Are Special Education Teachers Still Essential in Australian Education? A Practitioner’s Perspective for the 21st Century

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The onset of more generalised approaches to teaching in Australia has resulted in an apparent reduction in the opportunities for teachers to specialise in certain key subject areas. With regard to special education it would appear from a practitioner’s perspective that, 'educational inclusion' implies that there is no longer a need to offer in-depth specialist courses in special education at under graduate level. Moreover, it has been argued that special needs courses are now so generic in content and short in length that their relevance to classrooms are in question.

Daily, Australian teachers face significant professional dilemmas in attempting to manage an increasingly crowded, outcome-measured curriculum, complicated by the difficulties of catering for the learning needs of all students. Teachers, particularly those who are newly graduated, have limited knowledge and experience of their students with special needs, including the complex behaviours, and social emotional issues of this population. These teachers are at even greater disadvantage, as shown in a recent Australian education publication stating “early career teachers felt that their pre-service courses had been least helpful in preparing them for teaching students from indigenous backgrounds and teaching students with special needs”(Griffin, 2008)

Innovative pathways for preparing new teachers to be more aware of their role in special education are still urgently needed, more particularly as the age-profile of the profession becomes increasingly skewed with a consequent diminishing of classroom-level expertise. This paper explores each of these themes and offers some suggestions for progression, based on closer partnerships between mainstream and special education facilities and those tertiary organisations providing teacher training.

Keywords: Special Education, Inclusion, Pre-Service Teachers, Newly Graduated Teachers, Least Prepared, Complex Students
Stream: Special Education, Learning Difficulties, Disability
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Fiona Forbes

President, Australian Special Education Association
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Fiona Forbes has worked in early childhood, primary, secondary, tertiary and special education fields for 20 years. A principal for the past 11 years in special education, Fiona has worked for the past eight as the Principal of a special school for early childhood students with language disorders. With a keen interest in educational leadership, social, emotional and behavioural issues and international and national research on special education, Fiona’s article on Towards Inclusion: An Australian Perspective was published in NASEN'S Support for Learning Journal in May 2007. In 2008 Fiona presented papers on educational leadership at international conferences and universities in Greece, Sweden and the UK. Fiona is Australian President of the Special Education Principals’ Association and Vice President of the Western Australian branch.

Ref: L09P1455