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Shortly after PARC vs. Commonwealth and Mills vs. Board of Education, Congress investigated the conditions of education for children with disabilities. Statistics provided by the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped revealed that, of the estimated 8 million children needing special education services, 3.9 million were receiving an appropriate education. An additional 2.5 million children with disabilities were receiving an inappropriate public education, and 1.75 million children with disabilities were receiving no educational services (Wright & Wright, 1999).

In light of the conditions experienced by students with disabilities and the social and economic costs, Congress enacted Public Law 94-142, the Education of all Handicapped Children (EOAHC) of 1975. In it’s investigation, Congress concluded that the long-range impact of the lack of services for students with disabilities would be billions of dollars spent to maintain individuals with disabilities as dependents upon their families and local municipals. Congress concluded, “With proper education services, many would be able to become productive citizens, contributing to society instead of being forced to remain burdens. Others, through such services, would increase their independence, thus reducing their dependence on society” (Wright & Wright, 1999, p. 9).

Correlates to Critical Race Theory.

Following in the footsteps of the Civil Rights Movement, the legal and philosophical foundations of special education can be found not just in Brown vs. Board of Topeka of 1954, but also in the key writings that informed and shaped critical race theory. In the Foreword of Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement (1995), Cornell West writes, The genesis of Critical Race Theory as a scholarly and politically committed movement in law is historic. Critical Race Theorists have, for the first time, examined the entire edifice of contemporary legal thought and doctrine from the viewpoint of law’s role in the construction and maintenance of social domination and subordination. (Foreword, 2) In Serving Two Masters: Integration Ideals and Client Interests in School Desegregation Litigation (1995), Derrick A. Bell Jr, describes the lawyer-client conflict in class action lawsuits related to school desegregation. During the post-Brown period, many class action lawsuits were initiated by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund emphasizing racial integration and balance, as opposed to emphasizing improved educational effectiveness for students of color.

Many times, this conflicted with the wishes of the clients and reflected the prevailing attitude of the time – racial integration, not educational effectiveness, as a symbol of equality.

Bell (1995) goes on to describe how the interests of black Americans in achieving racial equality in Brown v. Board of Education was achieved not through a neutral racial equality principle, but through the convergence of white American and black American interests. In Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest Convergence Dilemma (1995), Bell explores three economic and political advantages of the Brown decision that changed over 60 years of de jure segregation. First, the Brown decision provided immediate credibility to an American nation struggling with the threat of Communism in third world nations. Second, the Brown decision provided much needed reassurance to the black American community that the hard fought battles for freedom and equality in World War II were applicable to our own nation. Third, segregation posed a barrier to the south during an era when it was transitioning from a rural plantation society to an industrialized society. The crux of Bell’s argument supports the principle that racial equality occurs when the interests of white Americans’ converge with black Americans’ interests.

The lawyer-client conflict and the interest convergence described by Derrick Bell provide a partial basis for exploring the perspective of special education teachers within the broader context of public education and the purpose of public education.

Towards a liberatory pedagogy (or what is the purpose of education?).

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire (1997) convincingly argues that people have a fundamental desire, or ontological need, to be free; however, dehumanization resulting from class conflict and antagonisms resulting from colonialism limited the freedom of the working class, the marginalized, and the disadvantaged in the Brazilian society that Freire critiqued. One of the basic elements of the hegemonic turn-of-the-century Brazilian social structure was the prescription of the oppressor’s consciousness upon the oppressed. Freire contends that political, economic, and educational freedom could not be achieved through a military coup or violent revolt; instead, liberation required throwing off the prescriptive consciousness of the bourgeois through a process of reflection and action. In effect, liberation of the proletariat required total societal and cultural transformation through the humanization of both the proletariat and the bourgeois.

Inherent in Freire’s (1997) pedagogy was the belief that education was fundamentally political. Freire argues that, …the educator’s role is to regulate the way the world “enters into” the students. The teacher’s task is to organize a process which already occurs spontaneously, to “fill” the students by making deposits of information which he or she considers to constitute true

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This filling of the student represented “banking education” and constitutes a method to foster passivity, limit creativity, and inhibit critical thinking. Furthermore, it represented a decontextualized education that prevented students from “naming” and reflecting upon the oppressive realities and conditions of society. Freire concluded that any attempt to name the world for the oppressed, “…is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building; it is to lead them into a populist pitfall and transform the masses which can be manipulated” (p. 47). Instead of liberation, the naming of the world by oppressors or liberators substitutes “…monologue, slogans, and communiqués for dialogue” (p. 48). In effect, the efforts to liberate the oppressed serve to further domesticate the oppressed.

Freire (1997) convincingly argues that a praxis of liberation can only occur when the oppressed perceive and act upon their own reality. This then is a praxis of liberation – reflection and action. Reflection without action is purely an intellectual pursuit and action without reflection is activism. A liberatory praxis must include both critical reflection and action anything else is oppressive and dehumanizing. Freire concludes, Those who work for liberation must not take advantage of the emotional dependence of the oppressed – dependence that is the fruit of the concrete situation of domination which surrounds them and which engendered their unauthentic view of the world. Using their dependence to create still greater dependence is an oppressor tactic. (p 48) A praxis of liberation begins by correcting the teacher-student contradiction. In banking education, the teacher is the authority with the one true knowledge that the teacher conveys to the students. Strong students are those who can store and master the teacher-dispensed knowledge. A liberation praxis begins with the recognition that no one teaches another and no one is self taught. In this sense, the teacher becomes a teacher-student and the students becomes a student-teacher. It recognizes that the world is owned by each person and each person is responsible for teaching each other. No longer is the world or knowledge the private property or commodity of the teacher. Education then moves from a “banking” method to a “problemposing” method.

Within this framework, the question to explore in special education is not how to provide a free and appropriate public education, but how to provide an education that humanizes and enhances the freedom of students’ with disabilities.

A disability centric perspective.

Disability studies as a field of inquiry is not simply an examination of the medicalized nature of the various manifestations of disability within the broader context of society, instead it is a sociopolitical examination of how disability is socially constructed (Linton, 1998). Informed by women’s studies, queer studies, and cultural studies, disability studies represents an interdisciplinary field and seeks to explore the construction and function of disability as a social, political, and cultural phenomenon. Poignantly put, disability studies seek to, …bring into stark relief, to foreground, the mechanisms by which disability is covered over, layered with meaning and rendered invisible…to turn those processes inside out and reveal them to be not inevitable reactions to human conditions labeled disabilities but devises used to sort human beings according to the social and economic needs of a

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In particular, disability studies seeks to challenge the “…popular psychoeducational models that assume disability as an objective medical, individual, and pathological deficiency” (Baker, 2002, p. 48). A disability centric perspective views disability not as a medical, individual, or pathological deficiency, but as an individualistic and collective humanistic phenomenon interpreted through the lenses of race, gender, power, status, and culture.

Several questions develop from the disability centric perspective. How do special education teachers navigate the social space created by federal legislation and disabilities? In addition, what do they consider the purpose of special education and public education? Do they seek to remove the barriers to a more humanizing and liberatory educational praxis through social activism? If so, how do they do so and how do the barriers to the application of a humanizing, liberatory praxis impact their engagement, satisfaction, and potential job stress and burnout?

Summary Stress and burnout are evocative terms, yet psychology, sociology, and physiology define and use them differently. Most recent models of occupational stress emphasize the interactive nature of stress and emphasize a cognitive meditational approach. Within these frames, stress is mediated by cognitive appraisal of the individual’s ability or resources to cope with occupational demands. The Person-Environment Fit Model and the Demand-Control Model represent conceptual frames of occupational stress. The Dualistic Model of Passion and the Job-Person Fit Model represents conceptual frames of teacher stress. Within the Job-Person Fit Model, conceptualizes stress as a match or mismatch between six dimensions. A great deal of research has articulated the career pathways of special education teachers. Within these frames, research has examined the relationship between teacher stress and external factors, employment factors, and personal factors. Within conceptual frames of burnout in special education teachers, research has sought to articulate the relationship between organizational structure, interpersonal interactions, professional training, and instructional arrangements to teacher stress. Thirty years of special education burnout research has implicated role conflict, role ambiguity, administrative support, and collegial support as special education burnout constructs. Finally, a reconceptualization of special education teacher burnout requires a careful consideration of the socio-political and ideological foundations of special education, as well as, the history and insights founded in critical race theory and disability studies.

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The purposes of this qualitative study was two-fold: (a) to explore K-12 special education teachers’ experiences with work challenges and perceptions of stress and potential burnout; and (b) to explore the usefulness of the Special Education Teacher Competing Interests Model to explain their perceptions of stress and potential burnout. Four research questions were addressed in this study: (a) How do special education teachers describe their core values in regard to special education and their work motives? (b) How do special education teachers describe and interpret the rewards and satisfactions of their work? (c) How do special education teachers describe the challenges and dissatisfaction of their work? (d) How do special education teachers cope with challenges and attempt to succeed in their work?

This chapter describes the research design and methods used in this study. This chapter includes sections on research methodology, research design and methods, and credibility and ethics.

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This study will use a qualitative, phenomenological approach to explore special education teacher’s experiences. Basic to a phenomenological approach is the assumption that human experience is mediated through interpretation (Blumer, 1969; as cited in Bogdan & Biklen, 2003); consequently, the core of the phenomenological approach is an interest in other people’s experiences and the meaning they make of those experiences (Seidman, 1998). A phenomenological approach is appropriate for this study because it allows special education teachers the opportunity to frame the interpretation of their experiences with their own words (Bogdan & Biklen, 2003). By using their own words, special education teachers select, reflect, and order the constitutive details of their experiences (Seidman, 1998).

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Site Selection This study expands on two pilot studies that together explored the experiences of five novice and five veteran special education teachers who worked in ten different rural, public school settings in eastern Washington State (Bush, 2004; 2007). To expand on the data set from the pilot studies, an additional nine participants were recruited from three large urban districts in eastern Washington State. Five of the additional participants were novice and four were veterans.

In the pilot studies, small districts were selected based upon a student population of 500 students or less. In the expanded study, large urban districts in eastern Washington State were selected based upon a student population of 2,000 or more students. Three sites were selected from eastern Washington State with a population base greater than 30,000 people from the latest U.S.


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