Disability Studies Quarterly
Spring 2005, Volume 25, No. 2
<www.dsq-sds.org>
Copyright 2005 by the Society
for Disability Studies


Understanding Educator Attitudes
Toward the Implementation of Inclusive Education

Pearl Subban
Ph.D. Student
Monash University
Melbourne
Victoria
Australia
E-mail: pearlsubban@iprimus.com.au

&

Dr. Umesh Sharma
Lecturer in Special Education
Krongold Centre
Faculty of Education
Monash University, Clayton
Victoria, Australia-3800
Email: umesh.sharma@education.monash.edu.au
Phone: +61 3 99054388
Fax: + 61 3 99055127


Abstract

This paper presents the findings of an empirical study to investigate the attitudes of regular education teachers toward the implementation of inclusive education. The cited study was part of a two-pronged research inquiry which investigated teachers attitudes toward, and their concerns about inclusive education. This discourse was based on semi-structured interviews, conducted with mainstream teachers in state schools in Victoria, Australia. The results imply that Victorian teachers are in the main positively inclined towards the philosophy of inclusive education, perceiving the process as beneficial to all participants within the inclusive setting. However, they remain cautious about the inclusion of students with more severe disabilities.

Keywords: Inclusive education, teacher attitudes, teacher concerns, students with disabilities.

Introduction

Within the contemporary inclusive classrooms, teachers face increased pressure as their roles diversify, compared to previous generations (Avramidis, Bayliss, & Burden, 2000; Clayton, 1996; Forlin, 1997; Long, 1995; McKinnon & Gordon, 1999; Paterson & Graham, 2000; Schloss, 1992). Teachers have varied in their responses to these challenges (Westwood & Graham, 2003). Mainstream teachers are now called upon to be sensitive to the variety of modern classrooms and to be able to rise to the challenge by adjusting their teaching styles in accordance with the multiplicity of learning styles they face (Peterson & Beloin, 1992). They are further required to be psychologically and practically prepared to take on the dynamic role of inclusive educator (Mullen, 2001), while being aware that making physical provision for students with disabilities is not as important as making attitudinal changes resulting in the removal of barriers to physical and educational access (Beattie, Anderson, & Antonak, 1997).

Several mainstream educators view the philosophy of inclusive education as an exciting challenge, the stresses associated with its introduction being seen as life-sustaining, enjoyable and beneficial (Bernard, 1990); on the other hand, it has been noted that the experience of being an inclusive educator is challenging enough to cause teachers to become physiologically and psychologically stressed (Whiting & Young, 1996). Fritz and Miller (1995) found that inclusion was an impossible obstacle for some teachers; however, others have seen it as an opportunity for personal and professional growth while contributing to the dynamic field of education. It would appear that the attitudes of educators toward the inclusion of students with disabilities are multidimensional and complex. Positive attitudes are considered to encourage the inclusion of students with disabilities into regular classrooms, while negative attitudes support low achievement and poor acceptance of students with disabilities into mainstream settings (Beattie et al., 1997).

Conceptual Framework

This study was guided by Ajzen's theory of planned behavior, an extension of the theory of reasoned action (Azjen, 1991). This is a widely used model to determine behavior arising from attitudes and has been used in research involving attitudes toward individuals with disabilities (Hodge & Jansma, 2000; Kowalski & Rizzo, 1996). Assumptions derived from the theory are that theoretical variables of behavioral intention, that is, attitude toward the behavior, the subjective norm and perceived behavior control, should come together to estimate intention (Azjen, 1991). The model suggests that attitudes toward a behavior may be influenced by past experiences, previous knowledge and newly acquired knowledge (Azjen, 1991; Azjen & Fishbein, 1977). Attitudes play a significant role in determining behavior (Azjen & Fishbein, 1977); it is therefore important to ascertain the factors shaping the attitudes of mainstream teachers as they attempt to include students with disabilities. More specifically, this study is based on the premise that the attitudes of mainstream teachers toward the inclusion of students with disabilities are influenced by past experiences (previous experience with teaching students with disabilities, previous knowledge (training in the field of inclusive education) and newly acquired knowledge (professional development or training modules).

The Rationale for this Study

As an Australian state, Victoria is viewed as a strong and active advocate for inclusive education (Forlin, 1997). Significant developments in inclusive education in Victoria have included: The Ministerial Report of Educational Services for the Disabled (1984), The Cullen-Brown Report (1993) and more recently, the Blueprint for Government Schools in Victoria (2003). All these policy documents have emphasized the need to include students with disabilities into regular school programs. It is largely because of these government initiatives that there are now more than 12,000 students with disabilities attending regular schools compared to less than 6,000 who attend special schools (Tar, 2001). The rationale for this study emanated from the dearth of studies based in the State of Victoria, which investigate teachers' attitudes toward the implementation of inclusive education in mainstream schools. Australian studies with a similar focus, have been conducted in other states and territories including Western Australia (Forlin, 2001), Queensland (Whiting & Young, 1995) and New South Wales (Bradshaw, 1998; Westwood & Graham, 2003). It would appear prudent to consider the attitudes of Victorian teachers as there have been several initiatives by the State Education Department to address the education of marginalized groups (Department of Education and Training Victoria, 2003b).

The Significance of Teachers' Perceptions of Inclusive Education

Teachers are perceived to be integral to the implementation of inclusive education (Haskell, 2000). Research communicates the view that teachers are the key to the success of inclusionary programs (Cant, 1994), as they are viewed as linchpins in the process of including students with disabilities into regular classes (Stewart, 1983; Whiting & Young, 1995). Other studies acknowledge that inclusive education can only be successful if teachers are part of the team driving this process (Horne, 1983; Malone, Gallagher, & Long, 2001).

It is important to examine the attitudes of mainstream educators toward the inclusion of students with disabilities into regular settings as their perceptions may influence their behavior toward and acceptance of such students (Hammond & Ingalls, 2003; Sideridis & Chandler, 1996; Van Reusen, Shoho, & Barker, 2001). The success of an inclusionary program may be at risk if regular classroom teachers hold negative perceptions toward the inclusion of students with disabilities (Horne, 1983; Van Reusen et al., 2001). Negative perceptions of inclusive education may become obstacles, as general education teachers attempt to include students with disabilities (Cawley, Hayden, Cade, & Baker-Kroczynski, 2002).

The following section presents an investigation of some of the factors that may influence a teacher's attitude toward the inclusion of students with disabilities into mainstream settings.

Factors Influencing Teachers' Attitudes Toward Inclusive Education

While some studies point out that teachers' attitudes to inclusive education are typically positive, (Avramidis et al., 2000; Kuester, 2000; Schmelkin, 1981), other studies reveal that teachers' attitudes may be influenced by the disquiet they experience regarding the impact such a process will have on their time and skills (Avramidis et al., 2000). The discussion that follows considers some of the factors raised by previous research, which may have influenced teachers' attitudes toward the inclusion of students with disabilities into mainstream classes.

Training Regarding Teaching Students with a Disability

Researchers note that teachers may resist inclusive practices on account of inadequate training (Gickling & Theobald, 1975; Heiman, 2001; Hines & Johnston, 1996; Minke, Bear, Deemer, & Griffin, 1996). It would appear that teachers perceive themselves as unprepared for inclusive education because they lack appropriate training in this area (Bender, Vail, & Scott, 1995; Daane, Beirne-Smith, & Latham, 2000; Gans, 1987; Malone et al., 2001). Inadequate training relating to inclusive education, may result in lowered teacher confidence as they plan for inclusive education (Schumm, Vaughn, Gordon, & Rothlein, 1994; Whitworth, 1991). Teachers who have not undertaken training regarding the inclusion of students with disabilities, may exhibit negative attitudes toward such inclusion (Van Reusen et al., 2001), while increased training was associated with more positive attitudes toward the inclusion of students with disabilities (Briggs, Johnson, Shepherd, & Sedbrook, 2002; Powers, 2002; Van Reusen et al., 2001). Training in the field of special education appears to enhance understanding and improve attitudes regarding inclusion (Kuester, 2000; Powers, 2002). Introductory courses offered through teacher preparation programs may sometimes be inadequate in preparing the general educator for successful inclusion (Beattie et al., 1997).

Gender

Several studies support the view that there is no correlation between a teacher's gender and their attitude toward inclusive education (Avramidis et al., 2000; Cornoldi, Terreni, Scruggs, & Mastropieri, 1998; Kuester, 2000; Van Reusen et al., 2001). Harvey (1985), in a similar Victorian study concluded that gender was not a significant factor in determining teacher's attitudes toward inclusive education.

However, other studies that investigated teacher attitudes toward the inclusion of students with disabilities into regular settings, found that female teachers are inclined to have more favorable attitudes (Leyser & Tappendorf, 2001; Pearman, Huang, Barnhart, & Mellblom, 1992) and appeared to have higher expectations of students with disabilities than their male counterparts (Hodge & Jansma, 2000). Contrary to this, other studies found that male teachers were either significantly more confident than females, in their ability to teach students with disabilities (Jobe, Rust, & Brissie, 1996), or they held more positive views about inclusive education (Lampropoulou & Padelliadu, 1997). Lampropoulou and Padelliadu (1997) caution that findings linking gender as a variable to investigate reactions to inclusive education, are often linked to cultural factors, with some cultures ascribing the care of students with disabilities to female teachers.

Age, Teaching Experience and Teachers' Qualifications

There are several studies which have investigated whether there is any significant correlation between a teacher's age, years of experience and qualification to that teacher's attitude toward the inclusion of students with disabilities into regular classrooms (Avramidis et al., 2000; Cornoldi et al., 1998; Harvey, 1985; Heiman, 2001; Stoler, 1992; Whiting & Young, 1995). Some studies record that older teachers appear to foster less positive attitudes than younger teachers (Cornoldi et al., 1998; Lampropoulou & Padelliadu, 1997). Younger teachers appear more accepting of inclusive trends than their more experienced counterparts (Cornoldi et al., 1998; Harvey, 1985). It would also seem that the most experienced educators have the lowest level of acceptance of inclusion (Forlin, Douglas, & Hattie, 1996; Knight, 1999). Further to this, Whiting and Young (1995) are of the view that older, more experienced teachers are uncomfortable with inclusive practices, because they face an intrusion into their rooms by support personnel. The presence of other adults in the room may result in tension and discomfort especially as they perceived the visitor as an observer and not as additional support (Whiting & Young, 1995).

Heiman (2001) and Kuester (2000) concluded that a teacher's level of educational qualification did not significantly influence that teacher's attitude toward the inclusion of students with disabilities into regular classes, while the study by Stoler (1992), indicated that teachers with high levels of education had less positive attitudes toward inclusion, than those who did not achieve master's degree status.

Class Size

Large classes may be viewed as an obstacle to the successful implementation of inclusive education (Agran, Alper, & Wehmeyer, 2002; Prochnow, Kearney, & Carroll-Lind, 2000; Van Reusen et al., 2001). Larger classes place additional demands on the regular educator, while reinforcing concern that all students may not receive proper time or attention (Stoler, 1992; Van Reusen et al., 2001). Cornoldi et al (1998) make reference to Italian Law 517, which refers to the inclusion of students with disabilities into regular classes. Class sizes cannot exceed 20 if there is one student with a disability in a mainstream class (Cornoldi et al., 1998). Consistency in terms of class size has allowed Italian teachers to be more supportive of inclusive education (Cornoldi et al., 1998).

Level of Confidence

Sigafoos and Elkons (1994) concluded that mainstream educators generally lacked confidence as they attempted to include students with disabilities into their classes. This may be as a result of lacking proficiency about modifying the regular education curriculum to suit students with individual learning needs (Sigafoos & Elkins, 1994). Further, Avramidis et al. (2000) and Briggs et al (2002), support the view that teachers who perceive themselves as competent inclusive educators, often have more positive attitudes toward inclusive education. Teachers acquire increased competence as a result of increased training in the field of inclusive education (Avramidis et al., 2000). Inadequate knowledge with regard to instructional techniques and curricular adaptations, which contributes to decreased confidence, may be factors which influence a teacher's attitude toward inclusive education (Janney, Snell, Beers, & Raynes, 1995; Lesar, Brenner, Habel, & Coleman, 1997).

Previous Experiences Teaching Students with Disabilities

Possessing previous experience as an inclusive educator appears to positively predispose teachers toward inclusive education (Avissar, 2000; Avramidis et al., 2000; Harvey, 1985; Hodge & Jansma, 2000; Jobe et al., 1996). It would appear that previous experience in this field, allows mainstream teachers to feel more comfortable within the inclusive classroom (Avissar, 2000; Harvey, 1985). Direct experiences of including students with disabilities into mainstream settings appeared to be an essential factor in shaping teachers' views toward inclusive settings (Avramidis et al., 2000; Giangreco, Dennis, Cloninger, Edelman, & Schattman, 1993; Villa, Thousand, Meyers, & Nevin, 1996). However, Briggs et al (2002) point out that the nature of previous contact should be positive as it is this that results in positive attitudes toward inclusive education.

The Severity of a Student's Disability

Teachers' attitudes toward the inclusion of students with disabilities into regular classrooms appear to be shaped by the type and the degree of the disability of the student concerned (Agran et al., 2002; Barnatt & Kabzems, 1992; Croll & Moses, 2000; Forlin et al., 1996; Heiman, 2001; Hodge & Jansma, 2000; Hurley, 1993; Jobe et al., 1996; Kuester, 2000; Lanier & Lanier, 1996; Mushoriwa, 2001; Shotel, Iano, & McGettigan, 1972; Sigafoos & Elkins, 1994; Villa et al., 1996; Ward, Center, & Bochner, 1994). There is concern from teachers regarding the inclusion of students with more severe disabilities (Forlin, 1998; Forlin et al., 1996; Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1996; Sigafoos & Elkins, 1994; Westwood & Graham, 2003). Teachers view the move to include students with multiple disabilities into the mainstream classroom, as impractical (Sigafoos & Elkins, 1994). The study by Sigafoos and Elkins (1994) found that teacher attitudes were less favorable about including students with multiple and physical disabilities into the regular class. While Avramidis et al. (2002) and Kuster (2000) found that students with emotional and behavioral disorders attract the least positive attitudes from teachers within inclusive classroom.

Support from Administrative Staff

Administrative support has also been cited as a significant factor in determining teacher attitudes toward inclusion, as the teacher feels reaffirmed if the school principal fosters a positive learning environment for both teachers and students (Idol, 1994; Larrivee & Cook, 1979). Teachers believe that the support of the principal and other school leaders are critical in order for them to implement inclusive practices (Daane et al., 2000; Hammond & Ingalls, 2003). Gameros (1995) refers to a "visionary" principal, who will accept the challenge to create an inclusive environment for all students. Principals need to accept ownership of all students and support inclusive placement, in order to inspire these feelings among other school personnel (Gameros, 1995; Idol, 1994). However, research suggests that administrators' attitudes toward students with disabilities are less than positive, thereby impacting on the process of inclusion in schools (Daane et al., 2000). Clayton noted that administrative staff lack sufficient understanding and expertise regarding the delivery of services to students with disabilities (Clayton, 1996). Further research commented that administrators may hold positive views of inclusion as they are further away than mainstream teachers, in terms of actual experiences (Garvar-Pinhas & Schmelkin, 1989; Larrivee & Cook, 1979).

Method: Semi-structured Interviews

Qualitative methods were appropriate to this investigation as it produced detailed data from a small group of participants (Coll & Chapman, 2000), while exploring feelings, impressions and judgments (Best & Kahn, 1989).The five distinctive features of qualitative research, as pointed out by Bogdan and Biklen (1992) were also relevant in the choice of this approach. These features include the centrality of the researcher, the descriptive nature of the data, the concern with process rather than outcome, the inductive analysis of data and the essential concern with meaning (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992). The interview is recognized as a vital instrument in the gathering of data for the qualitative researcher (Best & Kahn, 1993; Coll & Chapman, 2000). The interview allows the participants to express their opinions and perceptions in their own words (Best & Kahn, 1993; Coll & Chapman, 2000). Semi-structured interviews were chosen in the context of this study as it afforded some flexibility to both the researcher and the interviewee (Freebody, 2003; Rose & Cole, 2002). Though the interview guide lent a degree of structure and organization to the process, the approach was still very unrestricted. An audio tape recorder was used to record interviews (Best & Kahn, 1993; Rose & Cole, 2002). A tape recorded interview allowed for more accuracy in data collection and allowed the researcher to be more attentive to the respondents (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 1999; Patton, 1990).

Each tape-recorded interview was transcribed verbatim to ensure a greater degree of accuracy during analysis. Appendix A presents a schedule of questions that were used to guide the discussion. Transcribed and checked interviews were then analyzed using a coding technique informed by the methods suggested by Strauss and Corbin (1990). Having conducted a comprehensive literature review prior to collecting and collating this data, and consequently being aware of potential categories, the transcripts were broken down into discrete parts, then examined closely and analyzed for similarities and differences. Categories were identified through emerging ideas from the data and from information gained through the literature. This grouping allowed for a more workable number of units (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Each category was named according to the data it represented, then analyzed individually, with a view to determining the conditions that gave rise to them and the context in which they occurred (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). The data was read multiple times, in order to analyze and find constructs, themes and emerging patterns.

Participants and Data Collection

The purpose of the study was to determine teachers' attitudes toward inclusive education. The participants for this study were to be drawn from teachers working in state primary schools in Victoria.

The sampling plan suggested by Krathwohl (1998) directed the process of selecting participants for the study. A sampling frame was constructed by obtaining a list of schools and the number of state primary school teachers in Victoria. This number was obtained through the regional education departments, using the department of education website. There are 1,631 state schools in Victoria, and 21,740 state primary school teachers (Department of Education and Training Victoria, 2003a). This number includes all general education, special education and casual relief teachers. Due to privacy and confidentiality regulations, it is difficult to obtain names and numbers of teachers at individual schools.

A table of random numbers was used to select schools from an alphabetical list providing an equal chance to any school in the region to be selected (Best & Kahn, 1998; Krathwohl, 1998). Using the established sampling frame, numbers were assigned to each school. Numbers were then randomly selected, producing a potential list for the representative sample (Babbie, 1990). Forty-two schools were selected from the lists. A package consisting of addressed stamped envelopes, a letter requesting an interview, a consent form and an explanatory cover letter were distributed by mail to each selected school. The principal of each selected school was asked to distribute these to any teacher on his staff, preferably to one who had had some experience catering for students with disabilities, within mainstream settings.

Teachers consenting to be interviewed were asked to return signed consent forms using the enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope. Twenty-five teachers responded to this request. Ten teachers were randomly selected from this number to be interviewed (Best & Kahn, 1998). Those teachers who agreed to be interviewed were contacted by phone to arrange times and dates for the interviews.

Every interview took place at the participants' school, and the audio-taped interviews lasted for an hour and later were transcribed. To ensure credibility and confirmability of transcribed interviews, copies were sent to all 10 interviewees by mail, as a member check (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). If teachers were satisfied that their views had been correctly represented and that their anonymity was maintained, they were asked to return the transcript in the enclosed self-addressed envelope. This was followed up with a telephone call two weeks after mailing to ensure that teachers also had an opportunity to respond verbally. Teacher responses were used to adjust the final transcripts. Keyword analysis was used to identify recurring themes and to assist in the discussion and interpretation of data (Rose & Cole, 2002).

Results and Discussion

All 10 participants for the interviews were female. This reflects figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics that Australian State Primary schools are serviced largely by female staff (AusStats, 2002). Their ages ranged from 25 to 53. Four of the respondents had undergraduate teachers' qualifications, while six had undertaken postgraduate studies in education. Each of them indicated that they had previous experience teaching students with disabilities in their mainstream classes. All participants indicated average to high levels of confidence in their ability to include students with disabilities; however, nine out of the 10 admitted to not having undertaken any specialized training in special education. The results following should be interpreted with caution as they are based on a small number of respondents, the results therefore cannot be extrapolated to other groups unless they share similar demographics.

Data obtained during the interviews appear to suggest that teachers in Victorian schools may generally hold positive attitudes toward the inclusion of students with disabilities into mainstream settings. These positive views may be attributable to an increase in the awareness of students with disabilities among the respondents, possibly due to renewed efforts by the Victoria Department of Education to educate teaching personnel regarding their roles as inclusive educators (Department of Education Victoria, 2001). The "Better Service, Better Outcomes" plan by the State Government was a product of the Meyer Report, and was aimed at providing a higher quality of education to students with disabilities in Victorian schools (Department of Education Victoria, 2001). The categories highlighted during the review of literature directed the following analysis. Quotations by participants cited in this study are the best representations of common emerging themes of all respondents.

While teachers view inclusive education as a challenge, they emerge as accepting of students with disabilities into their regular classrooms. Inclusive settings appear to provide a forum for teachers to experiment with different techniques and strategies to ensure that all students within this setting are achieving. Interviewee Three indicated:

Every child is different so the way you work with them, the different strategies you use, or should use, are all inclusive.

The opportunity to learn more about diverse learning needs was also highlighted by one teacher as an advantage, as attempts were made to include students with disabilities. Positive views of inclusive settings may have urged teachers within inclusive classrooms to look again at their current practices so that they were more accommodating of all ability levels. In this vein, Interviewee Seven remarked:

It's made me more aware of children's' abilities, made me aware that I've got to take their abilities into account when I'm planning.

It is evident that the inclusion of students with disabilities into regular classrooms is additionally viewed as nurturing increased feelings of tolerance and respect. The belief is that students without disabilities become aware of differences among people. There is, moreover, a feeling that individual strengths are valued, within inclusive settings. Interviewee Ten remarked:

I think they learn some respect, some cooperation, actually seeing...I mean people that are different and the same, some in different ways and I think everybody has to respect other people and be tolerant of other people and as I said we're different and I just think that our kids really see – okay it doesn't matter how this particular child handles this or can't do it or whatever ... still they should be respected as a person... hopefully, they'll take that through their lives. Oh, I think it makes us all better people.

Further, the inclusive classroom and its structuring appears to suit the needs of most learners, with each individual being accepted as different, unique beings, each with their distinct abilities and disabilities. In response to how inclusive practices had impacted on students in her class, Interviewee Two pointed out:

If it's impacted on them, it would be in a positive way, because the way this classroom's structured, everybody's treated equally and everybody understands that everybody's different and also everybody in this room understands that there are experts in different areas.... everybody knows that adults and children are stronger and weaker in different areas. That's like real life, you know, so our classroom's set up like that – the children with learning difficulties or disabilities just fit into the normal workings of the classroom, it doesn't matter.

However, a student's level of disability may emerge as a factor shaping the attitudes of teachers to the inclusion of students with disabilities. Physical disabilities and students with self-care problems appear to force teachers to view the inclusion of such students with some apprehension. In this regard, Interviewee Two commented:

Depending on the disability and the extent of some of the disabilities, then probably mainstream schools don't cater for them—you know that too, very severe disabilities, they would stand in the way, because I don't think you could have children with severe disabilities who are going to take up so much of your time, to the detriment....and you've got children who have to be toilet changed, it's not fair on the other children as well.

These findings are consistent with research studies which point to a generally positive view held by teachers in mainstream settings regarding the inclusion of students with disabilities (Avramidis et al., 2000; Jenkinson & Gow, 1989; Knoff, 1985; Kuester, 2000; McLeskey & Waldron, 2002; Schmelkin, 1981; Snyder, 1999). Harvey (1992) in a comparative study of attitudes toward including students with disabilities into Victorian mainstream schools found that over a period of six years, teacher attitudes had progressed positively. Jenkinson and Gow (1989) allude to the idea that positive attitudes about the inclusion of students with disabilities into mainstream classes are often dependent on the provision of adequate support services.

Respondents were also strong in their expression of a need for more information, knowledge and expertise in their attempts to include students with disabilities into mainstream classrooms. Nine out of the 10 teachers interviewed had received no formal training with regard to the education of students with disabilities. Further, the more experienced teachers hoped that their years of service would assist them in being able to cater for the various needs of the classes they were presented with. Interviewee One noted:

It will be nice to actually have some knowledge of it, because I'm not officially trained. I know very little of either of the two, the disability that they've got, so it's only through trial and error that I figure out what they can and can't do, and what their limitations are and what I can expect because I don't have any form of training.

Professional development was regarded as a bonus, though it was pointed out that not all schools had access to in-servicing of teaching personnel. While professional development did appear to hone in on certain areas of need, one experienced teacher voiced the view that such moves were often futile because they lacked the practical, grass-roots application that many teachers urgently need, as they attempt to include all students. Interviewee Seven observed:

Like you do a course and it's so different to what you do in reality. You can hear all the words and you think, oh yeah, but come to have that child in your classroom every day, it's totally different, I think. I don't know if it will help....It's different talking about it to actually dealing with it, like anything, and when it's day after day after day, and sometimes it doesn't get any better and you don't get the help. Then a lot of the help is few and far between.

This finding is validated by previous research studies, which allude to general education teachers being trained to cater for students with disabilities (Loreman & Deppeler, 2002; Menlove, Hudson, & Suter, 2001; Mullen, 2001; Snyder, 1999; Van Reusen et al., 2001). Teachers appear to hold positive attitudes about including and teaching students with disabilities in general education settings, if they are trained in this field of education (Avramidis et al., 2000; Jobe et al., 1996; Kuester, 2000; Shade & Stewart, 2001; Stewart, 1983; Stoler, 1992; Van Reusen et al., 2001; Wall, 2002). This view is also compatible with studies such as that conducted by Cornoldi et al (1998), where it was found that teacher training was a significant variable in determining teachers' attitudes toward inclusive practices. It would appear that the most negative views about inclusive education are held by teachers with little or no training in special education (Van Reusen et al., 2001).

Respondents who had members of their family with a disability, and who had worked closely with people with disabilities, appear to have heightened awareness, when it came to including students with disabilities into the regular classroom. Interviewee Nine, who had the experience of caring for individuals with disabilities and of having a family member with a disability observed:

I understand the demands and pressures placed on families because part of one of the jobs I'd done was actually, I used to reside in people's homes while they went away for the weekend, and look after their disabled child so I was well aware of the 24-hour demands and I was well aware of the restrictions of travel. I was aware of all that.

In a similar study based in Victoria, Australia, Harvey (1985) found that individuals who have family members or close friends with a disability, may have more positive attitudes toward the inclusion of students with disabilities into regular classrooms. Frith and Edwards (1981) also speak of the altered perceptions of educators toward students with disabilities once these educators have had sustained interaction with people with disabilities. This is supported by the investigation by Carroll, Forlin and Jobling (2003), who found that Australian pre-service teachers experienced improved degrees of comfort and coping skills in their perception of people with disabilities, if they had had some previous frequent contact with such individuals.

Further, the responses of participants revealed that previous experience with including students with disabilities into regular settings appears to better prepare teachers for inclusion. Interviewee Four commented:

Because of the children I had with disabilities, they were quite severe, I'm not threatened or intimidated by having disabled children in my class. I've been around it before, I've experienced it and in much more severe terms, whereas some people would be wary of having a disabled child.

Finally, teachers appear to believe that they have had no choice about and no part in the process of inclusion in Victorian schools. They feel that they have not been consulted as far as decision-making is concerned. Interviewee Ten remarked:

You don't get the chance to say no. You're told this is what you're going to have and these are the kids in your grade next year and very often the job situation the way it is at the moment is often that you're not ongoing or any of those things. Often, you're on contract. If you are seen to be difficult or things like that, obviously, it can affect your job, so, a lot of people just...!

This was supported by Interviewee Five who voiced the opinion that:

I think it's fine for a lot of these politicians who are up there in their ivory tower who aren't in those classrooms.

The concern expressed by this educator forms part of the findings of research studies, which suggest that teachers experience higher degrees of concern about inclusive education because they believe that they have not been consulted as part of this process (Cook, Semmel, & Gerber, 1999; Hurley, 1993), and that administrators at their schools lack the understanding to effectively implement inclusive practices (Clayton, 1996). It would appear that regular classroom teachers view inclusive education as a top-down decision, which has put them under additional pressure (Long, 1995). Increased concern has resulted as teachers feel that they have not been given any guidelines or directives about including students with disabilities into mainstream classrooms (Hurley, 1993).

Conclusion

This study attempted to investigate the attitudes of mainstream teachers toward the philosophy of inclusive education. Results suggest that teachers in Victorian schools generally hold positive attitudes toward the inclusion of students with disabilities into mainstream settings. These positive views may be attributable to an increase in the awareness of students with disabilities among the respondents, possibly due to renewed efforts by the Department of Education, Victoria to educate teaching personnel regarding their roles as inclusive educators.

It is evident that the inclusion of students with disabilities into regular classrooms is additionally viewed as nurturing increased feelings of tolerance and respect among all participants within the inclusive setting. However, a student's level of disability may emerge as a factor shaping the attitudes of teachers to the inclusion of students with disabilities. Respondents were also strong in their expression of a need for more information, knowledge, and expertise in their attempts to include students with disabilities into mainstream classrooms.

Respondents who had members of their family with a disability, and who had worked closely with people with disabilities, appear to have heightened awareness, when it came to including students with disabilities into the regular classroom. Further, the responses of participants revealed that previous experience with including students with disabilities into regular settings appears to better prepare teachers for inclusion. Bearing these views in mind, it would appear prudent for a mandatory segment on teaching within inclusive settings be introduced into teacher training programs to prepare trainee teachers for their roles as inclusive educators.

The findings of this study should be interpreted in the light of the following limitations. Findings were largely based on self-reports by mainstream teachers; there will always be some doubt as to whether teachers' responses reflect their true attitudes and concerns regarding the inclusion of students with disabilities into mainstream settings. Responses should therefore be interpreted with caution. This study only investigated a limited number of variables related to the attitudes and concerns of mainstream educators regarding the inclusion of students with disabilities into their classrooms. There are undoubtedly other variables that should be considered, when ascertaining such attitudes and concerns. The influence of factors such as those relating to systemic supports including school culture, language, and geographic location have not been considered. Future investigations may consider the influence of these variables on teacher attitude and concern about inclusive education.

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Appendix A: Interview Schedule

Proposed key questions during interviews:

1. Do you have students with special needs in your classroom?

2. Are you aware of the disability / level of disability of students with special needs in your classroom?

3. How do you feel about the inclusion of students with special needs in your classroom?

4. Do you think that the needs of the majority of children with disabilities are met in your classroom?

5. What do you understand by the concept of inclusive education?

6. Do you see yourself as an inclusive educator?

7. What do you see as positive factors with regard to your role as an inclusive educator? / What do you see as obstacles to your fulfilling your role as an inclusive educator?

8. To what extent do you include the efforts / opinions of the special education teacher / support personnel, in your programming?

9. Have you made adaptations to your planning and teaching program to include the needs of students with special needs?

10. Have you provided individualized instruction for students with special needs?

Questions derived loosely from survey carried out by Minke et al (1996), which tested the attitudes of teachers to the inclusion of students with disabilities in regular classroom.



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