JITE v38n1 - Industrial Technology Education Teachers' Knowledge, Experience, and Feelings Related to Working with Special Populations in the Lincoln, Nebraska Public Schools

Volume 38, Number 1
Fall 2000

Industrial Technology Education Teachers' Knowledge, Experience,
and Feelings Related to Working With
Special Population Students in the Lincoln, Nebraska Public Schools

Robert T. Howell
Fort Hays State University

Teaching special needs students can be a challenging experience even for those with extensive training in special needs education. What methods should an industrial technology education teacher use to develop the skills of special needs students? As Meers (1987) has pointed out, curriculum is one component in a total program that an instructor uses to guide a student through instructional content to ultimately result in the student's mastery of the skills. The need for both better developed curricula and for teacher training has increased as more special needs students are being included in all classrooms.

During the last 25 years, many changes have been made in the educational system dealing with special needs students. Several laws have been passed to provide special needs students with the same educational opportunities as students without disabilities, including The Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, and The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Acts of 1984, 1990 and 1998 (Kimeldorf, 1984; Smith & Edmunds, 1999). The Vocational Education Act of 1973 eliminated discrimination of individuals with disabilities (Koch, 1995). Kohler and Rusch (1995) reported that the Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1983, known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), was established to help school programs, in conjunction with communities, establish interventions to lead to and result in employment of youth with disabilities. These federal initiatives have brought an increase in the number of special needs students moving into vocational education (Rojewski, Pollard, & Meers, 1992).

In 1975, Congress passed the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (also known as PL 94-142). PL 94-142 mandated that each student, including those in vocational education, receive a free and public education under the least restrictive conditions (Kimeldorf, 1984). Several changes have resulted in the effort to address this requirement. For example, since 1978 the practice of mainstreaming, in which special needs students are placed into regular classrooms, has become widespread (Cook, Semmel, & Gerber, 1995). Schools and teachers are expected to adopt appropriate strategies for accommodating these special needs students.

The influx of special needs students in regular classrooms meant new methods of instruction would be needed to teach them. Cook, Semmel, and Gerber (1995) found that many general education teachers believed they were not prepared to teach special needs students in the regular classroom. These researchers found that 98% of general education teachers felt their planning skills were good to excellent for the classes they were teaching, but only 39% of those teachers stated they were competent to plan for special needs students.

Like their academic counterparts, vocational education teachers do not feel prepared and are reluctant to include special needs students in the regular classroom for various reasons (Hazelkorn & Lombard, 1994). According to their study, vocational education teachers are also reluctant to modify curricula or teaching techniques to accommodate special needs students due to the technical nature of their subjects, thereby making it difficult for special needs students to get into vocational classes or to meet course requirements. Hazelkorn and Lombard have also found that many special needs students are excluded from vocational classes because teachers are rarely included in development of the individual education plan (IEP).

A study conducted by Cotton (1994) listed research areas that would be useful for industrial technology education teachers, coordinators, and individualized education planners preparing to include special needs students in regular classrooms. The research areas included:

  • teacher perceptions of their abilities to adapt to student needs,
  • teacher preferences for additional education and training formats and times,
  • teacher perceptions of the status of vocational teacher preparation, and
  • teacher perceptions of how much assistance they receive from various groups.

Cotton (1994) examined the vocational teacher's knowledge and experience with the IEP process. His study was sent to all vocational teachers in the state of Indiana. Of the population of 1,200 teachers, 527 responded to the survey, representing a 43% return rate and 39 of the 47 vocational districts in the state. Cotton found that vocational education teachers were willing and eager to accept special needs students, but they lacked the skills necessary to do the job. These teachers also revealed that they had received little, if any, training in how to teach special needs students, but they were willing to learn.

Because requirements for certification, and thus the structure of teacher preparation programs, vary from state to state, it is important to gain a better understanding about the preparedness to address special needs of vocational teachers in specific regions. Replicating all or parts of Cotton's (1994) study within geographical areas with smaller populations could be helpful for future efforts to create more inclusive vocational programs.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to find out what experience industrial technology education teachers in this population possess when dealing with special needs students. The study also attempts to learn what these teachers' feelings are towards mainstreaming special needs students into the regular classroom, and what knowledge they have that aids them in teaching special needs students. Another important part of this study is to identify what future training ITE teachers feel they would require to work effectively with special needs students.

This study is designed to answer the following research questions:

  1. What preparation (i.e., courses, workshops, and in-service training) do industrial technology education teachers presently have that supports them while working with included special needs students?
  2. What are the feelings of industrial technology education teachers toward bringing included special needs students into their regular classrooms?
  3. What preparation (i.e., skills, knowledge about students, and teaching methods) do industrial technology education teachers feel they lack, that would aid them in the future, when working with included special needs students?


The research design for this study employed a quantitative approach. The study solicited responses from ITE teachers through the use of a validated instrument developed by Cotton (1994) consisting of 50 questions. Validity of the survey was established through the use of an advisory committee that analyzed the prototype and final versions for accuracy, clarity, and scope. The committee consisted of three vocational directors, three special populations' coordinators, three vocational teachers, and three postsecondary researchers. Other experts with backgrounds in these areas were informally consulted for input as well. With Cotton's permission, several changes were made to the survey, including format, grammar, and the addition of questions that updated the study to gather data about new technology devices that aid in teaching special needs students.

The revised instrument consisted of 50 questions. Section I generated data about the formal training teachers have received that will aid them while working with special needs students. Section II gathered information about the ITE teacher's general skills in relation to teaching special populations. Section III collected information on future educational opportunities teachers might pursue to improve their skills for teaching special needs students. Section IV collected demographic data about the respondents.

To test the changes made to Cotton's (1994) questionnaire, the revised instrument was reviewed by a special needs education class. The special needs class was comprised of 10 University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate students, 4 of whom were ITE teachers. They reported only two grammatical problems with the questionnaire and recommended no other changes.


As stated earlier, a smaller geographical area was selected to replicate Cotton's (1994) study so that useful information could be obtained about the area selected. The population for this study included all 39 ITE teachers in the Lincoln, Nebraska Public School District. The Lincoln school district studied was comprised of 4 high schools and 10 middle schools, offering a total of 30 courses in industrial technology education. Industrial technology education enrollments for the district consisted of 49% female and 51% male students. The special needs enrollment included 13% special education students.

Data Analysis

Likert-type questions were selected from which means and standard deviations to responses were calculated. Leedy (1989) reported that interval levels of measurement, such as Likert-type questions, have been commonly used when surveying groups. Leedy described the interval scale as having two characteristics: equal units of measurements, and an arbitrarily established zero point. Respondents were asked to rate, on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), the degree to which they felt they had the skills necessary to do a good job working with special needs students.


Twenty ITE teachers (return rate of 51%) completed the survey. It was felt that no follow-up of non-respondents was necessary. Of the 20 ITE teachers who completed the instrument, 10 reported having a Nebraska professional teaching certificate (Master of science degree and above), and 9 were identified as having a Nebraska prestandard certificate (Bachelor of science degree). One respondent reported having an emergency certificate (not teacher certified). Years of teaching experience ranged from 0 to 33. Seven of those responding taught at the middle school level, whereas 13 were teaching at the high school level. ITE teachers (not to be confused with Trade and Industry teachers) reported that they taught a variety of subjects including woods/construction, drafting, small engines/automotive, graphics, and manufacturing.

ITE teachers reported that they have received training through seminars (less than 1 day outside of school district), workshops (1 to 3 days), and inservice training (less than 1 day developed by school district). Seminars were reported to be the least used method of training, with 60 % of the respondents indicating that they did not attend any seminars dealing with teaching special needs students. The remaining 40 % of the respondents reported they attended anywhere from 1 to 25 hours of seminar training for teaching special needs students. One half of the ITE teachers (50%) indicated they attended workshop training for teaching special needs students. About one third (35 %) of the teachers reported not having any in-service training for special needs students, whereas the other two thirds (65%) attended 1 to 50 hours of inservice for teaching special needs students.

Teaching Skills

As in Cotton's study (1994), ITE teachers in the Lincoln Public Schools felt they had the skills necessary to teach special needs students but could do better with more training (see Table 1). These teachers believe they can maintain a suitable classroom environment when special needs students are included (mean 4.3000). They also indicated that they had the skills necessary to develop instruction to teach special needs students (mean 4.2000). Teachers felt that it was appropriate to include special needs students into their classroom (mean 3.8500), and that they could adapt their instruction to meet student needs (mean 3.6000). At the same time, however, ITE teachers (mean 3.3500) indicated the need for additional training. Examples of the types of questions used to elicit responses included: "I feel that I can develop appropriate instruction to meet the needs of all students in my class," and "I feel that I can identify and assist special needs students." Each item was then ranked on a scale of 1 to 5.

Table 1
Perceived Abilities Relative to Teaching Included Special Needs Students

Skill Mean Standard

I can create a suitable classroom environment. 4.3000 .9334
I can adapt instructional materials to meet special needs. 4.2000 1.0563
I can adapt my teaching methods to meet special learning needs. 4.1579 .8983
If needed, I can teach generalizable skills such as measuring, reading directions, writing, and employment skills. 4.0500 .9987
I am comfortable working with special needs students. 4.0500 1.0501
I can identify materials, equipment and training that will aid in teaching. 3.9474 1.0260
I can plan and prepare specialized materials and lessons. 3.9500 .9987
I am prepared to work with and teach to special needs students. 3.9000 1.2096
I feel it is appropriate to include special needs students. 3.8500 1.1821
I can adapt instructional materials to meet special needs. 3.6000 1.0563
I feel it is important to receive additional training before including special needs. 3.3500 1.3089

Note. Respondents rated each statement on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 = strongly disagree; 2 = disagree; 3 = neutral; 4 = agree; and 5 = strongly agree.

Support for Teaching Special Needs Students

Responses to questions dealing with the level of support these teachers received for working with special needs students were less encouraging. Respondents indicated that, although teachers did receive some level of support for teaching special needs students (mean 3.5000), overall they did not perceive that the support provided was adequate. Ratings in nearly all categories indicated that these teachers did not perceive adequate support from parents (mean 2.7386), the community (mean 2.7386), or outside agencies (mean 2.6500). They also perceived a greater need for assistance with preparing individual education plans (IEPs) for included special needs students. Examples of the types of questions used include: "I receive the support from outside agencies that I need to teach special needs students" and "I feel that I receive the support needed to teach special needs students from the administration of my school."

Table 2
Perceptions of Support Provided to ITE Teachers Working With Included Special Needs Students

Type of Support Mean Standard

I receive support needed to teach special needs students 3.5000 1.3089
I receive the support needed to teach special needs from school administration 3.2500 1.1180
I receive needed support from parents and guardians of special needs students 2.7386 1.2402
I receive support needed from the local community to include special needs students 2.7386 1.2402
I receive support needed when preparing IEPs 2.6500 1.3485
I receive the support needed from outside agencies to include special needs 2.6500 1.3485

Note. Respondents rated each statement on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 = strongly disagree; 2 = disagree;
3 = neutral; 4 = agree; and 5 = strongly agree.

Future Training

In section three, future training, teachers were asked what types of training they would be willing to attend to gain more knowledge about working with special needs students (see Table 3). Their first choice was professional days at school with students not present (mean 3.800). The second choice was release time from school to attend training that would improve their skills when working with special needs students (mean 3.0000). Third choice was 1- to 3-day workshops (mean 2.9500). Less acceptable training formats for these teachers included college courses meeting once per week (mean 2.9000), after-school or early morning sessions (mean 2.7000 and 1.6500, respectively), summer weekdays (mean 2.4500), and weekend workshops (mean 1.6500). Examples of questions used in section three include "I would like professional days at school with no students," and "I would like special release time during school to attend training."

Table 3
Preferred Formats for Future ITE Teacher Training

Skill Mean Standard

Professional days at school with no students 3.8000 1.2397
Special release time during school to attend training 3.0000 1.2978
One-to three-day workshops 2.9500 1.3563
College credit course work meeting once per week 2.9000 1.2524
After-school training sessions 2.7000 1.2607
Training during summer weekdays 2.4500 1.3169
Training before school in the morning 1.6500 1.1367
Training sessions on weekends 1.6500 1.1367

Note. Respondents rated each statement on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree,
3 = neutral, 4 = agree, and 5 = strongly agree.

Although these teachers did not appear to strongly favor any of the training formats suggested, they did indicate that they would welcome future training to help them work with special needs students (see Table 4). The preferred types of training selected varied. Teachers indicated that they would like to receive more training materials that would aid them in teaching special needs students (mean 3.7895). The next method chosen was receiving individual advice from consultants and/or specialists (mean 3.7368). Other ITE teachers preferred training that would allow them to observe and sit in on conferences with other teachers (mean 3.2000). The least favored method was on the job experience or internships, although it was still considered an acceptable training method (mean 3.000).

Table 4
Preferred Training Methods

Mean Standard

I would like to receive training materials (workbooks, videos). 3.7895 1.1822
I would like to receive individual advice from a consultant or specialist. 3.73368 .8719
I would like to observe and sit in on conferences with other teachers. 3.2000 1.1050
I would like on-the-job experience. 3.0000 1.2834

Note. Respondents rated each statement on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 = unacceptable, 2 = somewhat unacceptable, 3 = acceptable, 4 = somewhat acceptable, and 5 = highly acceptable.


Although this study was conducted on a small population (20 ITE teachers), it validated a similar study conducted by Cotton (1994). Cotton's study covered all vocational education areas, including business education, health occupations, and industrial technology education, with a population of 750 participants throughout the state of Indiana. Cotton's study, like the current study, showed that vocational educators felt they did a good job teaching included special needs students and that they could adapt materials and lesson plans to meet the needs of those students. The data collected during the study reported here also showed that ITE teachers received very little formal training in teaching special needs students, and that they perceived a fairly low level of support from parents, school administrators, and outside agencies in helping them work with these students. Additionally, this study showed that these teachers would like to receive more training in working with special needs students. The preferred training methods would involve more one-on-one, on-the-job work with experienced colleagues.

Recommendations for Further Study

Although ITE teachers in the current study have reported that they have the skills and knowledge to do a good job including special needs students in their regular classrooms, caution must be taken. Previous research (Cook, Semmel, & Gerber, 1995) has described a tolerance theory associated with special needs students. The tolerance theory states that special needs students can be taught to a level (tolerance level) without teachers receiving special training. Teachers can bring special needs students to this point, then learning stops. Without the introduction of new methods, training, and technology, special needs students will show little improvement beyond the tolerance level. Future research is recommended in this area to ascertain whether ITE teachers are doing as good a job teaching special needs students as they have reported in this study.

Conducting a study of this type on a larger population would provide more data from which to make recommendations. Smaller studies, such as this one conducted in the Lincoln, Nebraska public schools, can provide information that would be useful to teacher educators or to school district officials. Considering the very direct charge to accommodate special needs made to industrial technology and other vocational educators in the Perkins Act that authorizes funding for vocational education, it is imperative that we discover effective ways to make this happen. Additional studies could focus on identifying the effective strategies being used by ITE teachers, the extent to which they are actually being used in ITE classrooms, and assessment measures that demonstrate the effectiveness of these strategies in helping special needs students.


Howell is Assistant Professor in the Department of Technology Studies at Fort Hays State University in Hays, KS.


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Tracy Gilmore