Different ways of knowing? Understanding disabled students’ and teacher aides’ school experiences within a context of relational social justice
Disabled students’ experiences of working with teacher aides constitute a recent focus of international inquiry. To date in New Zealand, there has been no specific investigation of this aspect of education, despite the widespread reliance on teacher aide support as the primary means of responding to disabled students’ presence in schools. Similarly, there are very few New Zealand studies in which teacher aides are the primary participants. This thesis seeks to address this absence in New Zealand educational research by exploring students’ and teacher aides’ experiences of working together, in order to understand the impact of assigning responsibility for students who have complex learning support requirements to teacher aides who require no qualification, training, or experience to work in this role. This interpretive qualitative study is positioned in a multi-dimensional framework of current disability, social justice, and sociology of childhood theorising. A series of semi-structured meetings were held with ten students, aged eight to seventeen years, who attended schools in the South Island of New Zealand. As well, semi-structured interviews were conducted with eighteen teacher aides who worked in a range of primary, intermediate, and secondary schools in the same geographic area as the student participants. Data were interpreted utilizing both inductive and deductive means of analysis. Students’ participation in the research and their contributions to the findings demonstrated their competence, agency, and heterogeneity. Students conveyed a sense of the importance and value of the teacher aide’s role, if clearly defined and carried out in a positive, professional manner within the context of supportive schools. The findings relating to teacher aides’ experiences highlighted the diverse, ambiguous nature of their roles, conceptualised as a continuum of support ranging from aiding teachers in inclusive contexts, to aiding students in assimilationist circumstances, to assuming the role of teacher or babysitter for students in exclusive educational environments. Analysis of teacher aides’ experiences revealed the fundamental importance of relationships in coming to know students in terms of their humanness and competence, and in underpinning teacher aides’ efforts to do the right thing by students. Participants also identified the need for all adults involved in the policy and practice of education to develop shared understandings of respectful, socially just ways of thinking about disability and childhood as the foundation of a common commitment to teach all students well. The insight generated by participants, who represent perhaps the least powerful of students and employees in New Zealand schools, illuminates some of the most significant changes that need to occur in the thinking and practices of people involved in educational policy-making, teacher and teacher aide education, and schools. Addressing these educational deficits may contribute to the development of a socially just education system that is respectful of and responsive to human difference while recognising and respecting our mutual humanness.
Advisor: Bray, Anne
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Education
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: disabled students; teacher aides; school experiences; social justice; inclusive education
Research Type: Thesis