How Teacher Preparation Programs Can Help All Teachers Better Serve Students With Disabilities

The Center for American Progress recently released recommendations to states, teacher preparation programs, and districts to improve the preparation of teachers to serve students with disabilities. Excerpts of the piece appear below:

Roughly 7 million students in the K-12 public school system–14 percent–are identified as students with disabilities. Of these, more than 62 percent spend a large majority of their day in general education classrooms. Given the numbers, it is clear that general education teachers should possess the tools necessary to help students with disabilities succeed. Teacher preparation programs can be a powerful and critical lever for ensuring this support; however, most teacher preparation programs do not center students with disabilities in their curriculum for general education teachers.

In order to ensure that teachers are adequately prepared to guide students with disabilities to success in the classroom and beyond, various entities must step up to the challenge. As part of their teacher licensure or certification processes, states should:

  • Require general education graduates of traditional and alternative teacher preparation programs to complete coursework dedicated to supporting students with disabilities
  • Require teaching candidates to demonstrate an understanding of how to meet the needs of students with disabilities
  • Ensure that ongoing teacher training requirements include education on supporting students with disabilities

In addition, to better prepare graduates to teach students with disabilities, teacher preparation programs should:

  • Audit the required coursework for general education teachers to determine if there are and address any gaps in content related to teaching students with disabilities
  • Emphasize in coursework the needs of students with disabilities at the intersection of race, class, gender, immigration status, and LGBTQ identity, as disability can manifest differently across different communities
  • Provide fieldwork and student teaching opportunities that allow general education teachers to interact with and understand IEPs

Finally, to ensure classroom success for all students, specifically students with disabilities, school districts should:

  • Provide onboarding opportunities for general education teachers to gain additional experience with the district’s processes and available supports for students with disabilities
  • Partner with teacher preparation programs to develop effective ongoing preservice training and professional development opportunities for in-service teachers to support students with disabilities

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