RESPONDING TO STUDENTS’ WITH SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS DIFFICULTIES: ROLES AND LIMITATIONS
During the last decades, one can find in different countries a number of stated intentions and written policies towards the achievement of more inclusive school communities. Within this context, reforming mainstream education and redesigning support provision have been on the agenda in many countries. However, their elaboration often requires fundamental changes to be undertaken by institutions and teachers regarding their operation, role and responsibilities. All these changes have inevitably influenced the expected, perceived and actual roles and duties of what have been periodically called special-, resource-, or support teachers and have created a continuing debate over the aims and effectiveness of their interventions. In light of the above, the main aim of this study was to explore the way special teachers of primary education in Greece, who work in resource rooms, perceive, and interpret their role(s) and duties. Additionally, the research investigated teachers’ intervention practices and responses to students’ difficulties. The insights derived are part of a wider exploration of special teachers’ perceptions regarding pupils’ social and personal difficulties as well as their readiness to identify them accurately and intervene effectively. The participants of the study were forty primary school special education teachers, from different areas of the country. Teachers’ views and perspectives were elicited through individual semi-structured interviews. The data were transcribed and analyzed using qualitative methods (content analysis). According to the findings almost all the special teachers involved in this study, claimed their role was much more complex than teaching basic academic skills to children with special educational needs (N=33). The ultimate aim of their intervention was to support children to master the necessary social, emotional skills and academic knowledge so as to become included within mainstream schools and keep with the social and academic standards of mainstream classrooms. At the same time, most of the participants (N=33) viewed their role as multidimensional in the sense that they were first concerned with the emotional, psychological and social well-being of the children and then with teaching practices. As far as special teachers’ interventions are concerned, participants reported that face considerable difficulties in responding effectively to a variety of pupils’ externalizing and internalizing behavior problems. A respectful number of teachers singled out complex learning, social and emotional needs associated with autism, as the most highly demanding in terms of management and difficult to deal with, following by attention, impulsivity and hyperactivity problems (ADH/D). Participants enumerated a number of reasons that may account for the considerable management difficulties they encounter. These were related to: a) lack of adequate preparation and special training on emotional and behavior difficulties, autism and ADH/D (Ν=37), b) limited support provided by psychological services, related agencies and other specialists (N=14), c) organizational restrictions, negative attitudes, lack of knowledge and flexibility of ordinary staff (N=12) and d) ineffective liaison, partnership and collaboration with pupils’ parents (N=10). The implications of the study concerning special teachers’ training programs delivery and the promotion of inclusive practices within mainstream schools are discussed.