Accordingto Okoli and Okpara (2017:150) and Spaul (2013:54) there is wide practice ofattributing students’ achievement to teacher effectiveness. Teachers arequestioned over poor performances of their students by some school authorities.Althoughthe teacher is just one factor among many that influence learners’performances, the teachers’ attributes and qualities are very important in theteaching and learning processes. Despiteseveral innovations in the areas of individualised learning, the essence of theteacher in the teaching and learning process has not shifted.
Teachers’ beliefs, as reflected in their behaviour and interactions in theclassroom, is based on their initial teacher training regarding specialeducational needs because of their specific understanding of barriers tolearning, that focus on a medical deficit approach. Furthermore, teachersfrequently mentioned their perceived lack of specialised knowledge regardingthe professional identification and support of ‘special needs’ such as learningand sensory disabilities, behavioural, as well as social problems. The development of inclusive education andits envisaged outcomes are influenced by the dynamic interaction betweencontextual challenges and teachers’ understanding of inclusive education inproviding inclusive practices for learners who are experiencing diversebarriers to learning in their classrooms. Individual attention to learners’ needs is anadded stressor for teachers dealing with a variety of contextual challenges ina classroom with a diversity of needs. Additional and significant obstacles in enabling teachers to enact inclusiveclassroom practices are overcrowded classrooms, lack of administrative andfinancial support as well as prescriptive curriculum requirements (Engelbrecht et al., 2015:6). Thestudy findings from LeDoux, Graves and Burt (2012:20) identify generaleducation teachers’ need for better communication, professional developmentconcerning children with disabilities and a need for more planning time.
The consensus among the literature has beenthat general education teachers are inadequately prepared to work with studentswith special educational needs and therefore, are not prepared forinclusion. Although this has been amajor concern for nearly two decades, efforts to address this issue have beenunsatisfactory in most cases. Pather (2011:1107)mentioned that it is evident from available research that despite the array ofchallenges facing mainstream schools which relate mainly to systemic barrierssuch as teacher training, lack of resources, funding and resistant attitudes,there is some evidence, although limited, of successful practice where supportis available and teachers demonstrate capacity to respond positively andeffectively. 2.3.1 Teachersin inclusive classrooms It isnot yet settled among experts what constitutes effective teaching, howeverWeimer (2013 cited in Okoli , 150:2017) define teacher effectivenessas ‘teaching in such a way that learning results.
It was observed that teachers’ effectivenessis not the only determinant of students’ academic achievement. The definition extracted from descriptions ofteachers nominated for teaching awards used these words: approachable, presentsmaterial well, makes subject interesting, helpful, and knowledgeable (Okoli& Okpara, 150:2017). Teachereffectiveness and teaching quality in inclusion has received a great deal ofattention internationally since interactions between learners and teachers areimportant social processes that contribute to every learner’s academic, socialand emotional development (Luckner & Pianta, 2011 cited in Engelbrecht et al., 2015:1).
Barber and Mourshed(2007:12 cited in Spaull, 2013:24) indicated that a popular McKinsey study finds that ‘The available evidence suggests that the main driverof the variation in a child learning atschool is the quality of the teachers’ and thus that ‘the quality of aneducation system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers’. Thebroader social and institutional contexts in which teachers operate, is shaped by the restructuring and reorganisation of educational policies in responseto national and global imperatives for the development of inclusiveeducation. It is the way in which policyis reformulated in practice which determines teachers’ personal interpretationsand understanding in their day-to-day enactment of inclusion (Engelbrecht etal.
, 2015:1). Research done byShoulders and Krei (2016:23-25) has found that teachers often feel unpreparedfor changes, with some expressing uncertain or even negative attitudes towardinclusion. Staff with formalqualifications also reported more negative emotional reactions when facingchallenges from students with special educational needs.
These results highlight the importance ofproviding teachers high level of training that promote teacher commitment andthis could be linked to mitigating burnout in teachers and improving theoutcomes of all students with special needs. McKinsey(2007:13) mentioned that the negative impact of low-performing teachers issevere, particularly during the earlier years of schooling. If learners are placed with low performingteachers for several years at primary level, they can suffer a largeirreversible educational loss.
One ofthe most striking features of the inequality in South Africa according toSpaull (2017:29) is that the best performing Grade Six pupils know more thansome Grade Six teachers, albeit not their own teachers. There is a strong case to be made, inaddition to not being able to teach what they do not know, that teachers wholack an elementary understanding of the subjects they teach can actuallyinfluence the learning process of their learners. A 2010 study of 45 primary schools in theWestern Cape found that the average Grade Three teacher felt that at thebeginning of the year only 55 per cent of their pupils were performing at theappropriate level for numeracy, but by the end of the academic year that theythought that 84 per cent were now performing at the appropriate level.
Yet, in reality, only 22 per cent of theirpupils were actually achieving at the appropriate level relative to thecurriculum, as measured by the Western Cape Systemic Evaluations (WCED,2010:10). The need to focus onthe primary grades is because it is more likely to close the gap andcost-effective when children are still young and not only driven by the factthat underperformance is so widespread in these phases (Spaul 2017:40;McKinsey, 2007:4). Researchers haveattempted to investigate the beliefs and attitudes of the individuals who areresponsible for implementing inclusive policies. Shoulders and Krei (2016:29) and Mangope etal. (2013:82) have shown in their research findings that teachers’ experiencesin the classroom influence their attitudes toward inclusion and can have adirect influence on the successful inclusion of children with disabilities intoregular classes. Moreover, overallfeelings and outlooks of teachers, as well as actions, play a vital role instudent achievement.