Forlin and Chambers (2001), explore the question about whether pre-service teachers are prepared to confidently work in inclusive classrooms. Further research was required to see if applied experiences impacted the preparedness of pre-service teachers for inclusive education. This study explores the use of applied experiences by providing the option to engage with people with disabilities during a course that was designed to prepare teachers for inclusion. Pre-service teachers reported on their sentiments, attitudes, and concerns towards inclusion to measure the impact.
The participants consisted of 67 pre-service teachers taken from the first three years of a four year education undergraduate program in a university in Western Australia. There were only 2 males and 93% were 29 years or younger. Of all participants, 49% said they had no previous training in the area of special needs and 79% had prior teaching experience. 55% of participants indicated that they had already had interactions with people with a disability. The participants were offered a course as an elective that consisted of 39 hours of face-to-face training that took place over 13 weeks. The curriculum delves into principles and practices of inclusive education in order for pre-service teachers to explore their own attitudes and beliefs about inclusion. Pre-service teachers had to make a choice between two options. Option 1 involved a voluntary social experience in which the pre-service teacher interacts with a person with a disability for 10 hours; 17 individuals chose this options. Option 2 consisted of pre-service teachers locating inclusive programs within their communities in order to critique them; 50 individuals chose this option.
Data was collected both prior to and following the unit study in order to compare perceptions before and after the study. The Sentiments, Attitudes, and Concerns about Inclusive Education Scale (SACIE)was used to measure pre-service teachers’ perceptions on preparedness for inclusion. This scale had 15 items and used a 4-point Likert measure in order to analyze sentiments, attitudes, and concerns for preparedness of inclusive education. 7 of 15 items focused on attitudes towards students with different educational needs; 6 of 15 items focused on concerns about inclusive education; and 2 items focused on sentiments when interacting with people with disabilities. A Total Scale Testwas then calculated in order to examine the overview of perceptions. Additionally, a 6-point scale was used to determine level of confidence in teaching students with special learning needs and knowledge on disability legislation.
Results state that following the study, pre-service teachers had a more positive attitude towards students who have mild support needs; however, were least supportive and positive towards students who were physically aggressive. The level of concern that pre-service teachers had slightly increased after the course. Individuals demonstrated more concern about having enough knowledge and skill base, providing appropriate attention to students, an increase in workload, as well as, inadequate resources and lack of support staff. Those who partook in the social experience in which they interacted with a person with a disability reported being more concerned about preparedness after the course than those who did not interact with a person with a disability. Individuals who expressed a more positive attitude had more confidence and vice versa. Pre-service teachers indicated more knowledge about legislation related to teaching students with disabilities. Concerns varied depending on knowledge; following the course, pre-service teachers continued to express concern when they felt they did not have much knowledge about legislation regarding inclusion. An unexpected outcome of the study was that those who engaged with people with a disability did not gain in positive attitudes after the applied experience. Following the course, pre-service teachers expressed more concern about being stressed when having students with disabilities in their class than prior to the study.
The authors concluded that it may be possible that pre-service teachers’ confidence may raise once they gain more knowledge about responsibilities when teaching students with disabilities. Individuals must be taught the skills and strategies that will facilitate them to teach inclusivity without raising their stress levels. While first-hand experiences raised awareness of needs, it did not lessen stress, concern, or increase positive attitudes. In order to help establish a smooth transition from undergraduate teacher preparation to becoming a trained inclusive teacher, universities need to collaborate with educational systems. In hopes to provide full support to pre-service teachers, absolute commitment from educational systems to mentoring new teachers and providing appropriate professional learning is required. Some training could be done to help ease and address these issues, however, there are restraints on what these classes can offer pre-service teachers.