Special Education Program prepares student-teachers to ‘do it all’

By Cameron Mccollum | Reporter

The Baylor School of Education’s Special Education Program is dedicated to preparing new teachers to individualize curriculum and prioritize children’s specific needs.

Dr. Tonya Davis, the coordinator of the program, said Baylor designed it to prepare new teachers to do it all.

That means to be a special ed teacher, you must teach a 3-year-old colors and be able to teach an 18-year-old algebra, regardless of their disability diagnosis,” Davis said.

In the state of Texas, special education teachers are required to be certified to teach all ages, disabilities and content. About 13% of students in primary and secondary education require a specialized curriculum throughout their academic years.

When you think about the variety of kids that walk through the doors, that includes children with disabilities,” Davis said. “To serve our entire community in a holistic way that supports belonging and supports inclusion, you must include special education.”

Davis said the two most important aspects for students to learn going into special education are flexibility and evidence-based practices.

“When you teach, there’s no way we, as a teacher ed program, can prepare them for every scenario, every student, every classroom they’ll encounter, so it’ll be flexible,” Davis said. “But then, on the other side, is to be committed to evidence-based practices. What that means is we know there are teaching practices that are effective for teaching reading, teaching math or helping kids manage good learning behaviors.”

Special education is a mandated law under Federal Regulations – IDEA 2004 for students 3 to 21 years of age. The law, however, also applies to higher education facilities. To be more exact, higher education institutions do not exactly offer specialized education, but they instead offer accommodations for students with disabilities.

“Now those laws follow you into college. That is why you have the Office of Access and Learning Accommodation. They will provide accommodation, but every single student is still responsible for meeting the curriculum,” Davis said. “There is not a modified curriculum that will quote unquote make it ‘special education,’ but we do have modifications and support. It is the same law that requires us to have elevators in addition to stairs.”

The Baylor Special Education Program has cohorts as small as two students and as large as 17 students. On average, the students who specialize in special education make up 10% of the total School of Education cohort.

It doesn’t seem that anyone, teacher ed in general, is losing interest in special ed. The interest is staying the same,” Davis said. “It’s just our number of people interested in becoming a teacher fluctuating year by year.”

Teachers working in special education design curriculums to help students advance not only in academic knowledge but also socially and functionally.

“Most parents remember their kids’ first word, and many of the families I work with don’t get that experience in the same time frame other parents do,” Davis said. “They might be 3 or 4 or 5 and seeing kids kind of open up when they realize how they can communicate.”

Houston sophomore and education major Kim Paniagua said special education programs are important for all schools to have.

“There are many students out there who have special needs and therefore do need accommodations in order for them to thrive and succeed in their futures,” Paniagua said.

Unlike special education teachers, general education teachers can feel unprepared to teach students with mild to moderate learning disabilities. The Baylor Special Education Program aims to equip student-teachers to be able to prepare curriculum for those students.

“I would seek out training, but also I would seek out better resources for them first before I can do anything to step in,” Paniagua said. “However, if I were needing to accommodate in a special way, then I would take the necessary steps in order to ensure that.”