Significance of the Literature
The general demographic profile of teacher education candidates is that of a woman from Euro-American dissent, from the middle class, and from rural or suburban communities (Howey & Zimpher, 1996; Zimpher, 1989). Prospective teachers, who typically are regarded as having a "narrow framework of experience" (Paine, 1989) and an "unrealistic optimism" (Weinstein, 1989), have particular preferences when it comes to their future practice. While teacher education candidates may prefer to teach students of average ability (Zimpher, 1989), there has been an increase in the number of students with special needs who are being educated in the nation's general education classrooms and schools (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). The trend toward inclusion may be, in part, attributable to the IDEA which has resulted in a resurgence of emphasis on educating students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment (U.S. Department of Education). The preferences of prospective teachers, coupled with the enrollment figures for students who have special needs in public schools, are interesting to consider in terms of the typical offerings in teacher preparation programs.
There is reported to be a general lack of exposure and interaction with students who have special needs as part of teacher education programs (Fender & Fiedler, 1990). Fortunately, there are universities that make a deliberate decision to expose teacher education candidates to richly diverse settings as part of their early fieldwork experiences. Given the narrow framework of experience (Paine, 1989) of prospective teachers in conjunction with an increase in inclusive efforts in our public schools (NCES, 2000b), it seems reasonable to provide prospective teachers with opportunities for such exposure as well as with structured and supported occasions for reflection. Continued research during early field experiences would add to the knowledge base particularly if approached via the lens of teacher belief and more specifically from a special education understandings perspective. In-depth research employing qualitative and narrative inquiry methods in this arena is particularly germane given the projections for an increasingly diverse student population (Fuller, 1992) and the current rise in the number of students with special needs being served in the general education classroom (Arends, 2008; NCES, 2000b).