"Making a difference in their lives": Students speak about the EC/SE degree

By

Erik Ketcherside

“Special education is an excellent field to get into,” said Jay Johnson, recruitment and retention specialist in the Arizona Department of Education. “Not only are there jobs available, but special education has real advantages for teachers. You get a range of ability levels for kids, so you get to really stretch yourself that way. There are all kinds of opportunities ... whether you want to work in elementary school or high school, in a self-contained classroom or another scenario like a pull-out classroom. And the support systems in special ed are so vast you could work your entire career and never find everyone that’s there to support you.”

Johnson was one of the guest speakers at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College Early Childhood Conference in February, addressing an audience that brought together Arizona early childhood and special ed teachers with the MLFTC juniors and seniors who will soon be joining them in the field. Most of the students were in the internship and professional experience phase of their Early Childhood/Early Childhood Special Education program; some of them were sitting beside their mentor teachers at the all-day event.

The EC/SE degree will qualify them to teach children from birth through age 8, or third grade, and prepares them for certification in the entire spectrum of early childhood education, for children with or without disabilities.

“My students are ages three to five and I have some typically- and atypically-developing students and they all learn together,” said Alexis Miller (BAE ’20).“You have the advantage of learning how to accommodate and modify for both.”

A junior who was interning at a local school, Miller said the EC/SE program prepared her well for the classroom, in addition to increasing her job potential, “because you can do general ed and you can also do special ed.”

Another junior at the conference, Andy Rapacki (BAE ’20), said the aspect of his internship he appreciates most is the interaction with the children. “The most rewarding part is having my students come up to me at the end of the day and saying they love me and they miss me and just having those genuine connections with students where you know you're actually making a difference in their lives,” Rapacki said.

Sophia Hermosillo (BAE ’20) said she appreciates the support she’s received from MLFTC faculty. “My advisor, Cristina Hansen, been my advisor since day one. I met her at orientation for my freshman year, and she helped me sign up for classes and everything. Every single year she helps me out.”

Hermosillo also credits the tutoring and mentorship she’s been able to access in the college, and the help with financial aid sources. “I feel like I get immense support, not just academically, but also emotionally,” she said. Learn more about MLFTC Student Services.

Junior Brittany Begaye (BAE ’20) said she’s most impressed by the faculty who teach, both on campus and at the student teaching sites. “Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has amazing professors, and I feel like they really prepare you for what to expect in the classrooms. If you come up with something that you're not expecting, the teachers are there for you, to give you advice or tips or strategies to use in the classroom. And your mentor teachers are amazing.”

MLFTC Associate Professor Wendy Peia Oakes said nurturing relationships between students, mentor teachers and faculty members was one of her primary goals in organizing the conference, “... so [the students] can see themselves as part of this larger community and start to network and build relationships,” Oakes said. “We have people who are very highly committed to doing good for others; to creating an experience for young children to grow into whoever, whatever they want to be. Our goal is to stay connected with [these students] once they leave. We want them to know they can always reach back to us, that we are also their colleagues in this field.”

“Early childhood special educators need each other to rely on to continue to grow,” Oakes said. “It's a profession where every single day is new and different and exciting. And we get to watch children grow and develop.”

Learn more about the MLFTC degree in Early Childhood/Early Childhood Special Education.