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General and Special Education Co-teachers' Perspectives: the Experiences of Students with Emotional Disturbance Included in the General Education Classroom Open Access

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This study examined elementary General Education (GenEd) and Special Education (SPED) co-teachers' perceptions of the academic and social-emotional experiences of students with Emotional Disturbance (ED) included in the GenEd classroom. Perceptions of overall academic and social-emotional experiences of students with ED, and specific facilitators and barriers to their success in the GenEd setting, were analyzed. Basic qualitative research was used to provide teachers who work directly with these students in the GenEd setting an opportunity to share their perspective on the experiences of their students with ED. The framework of the study incorporated Lerner's (1985) theory of developmental contextualism, as well as Nirje and Wolfensberger's (1970) principle of normalization. The study design included individual interviews with six GenEd teachers and six SPED teachers using a semi-structured protocol, as it provided a guide for each interview while allowing individual perspectives to emerge (Patton, 1990). Teachers confirmed they had co-taught at least one student with the primary disability of ED in the GenEd setting within the past academic year and held full licensure in either GenEd or SPED. Interviews were transcribed verbatim, coded, and analyzed using ATLAS.ti software. Reflective memos were used throughout the research process to organize questions, thoughts, speculations, and personal reactions about the interview data and themes (Creswell, 2007). Emergent themes clustered around the importance of relationships, characteristics of students with ED that enabled success, and factors in the GenEd setting that had a positive impact. Themes related to relationships included the importance of relationships between teachers and students' family, teachers and students with ED, GenEd and SPED co-teachers, and GenEd peers and students with ED. Themes related to characteristics of students with ED included preparedness, social-emotional competency, and perspectives. Themes related to factors in the GenEd classroom included consistency and structure, instructional efficacy, sense of community, and understandings of disability. Insight gained from this study highlights the need for preparation of students with ED with skills to be successful in the GenEd classroom, preparation of GenEd and SPED teachers working with this population, and encourages continued research on how to create successful inclusive environments for students with ED.

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