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Teaching Special Education in the General Education Classroom


There are many parallels between a special education teacher and a general education teacher. In fact, they may share the same students, as children with identified special needs do often need to spend a portion of their day in the general education classroom as well as another portion in more intensive and tailored tutelage in their own separate space. While children with more intensive special needs may spend their time in specialized classes, it is expected that special needs children are, at one time or another, mainstreamed into the general classroom. It, therefore, becomes vital that the general education teacher is aware of how to create a learning environment that is conducive to helping all the students meet their academic and behavioral goals. It is also essential for the special education teacher to provide sufficient case management and support. Efficient communication is essential for the support of this dynamic; allowing the implementation of teaching plans and strategies that have the potential to make a significant difference in accessing students with special needs. This literature review will seek to critically review the dynamic that comprises teaching special education within the general education classroom.

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Classroom Management

Scott Terrance posits that teachers often report that addressing student behavior is among the most challenging issues they face within the execution of their duties daily despite popular media sensationalizing weapons, drugs, and violence as the primary behavioral issues affecting teachers (97). He further shares those novice teachers, whether general education or special needs teachers, may be inadequately prepared to deal with student misbehavior (Scott 97), which may comprise student disengagement or simple disruption of the environment by various factors. There is a definite and inextricable connection between student behavior and academics, whether in the general classroom or special need, which further drives the need for the infusion of student behavior management into teacher-training programs (Scott 99). This is because, despite teachers identifying student behavioral issues as the primary daily issue plaguing general education and special education classes, a paradox occurs in the fact that they also admit that this is the area that they are least equipped for (Scott 98, 99). Therefore, the need to expose both preservice teachers to effective classroom behavior management training, as well as refreshing and availing the same service to in-service teachers, is essential in the promotion of student achievement regardless of whether they are in the general education classrooms or special education needs.

Borders et al. further took to review the dynamic of integrating special needs students into the general education classroom, specifically physically impaired, deaf, or hard of hearing students (1). They noted that the inclusion of deaf or hard of hearing students within the general education classroom was higher than ever and that; as a result, there was a growing need for general education teachers to be acutely aware of the strengths and requirements of this group, and consequently devise effective strategies to implement in the classroom (Borders et al. 65). While general education teachers may be inexperienced in the handling of deaf and hard of hearing students, understanding their language or communication, social, academic, and emotional needs would be essential in the integration of these students into the classroom (Borders et al. 66). Their research, therefore, delves into the available means that can be utilized by the general education teacher to better incorporate and fulfill the educational and behavioral needs of deaf and hard of hearing students in his or her general education classroom. They acknowledge that with the development of listening technology, the inclusion of these students today looks much more different than it did a decade ago (Borders et al. 67). They suggest that the best approach to adopting effective language modalities for these students would be to initiate communication, which will lend itself to the best approach to use as there are several subjective communication forms including sign language, total communication, cued speech, and so forth (Borders et al. 72).

Kebbi undertook research that was intended to highlight various sources of stress, as well as its effects and coping strategies among teachers; both in the general (mainstream) domain, as well as special education teachers (1). This research was conducted in Lebanon, with the sample population sourced to include 139 educators from a total of 8 private Lebanese schools in Beirut. She employed the Pullis Inventory of Teacher Stress (PITS), which is a validated questionnaire, and quantitatively analyzed the responses for insight into the issue under study. This approach is especially efficient in the elimination of bias, and in the overall validity of the work, as the researcher’s subjectivity is eliminated from the collection of data and analysis of the findings. The sample used comprised 100 general classroom teachers and 39 special education teachers who were at one time or another directly involved in the teaching of special needs students. Her three-pronged strategy also sought to; identify the primary sources and effects of stress encounters by general and special education teachers in the education of special needs students, identify the coping strategies implemented in the mitigation of this stress, and finally examine the correlation between the sources and effects of stress, with the coping strategies. The inability to meet personal and professional goals and a lack of enjoyment in teaching were identified as internal sources of stress, while demands on after-school time and too much work were external sources (Kebbi 43). However, she found a weak positive correlation between these sources and the adoption of a coping strategy, which means that while these stress factors drove teachers to adopt coping mechanisms, the influence was weak. On the other hand, the coping strategies had a weak negative correlation with the effects of stress, which suggests that the coping strategies were fairly effective in the mitigation of stress effects albeit weakly (Kebbi 53, 54, 55, 56).

Inclusion and Collaborative Strategies

Hernandez et al. conducted a review to capture the prevailing attitudes of general education and special education teachers to the inclusion of special education needs students in classrooms. They sought to understand the differences in attitude among these two subsets of teachers, as well as ascertain if these differences could be predicated by a teacher’s level of self-efficacy, the teacher type, and education levels (79). They adopted a quantitative approach to remove their subjective interpretation of the results by collecting data from a sample of 118 elementary and middle-school educators with an online survey. They then conducted a multiple regression and ANOVA to identify and quantify interrelationships (Hernandez et al. 81, 83). They found that special education teachers had a significantly better attitude towards inclusivity than general education teachers, with the teacher type and self-efficacy being significant predictors of teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion of students with special education needs (Hernandez et al. 87). Higher levels of self-efficacy, regardless of the teacher type, translated to a much better attitude towards the inclusion of students with disabilities (Hernandez et al. 87). They, therefore, recommended that school administrators implement training to overall improve teacher self-efficacy and increase inclusivity, which would ultimately narrow the achievement gap between students, and improve student outcomes (Hernandez et al. 90).

With autism flagged as the fastest-growing developmental disability in the United States, general education classrooms are ever-increasingly popular learning environments for autistic students. Bosch Morgan, therefore, sought to conduct a quantitative study whereby he could determine whether there was a significant difference in the attitudes towards the inclusion of autistic children in general education classrooms of secondary general and special educators in a school system (Bosch 5). He implemented a quantitative approach, where data was collected from a sample size comprising 50 general education teachers, and 32 special education teachers over 13 high schools using a modified validated questionnaire (Bosch 15, 18, 19). The differences in attitude between the general education teachers, and the special education needs teachers were assessed using the independent sample t-test, where no statistical significance was found between the attitudes and logistical concerns of general and special education teachers to the inclusion of children with autism in general education classes (Bosch 20, 24). However, this could be contextually rationalized by the increased inclusion of autistic students in general education classrooms already which has led to more acceptance of autistic children in the classroom. What was perhaps more interesting was the statistical significance between general and special education teachers’ attitudes in the professional and philosophical issues regarding the inclusion of autistic children in general education classrooms. Special education teachers had a more positive attitude towards professional issues, while general education teachers were more inclined to philosophical issues (Bosch 27). This represented a significant finding in that general education teachers were more recipients to including autistic students in general education classrooms, which was indicative of an attitudinal swing that was not captured in previous literature. More studies, however, ought to be conducted to validate this finding.

McDougall sought to expand to previous literature that reviewed the benefits and strategies implemented in an inclusion classroom presided by general education and special education teachers within an urban high school. The collaboration of these two subsets of teachers is essential in the implementation of an effective instruction delivery to special needs and general education students within the same class. (McDougall 2). The study followed a qualitative approach, where a sample of General education teachers, special education teachers, and in-class support was interviewed to get their perspectives on teaching strategies, and collaboration over five classes; four of which were inclusion classes (McDougall 14). Research-based strategies implemented to boost academic and behavioral progress were observed in-classroom use, including Universal Design learning, small-group reinforced instruction, and peer-to-peer tutoring (McDougall 24). However, the teachers themselves identified their lack of professional training could be significantly contributing to the lack of greater improvement and outcome in the special needs students. Further, general education teachers felt that they needed further professional training to better implement their pedagogical skills with the disabled students, despite the implemented collaborative strategies between general education and special education teachers being successful (McDougall 24, 25)

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Stakeholder Impacts

Zagona et al. conducted a qualitative study that sought to examine parents’ perspectives and lived-in experiences regarding the implementation of special education for their children. This included reviewing the degree to which decisions about their child’s education were implemented and the level of discussion with school personnel (Zagona et al. 107). The authors also wanted to find out how parents rationalized the inclusion, or lack thereof, of individualized educational programs (IEPs) for their children. The sample population included parents of children with an intellectual or developmental disability and they were requested to describe their experiences in regards to discussion with the school on student placement and special education services (Zagona et al. 109). The parents described a desire for inclusive educational placements, as well as describing mixed experiences with agreeing with school personnel on the special education services they would avail for their child (Zagona et al. 113). There was also a variation in the implementation of IEP, which was rationalized to be due to the following factors; educator training, knowledge and overall preparation, the fiscal position of the entire school district, and system and philosophical barriers (Zagona et al. 118, 119). The authors recommended that parent-focused content should be included in the coursework for both the general and special needs education curriculum. This would help with parent collaboration, which is essential given the importance and complexity involved with creating good relationships with parents (Zagona et al. 122).

Toms, on the other hand, conducted research that aimed to explore the prevailing relationship between general education teachers working in an inclusive classroom, with the parents of children under the age of three years old with disabilities. The study followed an action research paradigm using a survey and field observations (Toms 21). The researcher sought to identify the nature and existence of a relationship between the parents and general education teachers, review how the relationship dimensions supported both the teachers and parents in an inclusive classroom context, and finally the implications necessary to foster an inclusive classroom for special needs students aged three years and below (Toms 8). The prevailing argument was that parental involvement in the child’s schooling, regardless of whether the child needed special educational requirements or not, correlated with academic success. The quality of this involvement and the support of the educators was equally as important, despite the complexities involved with this relationship (Toms 19). The research was conducted based on three domains, namely the parent-teacher interaction, the implementation of an individualized education program (IEP), and the curriculum environment. It was implemented in the ACE learning center as well, with a sample of 8 parents selected (Toms 20). With the SCERTS framework implemented to analyze the data, communication was identified as a primary theme, along with the need for individual identity. The former was expected, as no effective relationship can be fostered with no communication developed. However, the latter also provided that each student should be identified personally and intervention tailored to their social and developmental needs. This highlighted the need for an effective IEP program to be implemented (Toms 34, 35).


There is a lot of variables to consider in the implementation of an inclusive classroom. However, from the reviewed literature, school administrators need to provide proper training for teachers, whether the general education or special education needs teachers. This would inextricably facilitate better attitudes and implementation of special education programs, along with the effective integration of special needs children in the general education classroom. Furthermore, identifying the causes of stress, and effective mitigation strategies are also necessary, as this would help with the prevention of burnout and teacher fatigue, which ultimately helps in the retention of staff. A supportive and collaborative framework is also vital, comprising of both special needs and general education teachers, and parents as this fosters an environment that promotes student outcomes and achievement overall.

Works Cited

Borders, Christy M., et al. “Inclusion of Deaf/Hard of Hearing Students in the General Education Classroom”, in General and Special Education Inclusion in an Age of Change: Impact on Students with Disabilities, edited by Jeffrey Bakken and Festus Obiakor, Advances in Special Education, vol. 31, 2016, pp. 65-94.

Bosch, Morghan E. “Examining the attitudes of secondary general education and special education teachers toward inclusion of children with autism in general education classrooms.” Journal of the American Academy of Special Education Professionals, Fall 2016, pp. 5-17.

Hernandez, David, et al. “General Education and Special Education Teachers’ Attitudes towards Inclusion.” Journal of the American Academy of Special Education Professionals, Fall 2016, pp. 79-93.

Kebbi, Marwa. “Stress and Coping Strategies Used by Special Education and General Classroom Teachers.” International journal of special education vol. 33, no. 1, 2018, pp. 34-61.

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McDougall, Angela. “A study of the collaborative strategies of general education and special education teachers in the inclusion classroom in an urban high school.” 2019. Thesis. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.

Scott, Terrance M. “Training classroom management with preservice special education teachers: Special education challenges in a general education world.” Teacher Education and Special Education, vol. 40, no. 2, 2017, pp. 97-101.

Toms, Sophie. A Study of the Relationship Between General Education Teachers and the Parents of Children with Disabilities in an Inclusive Classroom. Thesis. University Honors College, Middle Tennessee State University, 2018.

Zagona, Alison L., et al. “Parent Perspectives on Special Education Services: How Do Schools Implement Team Decisions?” School Community Journal, vol. 29, no. 2, 2019, pp. 105-128.

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