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A Model Cohort, the edTPA, and the Social Model of Disability: Reviewing the Foundations for Teacher Preparation for Inclusive Education

Mon, April 20, 2:15 to 3:45pm, Hyatt, Floor: West Tower - Gold Level, Regency AB


Teacher preparation for inclusive education typically begins by reflecting on disability as socially constructed rather than as inherent within the learner. Teacher candidates learn to recognize traditional special education practices as appropriating a medical model of disability, which is premised on diagnosis, professionally prescribed treatment, and the restoration of the individual to “normalcy” (Gabel, 2005; Gallagher, 2004; Skrtic, 1999). This oppositional relation between the social and medical model has been increasingly problematized within disability studies scholarship (Siebers, 2008). The embodied experiences of individuals with disabilities within specific material contexts have not always conformed to the assumptions of social constructionism. However, the relevance of this debate for teacher preparation for inclusive education has not been fully explored. In this paper, we draw on our experiences as instructors of a cohort of students enrolled in a secondary inclusive education program to inquire into the sufficiency of the social model of disability as its theoretical grounding.

The cohort of teacher candidates described for this study displayed enthusiastic commitment to the counter-hegemonic praxis of inclusive education (Slee, 2011) but when required to perform their knowledge of teaching students with disabilities on the edTPA, all but one failed to pass the test. While recognizing the flaws of such standardized teacher assessments, we decided to use their “failure” to perform on this test, as an opportunity to re-consider the foundations of our own curriculum. Using a case study of the curricular experience of this cohort across three courses taught by us, we highlight the moments of disjuncture for our students, the gaps in our instruction, and the potential for rethinking our preparation of inclusive educators.

Data for the paper included student assignments/online participation across all three courses. We analyze the ways in which the cohort, individually and collectively, took up the theoretical underpinnings of disability studies and inclusivity offered therein, and consciously worked to consider this theoretical perspective in their coursework as well as their field placement. Findings from our analysis also showed that while the cohort embraced the social model of disability, they often felt conflicted when confronted with the material realities of a student’s disability. In these instances they tended to either resort to a traditional medical model to make decisions regarding practical instruction for the student or, in holding to their theoretical positioning, feel insufficient and incapable as teachers.

We subsequently draw on our analysis of this cohort’s performance to question the sufficiency of the social model of disability for teacher preparation and suggest an alternate frame based on the theory of complex embodiment (Seibers, 2008). We argue that if teacher preparation has to elicit sustained commitments from educators to inclusive schooling, it has to remain responsive to the demands placed on teachers to demonstrate standardized conceptions of competence. Grounded within post-positivist realism, we propose a complex understanding of inclusive education that can serve teachers within historically specific material and discursive contexts.


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