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Masters of weaving: the complex role of special education teachers

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Special education teachers work under more difficult, more intense, and more demanding conditions than mainstream teachers. Relations between teachers, pupils, and parents are more complex than in mainstream education due to the intensity, intimacy, vulnerability, and commitment involved. Teachers require special skills so they can practice atypical teaching approaches. They require in-depth knowledge of all their pupils’ special needs and must know what is required to teach them. They must provide a supportive educational environment that encourages learning, know abnormal developmental characteristics, analyze tasks, and be up to date with current relevant teaching methods. Our understanding of the inner world of special education teachers is deepened through narrative research. In education, narrative research facilitates the close examination of agents of education by focusing on their discourse. It provides an opportunity for their voices to be heard and offers empowerment. Nine experienced special education teachers aged in their mid-40s participated in the study. Most worked in special education and integrated classrooms. The research tools were open-ended life-story interviews In stage one of the analysis, the categories were defined after reading the interviews in as open and unbiased a manner as possible, and the primary themes developed. Stage two involved classifying and formulating the themes based on these categories. The findings, which describe the narrator’s own experiences, feelings, and viewpoints, are presented in the narrator-participants’ own language. A comprehensive, multifaceted picture of the research participants’ reality is thus obtained. The study revealed that teachers who start out as idealists and want to ‘save the world,’ or feel confident at least in their own abilities and wish to work hard for children with special needs, are often rudely awakened early in their careers because of the day-to-day complexity of their work. Special education is complex because it involves multiple roles and tasks and because teachers have to tackle diverse problems simultaneously. The teachers seemed keen to remain in the profession, perhaps because special education offers a satisfying career. This study was not just about special education teachers; it involved thinking about teaching differently. Metaphors can be a way to unlock the ontology and epistemology of teachers’ knowledge. Using a novel metaphor, ‘Masters of Weaving,’ the article invites educators all over the world to participate in a discourse with many voices. In a complex and dynamic world, there are no unequivocal answers.
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Keywords: complexity in teaching; narrative research; special education teachers

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Special Education Studies, Levinsky College of Education, Tel Aviv, Israel

Publication date: January 2, 2015

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