Learning to Negotiate Difference: Narratives of Experience in Inclusive Education

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Virginia Tech

This narrative inquiry examined how a small group of general educators constructed three essential understandings of themselves as teachers within the context of inclusive education: (a) To move past their fear of disabilities and negative perceptions of students with disabilities, they had to learn to see children with disabilities in new ways, identify what it was about their differences that mattered, and respond to them as valued members of their classrooms; (b) To move past feelings of inadequacy and incompetence, they had to figure out how to negotiate those learning differences that mattered the most; and (c) To keep from being overwhelmed with the additional demands inclusion placed on them as teachers, they needed to garner support through a variety of relationships, and work through conflicts that arose from trying on new roles and patterns of interaction. These understandings were constructed through two interrelated processes: Learning through experience, and learning through narrative, specifically, informal talk, structured dialogue, and stories. The representation of this inquiry was a polyvocal text which privileged what the teachers had to say, and which featured their voices in solo and in dialogue with others. This alternative format was used to convey the evolving nature of the teachers' practice, as well as the contradictions and complexities that expand our understanding of teacher learning and development in inclusive educational settings.

Teacher Learning, Inclusive Education, Teacher Development