Vocational special needs teachers promoting inclusion in Finnish vocational education and training
Keywords:vocational education and training, inclusion, interaction, intensive special support, teacher, student
The role of Finnish vocational special needs teachers has changed during the last decades according to work-life needs and inclusive ambitions in education. In addition to substance competence, teachers need pedagogical knowledge and special education skills. This study investigates descriptions by Finnish vocational special needs teachers of the interaction with students who receive intensive learning support, and the study traces their opportunities to support the students in vocational colleges, work life, and society, and thus inclusion. We ask: (RQ1) How do vocational special needs teachers describe students with special educational needs (SEN) and their interaction with them? (RQ2) What in the vocational special needs teachers’ descriptions promotes the students’ membership in the vocational education and training (VET) system, in the world of work, and society in general, thus inclusion? We interviewed nine vocational special needs teachers who work as class leaders in VET colleges which provide intensive special support for students. The analysis of the interview data followed the principles of qualitative content analysis, and a category analysis was applied as a methodological tool to elaborate on the teachers’ descriptions. The findings revealed three themes: (1) Students’ profiles; (2) Interaction with the students; (3) Students’ special needs. The participants of the study described the students and the interaction with them mainly in learning situations, but simultaneously they had a strong will to encourage the students’ interaction also in different situations and circumstances, and thus, support the students’ subjective and social growth. The study argues that to promote inclusion in VET it would be essential to acknowledge that the identity of vocational teachers is based not only on their identity as educational or vocational specialists but there is also a third domain which could be seen as a teacher agent’s role as they construct a bridge between the college and real world.
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