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A literature review: pre-service teachers' attitudes toward students with disabilities.

Theoretical Frameworks

The importance of teacher attitudes toward inclusion is reflected by the numerous studies conducted in that area (Pace, 2003). Teachers must believe that their behaviors can effect the education of their students. They must recognize that they have the capacity and power to make key decisions which will effect their role and their students production. Bandura (1982) posited that even when individual's perceive that specific actions will likely bring about the desired behavior, they will not engage in the behavior or persist after initiating the behavior, if they feel that they do not possess the requisite skills. Scruggs and Mastropieri's (1996) meta-analysis of 28 studies conducted from 1958 to 1995 found that, overwhelmingly, teachers endorse the general concept of providing support to students with disabilities. In spite of that, only one third of the teachers felt that they had the time, preparation, resources, and skills needed for successful instruction. Teachers would like classes to be inclusive but the realities of every day school life dictate otherwise (Van Reusen, Shoho, & Barker, 2001). Various studies show how teacher attitudes have a direct bearing on instructional decision.

The shaping of positive attitudes toward students with disabilities is an important aspect of the education of pre-service teachers. Teacher training in the awareness of disabilities and appropriate strategies for teaching students with disabilities has a positive impact on academic success. Teachers who feel negatively toward students with disabilities or have not been trained in the appropriate strategies are less likely to be successful.

Teachers also influence the facilitation of inclusion programs based on their own philosophies and willingness to include students with disabilities in their classrooms. Although there is no doubt about the importance of examining the attitudes of teachers, one must be aware of the reality that attitudes are also being formed in the teacher education experiences of pre-service teachers. Teachers' own cognitions and beliefs, in part, may have their sources in their experiences while they were students. It may be the product of their teacher training (Pajares, 1992), or it may be a combination of their training and falling in line with the prevailing ideas or beliefs within the context of the school (Acker, 1990; D'Andrade, 1981). Accordingly, if pre-service teachers are appropriately trained in strategies and interventions for working with students with disabilities as well as being exposed to different types of disabilities, they may exhibit more positive attitudes toward inclusion (Cook, 2002 & Coates, 1989).

Teacher beliefs about students will transform their behaviors in ways that confirm the initial expectations. This is the concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy. It explains how teacher perception create the social reality. Brophy and Good (1970) suggested that teachers may differentiate their behavior toward students based on their expectations, and that students may respond to teachers' behavioral cues and alter their self-concept and achievement motivation to conform to these teachers' expectations.

The negative attitude of teachers has been documented in many studies (Siegel, 1992; Houck, 1992; Lobosco & Newman, 1992; Phillips, Allred, Brulle & Shank, 1990). Much of this negativity results from lack of knowledge. The success of instructional practice requires that general education faculty be prepared to work with students with disabilities (Smith, Polloway, Patton, & Dowdy, 1995).

As more and more districts implement inclusion, general education pre-service teachers find themselves working with culturally and linguistically diverse populations of students with different learning styles and disabilities. Many of these pre-service teachers have limited or no preparation in special education and feel inadequate with respect to working with special populations. An applicable observation by Avramidis, Bayliss, and Burden (2000) described research that found educators varied greatly in their perceptions of which students should be included. These researchers reported on a study that identified students with disabilities who were considered acceptable for inclusion. Students with severe mental disabilities and multiple disabilities were considered least acceptable, whereas students with medical or physical disabilities were considered most acceptable. Teachers were concerned about including students with learning difficulties as well as those with emotional/behavioral disorders.

Finally, an examination of attitude studies of general education teachers also revealed that a lack of knowledge of disabling conditions affected the ability of these teachers to accept students with disabilities and differences (Cook, 2000). Furthermore, limited understanding increases anxiety and fear of individuals with differences (D'Alonzo, Giordano, & VanLeeuwen, 1997). The literature has reviewed that one of the most important predictors of successful integrating of students with disabilities in the regular classroom is the attitudes of general education teachers. Pre-service teacher attitudes toward students with disabilities should be frequently assessed to ensure that students are programmed for success. Thus, a careful examination of the attitudes of educators represents a starting point for coming to terms with teaching students with differences. It is the beginning of the move toward truly inclusive education. It is the hope that an introduction to special education course, will benefit pre-service in gaining an understanding of students with special needs, thus increasing their comfort level with diverse learners overall.


This study has revealed that one of the most important predictors of successful integrating of students with disabilities in the regular classroom is the attitudes of general education teachers. The results confirmed the existence of a significant link between pre-service teacher attitude and instructional practice. The success of instructional practice requires that general education faculty be prepared to work with students with disabilities. Pre- service special education courses have benefited pre-service teachers in gaining an understanding of students with special needs, thus increasing their comfort level with diverse learners overall.


Acker, S. (1990). Teachers' culture in an English primary school: Continuity and change. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 11(3), 257-273.

Avramidis, E. Bayliss, P. & Burden, R. (2000). A survey into mainstream teachers' attitudes towards the inclusion of children with special educational needs in the ordinary school in one local education authority. Education Psychology, 20(2), 191-211.

Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American Psychologist, 37(2), 122-147.

Brophy, J., & Good, T. (1970). Teachers' communication of differential expectations for children's classroom performance: Some behavioral data. Journal of Educational Psychology, 61, 365-374.

Coates, R. (1989). The regular education initiative and opinions of regular classroom teachers. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 22(9), 532-536.

Cook, B. G., Tankersley, M., Cook, L. & Landrum, T. (2000). Teachers' attitudes toward their included students with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 67, (1), 115-135.

D'Alonzo, B. J., Giordano, G., & VanLeeuwen, D. M. (1997). Perceptions by teachers about the benefits and liabilities of inclusion. Preventing School Failure, 42, 4-11.

D'Andrade, R. G. (1981). The cultural part of cognition. Cognitive Science, 5(4), 179-195.

Howell, E. (2006). Pre-service teachers' perceptions of inclusion. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 12(3), 79-81.

IDEA (2004). Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington: DC.

Lobosco, A., & Newman, D. (1992). Teaching special needs populations and teach job satisfaction: Implications for teacher education and staff development. Urban Education, 27(1), 21-31.

Pace, D. A. (2003). Field testing the inclusive rubrics. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 7(2).

Pajares, F. M. (1992). Teachers' beliefs and educational research: Cleaning up a messy construct. Review of Educational Research, 62(3), 307-322.

Phillips, W., Allred, K., & Cronic, D. (1990). REI: The will and skill of regular educators (ERIC Document Reproduction Service NO. ED 320 323).

Siegel, J. (1992). Regular education teachers' attitudes toward their mainstreamed students. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 354 653).

Scruggs, T. E., & Mastropieri, M.A. (1996). Teacher perceptions of mainstreaming-inclusion, 1958-1995: A research synthesis. Exceptional Children, 63, 59-74.

Smith, T.E.C., Polloway, E.A., Patton, J.R., & Dowdy, C.A. (1995). Teaching Students with Special Needs in Inclusive Settings. Needham Heights, M.A.: Allyn & Bacon.

Van Reusen, A. K., Shoho, A. R., & Barker, K. S. (2001) High school teacher attitudes toward inclusion. The High School Journal, 84, (2), 7-15.

Yuker, H. E., & Block, J. R. (1986). Research with the Attitudes towards Disabled Persons Scales (ATDP) 1960-1985. Hempstead, N.Y.: Hofstra University.


Associate Professor

Department of Education

Niagara University, New York


Susan Sze is an Associate Professor in the Teacher Education Department at Niagara University, New York. She is the author of many articles, tests, books, chapters, and professional development materials. Her recent publication is the textbook entitled: The Special Needs Toolbox: 300 Inclusive Strategies for Teacher. She is an internationally known presenter on the topic of overcoming disabilities and effective teaching strategies.
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Author:Sze, Susan
Date:Sep 22, 2009
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