Teacher response to discourse in inclusion settings: challenges within professional contexts
Classroom teachers draw upon a variety of discourses to understand and make decisions about the students they teach. This case study investigation explored the discourses at work in inclusion classrooms, with particular attention paid to the way in which discourses may impact the problem of overrepresentation in special education. Frameworks that appeared to organize teacher understandings about students in inclusion settings developed into the discourses under investigation: a discourse of disability, a liberal discourse, a traditional special education discourse, and a discourse of teacher professionalism. This investigation used the frameworks of Disability Studies in Education and Critical Race Theory to formulate the research design and interpret the results. Discourses surrounding teacher understandings were unveiled through interviews with 11 teachers working in inclusion settings in middle and high schools in the suburbs outside a large metropolitan southeastern city. Results suggest that dominant discourses impact teacher understandings. In addition, two significant, unexpected findings emerged. First, an analysis of the results underscored the importance of the professional contexts within which teachers work, and second, teachers, particularly special education teachers, appear to face considerable challenges negotiating the seemingly contradictory discourses that exist within professional contexts. Further analysis points to the ways in which teachers make use of discourse to maintain their positions within dominant discourses.