Is It Too Late to Save Ms. Angel?: What Elementary Educators Say About Professional Development and IDEA
Loas, Monica Suy
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Background: Effective professional development for elementary inclusion educators in meeting the needs of students under the special education program is essential. The researcher focuses on special education teachers who are serving students receiving academic support under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). An analysis of peer-reviewed literature shows that if teachers do not have available effective professional development, teachers’ retention will be negatively affected by burnout (experiencing emotional exhaustion). Purpose: This was a qualitative study of teacher perceptions of staff development for a special education program in a Texas urban district. Research Question: What are special education teachers’ perceptions of the effectiveness of the professional development for inclusion instruction in elementary classrooms? Methods: Teachers from an elementary campus (1st grade to 5th grade) located in an urban school district in Texas participated. The researcher utilized narrative research as she combined her experiences with the participants’ lives. The researcher, using case study design, interviewed participants to obtain anecdotal data and analyzed responses obtained from individualized and focus interviews using available word processing software and an online word cloud generator. For the study, the researcher conducted interviews with three participants over a month, no more than an hour each for each interview phase. After the researcher conducted the initial individual interviews, there was a follow-up interview for member checks and enhancement and a focus group. Responses were manually transcribed and reviewed for keywords via an online word cloud generator. Furthermore, the researcher re-read the transcripts, coding them for patterns of themes. Themes emerging from the analysis informed the study of participants’ perspectives of their district’s special education professional development program. The researcher suggested recommendations for future research. Results: Overall, themes emerging include the current state of preparedness of special education inclusion teachers; the overall structure of the campus and district’s special education program; the current state of professional development available; and future direction of the special education’s professional development program. The findings revealed special education inclusion teachers desired to have a choice of professional development available to them as well as ongoing support through mentorship from their diagnostician, administrators, and fellow department members. Campus leaders should also attend professional development, according to the participants’ interview responses. Topics for development desired by the participants include strengthening the co-teacher relationship as there was not a strong understanding of the special education teacher’s role in the classroom. Another commonality among the interviewees was the need for special education teachers to be involved in the campus’ decision-making process due to lack of communication from leaders on attending instructional planning meetings, discipline, and scheduling. As a result, the inclusion teachers were unable to plan effectively (and attend related professional development sessions) to ensure the success of students. Conclusion: A continued investigation of the impact professional development has on special education teachers’ capability to carry out their duties is needed. Continuous evaluation for improvement of the professional development program can lead to innovations within the teaching practice for the studied district and beyond. The interviews with the participants reflect the need to improve current offerings so the students with whom they service may achieve their academic and behavioral goals.