Contemporary educational trends strive to achieve equality and inclusivity with the provision of sufficient learning opportunities for all students with the regard to their needs and capabilities. In the context of the increasing demands in the field of special education, the standards and requirements for teachers’ competencies and skills are enhancing. The integration of learners with disabilities into the general classroom requires educators’ flexibility, student-centered approaches in instruction and assessment, as well as the implementation of specific communication strategies aimed at meeting student needs. However, the skills and knowledge teachers obtain at colleges do not suffice the expectations of special education organizations, which strive for equity, inclusivity, and facilitated student capabilities. Bridging the gap between school requirements and the level of teachers’ college preparation will ensure that educators working in special education classrooms are competent to perform to the standards of the contemporary Canadian educational system.
Relevance of the Problem
The pressing issue in the Canadian special education setting is the lack of proper preparation of teachers during their college education to meet the needs of special education learners. In particular, this problem is manifested in the inability of teachers to perform expected skills and methods relevant to their field of practice once they finish college and start working at schools. The limited quality of teacher training and preparation for providing special education services according to the needs of students with disabilities is a multifaceted and complex issue in the context of contemporary education. It is rooted in the problems in staffing and teacher training curriculum adjustment that fail to fit the educational needs of today (Mason-Williams et al. 45). In particular, the tentative issue of teacher attrition and shortage due to the challenges of this work leads to enabling the employment of less competent professionals whose skills and knowledge do not necessarily match special education high standards (Billingsley and Bettini 697; Mason-Williams et al. 45). Thus, given the understaffing issues and the complexities of the work, special education teachers require better preparation.
This problem is particularly relevant in the context of student-centered education, where the needs of each learner are decisive at the individual level. Indeed, “the ministry is committed to fostering a caring and safe learning environment in Ontario schools to support the success and well-being of all students, including students with learning disabilities” (Policy/Program Memorandum 8 par. 1). More specifically, the abilities and needs of each student have to be identified, assessed, and categorized to maximize their developmental and learning opportunities in the classroom. According to the Ministry of Education, “school boards are required to implement procedures for early and ongoing identification of the learning abilities and needs of students” (Policy/Program Memorandum 8 par. 8). Such procedures should start “when a student is first enrolled in school and should continue throughout a student’s school life” (Policy/Program Memorandum 8 par. 8). However, if educators fail to teach children based on the identification and assessment results due to their incompetency, students’ development is hindered, and their learning opportunities are not fully accomplished. Ultimately, it jeopardizes their overall life achievements in adulthood, which is why the problem should be resolved urgently.
Faculty on the Job Training Program as a Change Driver
In order to address the identified issue and ensure the long-term benefits of the solution, the institution should implement an on the job training program for teachers. It is essential to assess teachers’ competencies when they start working at a school to identify the gaps they need to fill. For example, “the organization of special education instruction in K–12 schools varies, with some teachers serving students identified with one disability, while others teach students in cross-categorical programs, serving students identified with varied disabilities” (Billingsley and Bettini 707). Thus, some teachers might be more knowledgeable about instruction strategies pertaining to particular student needs and methodologies than others, which should be incorporated through interprofessional collaboration. Indeed, “collaborative professionalism is defined as professionals – at all levels of the education system – working together, sharing knowledge, skills and experience to improve student achievement and well-being of both students and staff” (Policy/Program Memorandum 159 par. 1). Thus, the selected type of intervention, which is an on the job training program, is justified by the opportunities of collaborative professionalism and interprofessional experience exchange.
The program should include practice-based interventions of experience exchange, role-playing, case studies, and group discussions aimed at solving specific issues in instruction, assessment, and environment-building to meet special educational needs of students with disabilities. Indeed, the possibility of tying theory with practice and setting teacher education in thir immediate work enrivonment will allow for improveing their decision-making skills and competence of working with inclusive classroom, while incorporating the varying needs of multiple students (Mason-Williams et al. 45; Policy/Program Memorandum 8). Importantly, the training interventions should incorporate the facilitation of assistive technology use for students’ benefits. In particular, “in the classroom environment, AT is used for a variety of purposes such as communication, positioning, mobility, hearing and vision, physical education, and instruction in reading, writing, and mathematics” (Atanga et al. 236- 237). Thus, the incorporation of multiple training interventions will allow for facilitating teachers’ skills and readiness to address student needs properly.
To facilitate faculty engagement in the program and ultimately achieve successful results, the leadership should ensure proper buy-in. In particular, the motivation for launching the program by explicitly articulating the goals of improving student outcomes and contributing to the overall education system development (Billingsley and Bettini 708-109). Furthermore, it is essential to engage teachers to participate in the training interventions on a voluntary basis and facilitate collective agreement as a community of performance excellence-driven educators. The outcomes of the training program should be evaluated using pre- and post-intervention testing, interviews, and self-reflection surveys.
In summation, the identified pressing issue in the contemporary special education system in Canada is the insufficiency of teachers’ preparation to work with children with disabilities under the guidelines and requirements of schools. In particular, this problem has far-reaching adverse implications for students with disabilities since an incompetent teacher fails to meet their needs and adjust the program, materials, and methods to the special requirements of such students. For that matter, it has been proposed to implement an on the job training program for teachers to ensure the improvement of their practical skills in the special education setting to ensure their hands-on experience for competency increase. The implementation of training that would improve teachers’ accommodation of assessment, instruction, and environment-building strategies according to student needs might be coupled with the advancement of assistive technology use. It is anticipated that the proposed change will allow for improving teacher performance, advance their career opportunities, thus ensuring their buy-in, and benefit students’ learning opportunities under the conditions of the inclusive classroom.
Atanga, Comfort, et al. “Teachers of students with learning disabilities: Assistive technology knowledge, perceptions, interests, and barriers.” Journal of Special Education Technology, vol. 35, no. 4, 2020, pp. 236-248.
Billingsley, Bonnie, and Elizabeth Bettini. “Special Education Teacher Attrition and Retention: A Review of the Literature.” Review of Educational Research, vol. 89, no. 5, 2019, pp. 697-744.
Mason-Williams, Loretta, et al. “Rethinking Shortages in Special Education: Making Good on the Promise of an Equal Opportunity for Students with Disabilities.” Teacher Education and Special Education, vol. 43, no. 1, 2020, pp. 45-62.
“Policy/Program Memorandum 8.” Ontario, Web.
“Policy/Program Memorandum 159.” Ontario, Web.