The search for role clarity: Challenges and implications for special education teacher preparation

Katharine G. Shepherd, Susan Fowler, Jazarae McCormick, Cynthia L. Wilson, Daniel Morgan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over the years, a variety of political, social, and other contextual factors have contributed to the expansion of roles for PK-12 special educators, leading to a complex set of challenges and opportunities that must be addressed as the field of special education looks to the future. Today’s special educators need to collaborate with general educators in tiered systems of support while providing specialized instruction for students with the most intensive needs, yet teacher education and professional development opportunities may not always adequately prepare them for these changing roles. The recent re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) creates a new policy context with the potential to bring about additional changes in PK-12 settings and teacher preparation. In recognition of the need to more clearly articulate and align the demands of PK-12 schooling with the teacher education enterprise, the article concludes with a set of policy recommendations intended to promote clarification of special educators’ roles and inform the future of university-based teacher preparation programs (TPPs) engaged in fostering their development at the preservice and in-service levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-97
Number of pages15
JournalTeacher Education and Special Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2016


  • Education policy
  • Role clarity
  • Roles of special educators
  • Teacher preparation policy/service delivery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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