q1. What motivated you to pursue this particular research topic?

Teacher educators continue to struggle with operationalizing the philosophical commitment to preparing teachers for a more inclusive practice.  A big part of this problem is failing to see and take advantage of the linkages across the multiple areas of expertise within teacher education, instead mostly defaulting to the historical separation between special and (for lack of a better term) “general” education.  We decided to approach this problem historically by analyzing modern reforms in teacher education—which could readily have been occasions for taking up more inclusive practices—specifically in terms of the intersections that existed to mine those linkages.  Unfortunately, they have mostly gone unexplored.  Our hope is that in providing this level of historic detail, current teacher educators might better be able to perceive and act upon the full potential of national, state, and local teacher education reforms to support inclusive educational practice.

Q2. Writing, by necessity, requires leaving certain things on the cutting room floor. What didn’t make it into the article that you want to talk about?

This study was based on an extensive analysis of teacher education reforms from 1970 to the present. A comprehensive table of these reforms–including each reform’s key components, evidence establishing it as a reform, as well as its impact–provides critical detail to our analysis. The table is available as a linked document through JTE within the article; length requirements would not permit it to be provided as part of the article itself.  So we encourage readers to review the table as they read the article.

Q3. What current areas of research are you pursuing?

We continue to write and conduct research on inclusive educational practice and intersectionality. Currently, Blanton and Pugach have a Chapter titled Dual Certification Programs in the forthcoming Oxford Encyclopedia of Inclusive and Special Education. This chapter examines the potential of dual certification programs for achieving the larger international commitment to preparing teachers for inclusive teaching practice.  Blanton and Pugach have also developed a model for the next generation of research on teacher education for inclusion, published as a chapter of Florian and Pantic’s edited volume, Teacher Education for the Changing Demographics of Schools. Pugach is pursuing a line of research on social justice and identity with Joyce Gomez-Najarro and Ananya Matewos; the first of these studies, available in JTE’s Online First, is A review of identity in research on social justice in teacher education: What role for intersectionality?  Boveda is continuing her efforts to develop and validate items for the Intersectional Competence Measure, an instrument she designed to measure pre-services teachers’ preparedness for an increasingly diverse school population.

Q4. What new challenges do you see for the field of teacher education?

Many of the challenges in the field relate to repeating the mistakes of the past – issues that arise, and will continue to arise from the historical separation of general and special education, both in teacher preparation and in school practice, if not addressed directly and differently. However, teachers are being asked to step up their practice at a time when the profession of teaching is under siege more than ever before. Achieving the promise of inclusive education across all students who are marginalized—not limited to students with disabilities—will require a sweeping and far-reaching social and political commitment to improving the status of the profession.

Q5. What advice would you give to new scholars in teacher education?

Two of us (Blanton and Pugach) were established teacher education scholars during the decades examined in this historical analysis, and one (Boveda) is in the early stage of her academic career. The lessons learned from our intergenerational collaboration are especially pertinent given the complex and entrenched challenges teacher education scholars are attempting to address.

Our first suggestion relates to the methods used to identify reform efforts included in this analysis. In making decisions regarding which were key reform initiatives, we included several important major reports that would not always appear in searches of journal, handbook, or electronic search engines. These reports contain critical information about the sociopolitical issues and ethos that influenced teacher education at the time. We encourage novice scholars to go beyond traditional peer-reviewed sources and to consider government agencies, professional organizations, and centers that may generate reports that hold insightful information about the field.

Our second suggestion relates to who new scholars view as colleagues and potential collaborators.  Many of us in teacher education are situated within specific equity communities (e.g., special education teacher education, urban education teacher education, bilingual teacher education).  In our article, we found that although equity communities shared similar goals, the tendency to center specific student populations and pedagogical practices resulted in missed opportunities to coalesce and transform the field. We encourage new scholars to reach across disciplinary divides and think strategically about how best to engage colleagues with diverse equity agendas.

Q6. How does an historical analysis such as this one influence future research on teacher education?

We hope that reading an historical analysis such as this one motivates teacher educators to conceptualize future research that is guided by greater insights into and understandings of the missed opportunities of the past. By examining what could have taken place between special and general educators related to teacher education reform, teacher education researchers may better seize upon rich intersections that–although repeatedly overlooked historically—continue to be available today. Going forward, every occasion for reform should be treated as an opportunity to think across specializations, if we are committed to doing so. Likewise, each reform presents an opportunity to recognize the value of what we share commonly and what we can offer as discrete expertise in assuring new teachers have the capacity to work successfully across the full range of students we serve in today’s classrooms.

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