Teachers who demonstrate a high degree of empathy are said to have more positive attitudes towards pupils with disabilities. Therefore, this article sought to explore the influence of a special school placement on prospective teachers’ self-perceptions of empathy. Thirty-two final year undergraduate students participated in focus group interviews and were selected because they aspired to be a physical education teacher and had attended a placement in a special school. Interview transcripts were analysed and the following themes constructed: Stepping into the shoes of the Other; Frustrated ‘for’ not ‘with’ pupils with disabilities; Empathy for planning inclusive lessons and ‘reading’ pupil body language; and Knowing when not to show empathy. All prospective teachers felt that: (a) they could empathise with pupils with disabilities; (b) situated learning experiences within the placement enabled them to reflect on the ways in which their empathy influences their teaching now and could continue to do so in the future; and (c) it was important that teachers demonstrated empathy. Thus, it is recommended that all prospective teachers gain some experience teaching in special schools. Our research also warns against teachers claiming the last, conclusive word about who children with disabilities are, what they think, how they feel and what they want, in myriad contexts and situations.
- Empathy; pupils with disabilities; school-based placements; teacher education
- teacher education
- pupils with disabilities
- school-based placements