Instructing Pre- and Inservice Teachers to Support Students with (Dis)abilities: Pillars, Practical Applications, and Students’ Intersecting Identities

  • Aletha M. HarvenEmail author
  • Ebony Perouse-Harvey
Living reference work entry


Teacher educators have the critical task of equipping pre- and inservice teachers with the historical and practical knowledge necessary to address the unique needs of students identified with disabilities. Students identified with disabilities, as with any marginalized group of students, deserve equitable educational opportunities, especially when considering how students’ intersecting identities might impact their educational journeys. That is, while education-based decisions for students identified with disabilities might, in many cases, focus solely on their disability status, socioemotional adjustment, behavior, and academic performance, we argue that school officials must also consider students’ intersecting social identities when collaborating with service providers in making critical decisions about students’ education-based needs. For example, while two students with a similar disability status might seem similar in need, it would be a mistake for school officials to ignore how both students’ unique social identities (e.g., racial identity, gender identity, and sexual orientation) intersect to influence how they are perceived by others – and the quality of services they receive to support their daily functioning within the educational environment. Therefore, if we expect teachers to provide equitable services to students identified with disabilities, then teacher educators must first ensure that their curriculums are built on critical knowledge regarding the historical and current marginalization of students identified with disabilities in the United States. Teacher educators must also provide a critical overview of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which provides federal guidelines for accommodating the needs of all students identified with disabilities. Teacher educators must further provide pre- and inservice teachers with theoretical and research-based knowledge on best practices for effectively addressing the unique needs of students identified with disabilities, especially as they relate to the challenges associated with students’ intersecting social identities. Lastly, teacher educators must ensure that pre- and inservice teachers are provided with practical community-based activities that connect policy (and theory) to practice.

To meet these objectives, we propose three pillars of effective instruction for teacher educators in helping pre- and inservice teachers to support students identified with disabilities. These pillars are grounded in IDEA and include an exploration of (1) the historical foundation of special education services for children identified with disabilities and its link to the Civil Rights Movement; (2) current federal education policies regarding children identified with disabilities; and (3) effective strategies for child and family advocacy. As we discuss these pillars in full, we will include a brief history of the intersection of students’ disability status with their race in the United States, as well as provide practical applications of IDEA federal guidelines. We strongly believe that structuring curriculum in relation to the three proposed pillars will help teacher educators in equipping both pre- and inservice teachers with critical knowledge for effectively working with students identified with disabilities.


Special education Special needs Students with disabilities Students identified with disabilities Children identified with disabilities Disability (Dis)ability Dis/ability Disabilities Teacher educators Teacher Teachers Preservice Inservice Pre- and inservice Early intervention Individuals with Disabilities Education Act IDEA Individualized Education Program IEP Least restrictive environment LRE Intersectionality Advocacy 


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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. Government work and not under copyright protection in the U.S.; foreign copyright protection may apply 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Child DevelopmentCalifornia State University, StanislausTurlockUSA
  2. 2.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Fenwick W. English
    • 1
  1. 1.Ball State UniversityMuncieUSA

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