A comparison of staff development needs of beginning and experienced special education teachers of the mildly disabled

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Virginia Tech

Staff development, which is designed to help individuals grow personally and professionally in a supportive environment, is an important responsibility of supervisors in state and local education agencies. For teachers entering the field, staff development is particularly important since beginners often find the first years of teaching difficult and overwhelming. However, research related to the training needs of beginning special education teachers is limited.

The purpose of this study was to: (a) identify competencies which beginning and experienced teachers of students with mild disabilities (emotionally disturbed or ED, educable mentally retarded or EMR, and learning disabled or LD) perceive as being necessary for effective special education teaching and (b) determine differences in training needs among beginning and experienced special education teachers. Survey methodology was used to gather information to answer the research questions. A staff development questionnaire was developed that contained 80 items under 7 broad categories: assessment/diagnosis, individual educational programs and planning, integration and collaboration, curriculum, instructional strategies, behavior strategies, and advocacy issues. The questionnaire was based on Virginia certification requirements, the professional literature, teacher interviews, and expert reviews. Teachers were asked to judge the relevance of the 80 skills to their teaching positions and to rate the extent to which they felt a need for additional training in each of the skill areas. Questionnaires were mailed to 1,056 ED, a EMR, and LD teachers in Virginia. Six hundred two teachers responded for a response rate of 57%. Data were analyzed* using descriptive statistics and analysis of variance.

Major findings of the study include the following: (1) special education teachers perceived that the 80 competencies were extremely relevant to their jobs; (2) both beginning and experienced teachers indicated moderate training needs in the seven areas; (3) beginning LD teachers rated the need for IEP skills higher than experienced teachers; (4) experienced EMR teachers perceived that 5 of the 7 broad categories were more relevant than did beginning EMR teachers; and (5) EMR teachers rated need for training in curriculum higher than LD teachers. Implications for educational agencies, such as information on training priorities and teacher preparation programs are discussed.