Joan Karp's involvement started when she was analyzing the interview data from research on the experiences of educators with disabilities. She soon realized that the issues she and her colleagues were discussing as they analyzed their stories were the same as those she was addressing with a preservice educator who was completing her student teaching. As a researcher, Joan would clinically discuss the factors affecting the interviewees, then she would go into the field and observe Cindy, a student with cerebral palsy. As Cindy interacted with a class of three- to five-year-old preschoolers with disabilities, Joan would experience conflicting feelings about whether Cindy could or should pass student teaching and hence be licensed.
The cooperating teacher and Joan asked themselves and Cindy whether she could successfully teach students in this age group. Her planning, small-group instruction, and journal observations of the children were superb. It was when she needed to manage the free-play portion of the day that she had the most difficulty. How could she pass if she could not get up from the floor in less than five minutes with preschoolers scooting around her, she could not scan the environment to see where each child was located, and she could not lift or carry children who were unable to move? Were there adaptations that could be made? Although there was a classroom assistant present at all times, the needs of the children were such that at least two people were needed to lift, position, and monitor them. It did not seem responsible to require yet another assistant for the teacher.
The most telling discussion was the one in which Cindy and Joan met for three hours near the end of Cindy's student teaching. She shared how she learned that she could not drive when she took driving lessons. Both she and the driving instructor agreed that her reaction time was too slow for her to be safe behind the wheel. Joan tried to make this same analogy about Cindy's work with preschool children, but she would not accept it. She had spent five years in her teacher-preparation program and was not going to give up until she had attained her goal. She believed she could contribute to the field and was willing to explore any alternatives that would lead to licensure in early childhood special education, including completing another student teaching assignment.
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