Graduating for one of the most underrated but most rewarding jobs in the world just got easier.
UNM’s College of Education and Human Sciences (COEHS) is redesigning its special educational programs to make them more accessible to future teachers.
“These new initiatives will help make our programs more accessible to more students, including those living in rural and remote areas of New Mexico. Instructors in the Special Education Department come from a variety of academic and professional backgrounds, and we are here to help students who have the drive to succeed at UNM. Department of Special Education Provisionally chair Professor Cathy Qi said.
There are several undergraduate and certificate programs that take the plunge. It’s been in the works since the COVID-19 pandemic, but a welcome one in the long run.
“We stand ready to meet the needs of school districts statewide and locally through a combination of these programs.” said Julia Scherba de Valenzuela, coordinator and associate professor for the Master’s program in Special Education I.
There are currently two fully online options, a hybrid option and one that merges the two.
Completely online with class reunions with live video
The Special Education Department offers two majors Degree Master of Special Education, (MA). Each takes their own approach to ensure flexibility for students.
Concentration I is titled: Intellectual Disability and Severe Disabilities: Educational Equity Studies for Diverse Exceptional Learners. Students explore leadership tactics that focus on advocacy and support and professional development, and connecting people with disabilities with their community—all online during regularly scheduled classroom sessions held using video conferencing apps like Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
That’s what Scherba de Valenzuela supervised. She has taken a groundbreaking perspective on this completely remote opportunity, going beyond the scope of typical PowerPoint-driven lecture courses.
“What we do is so important, especially given the abundance of teaching modalities,” she said. “We’ve also done a really good job trying to make sure our classes are accessible.”
This synchronous concentration also offers alternative licensing options – the only ones of their kind in the state.
“We don’t train them only for their classrooms for the next semester,” said Scherba de Valenzuela. “We’re trying to give them the knowledge of how to build a differentiated and inclusive classroom that students can access for years to come.”
Open forums are especially encouraged to highlight problems faced by people with disabilities of all ages and to create meaningful guidelines for addressing them.
That’s a point of this concentration’s flipped classroom approach, a strategy structured around the idea that live problem solving can be substituted for passive lectures.
“It’s not bells and whistles that make education interesting,” she said. “It’s about the discussion and the well-planned activities.”
A graduate certificate program is also now fully online. That Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Certificate. can be acquired during the master’s degree or afterwards. At the end, students are eligible to become a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst
(BCBA) – an important certification for classrooms.
It also applies to clinics, community organizations, private practices and inpatient hospitals. UNM’s ABA is the only course sequence in the state proven to provide the coursework required for a BCBA credential Association for Behavior Analysis International.
“We’re trying to grow and send the message that our program is now able to partner with and help teachers or other specialists outside of the greater area with that type of expertise,” said ABA Certificate Coordinator Dr. Megan Martins.
Currently, 15 to 20 students are earning this certificate, a number she hopes to increase, especially in rural areas.
“Right now, that behavioral expertise is very limited in our school systems,” she said.
The program also allows the field Part of the work to be completed entirely online. The fieldwork also continues to be available in a hybrid format for those who are on-site at the university.
“By doing this, everyone has the opportunity to receive critical behavioral support, be more involved in their communities, and achieve better outcomes,” Martins said.
The directors of the COEHS special education program think there is something to be said for options. Therefore, they have modified some study formats beyond synchronous learning.
Concentration II Exceptional Learning and Behavior: Studies in instruction, curriculum, collaboration, and the transition of diverse learners (MA) takes a specialized approach to the biggest issues plaguing the community. Master’s earners focus on learning disabilities and emotional and behavioral issues at all grade levels.
This unique option offers an accelerated hybrid format. Over eight weeks, students stack courses to ensure a balance of home and on-site learning. There is also understanding for learners who have to work part-time alongside their degree.
“This format has a lot to offer positive responses,” said Concentration II Coordinator and Associate Professor Yen Pham.
Pham said it was more challenging but particularly focused. When the grassroots work is done online, there are more opportunities to jump straight into the action on campus.
“You have to start right away, but the students like that focus. When they come into the classroom, we can practice strategies. It’s really valuable,” she said.
It also still gives students the opportunity for face-to-face interactions, which they say many still prefer.
“It speaks to the variety of course options that address the needs of many of our students,” she said.
On the way
This is a move of Undergraduate Dual Licensure Program (Special Education, BSEed.) is preparing.
“Covid has opened our eyes to various possibilities,” said Erin Jarry, Dual License Program Coordinator and Principal Instructor III. “It works for her.”
This program needs to get five more courses online before it’s fully synced. Currently enrolled students will complete their degree this way in 2024, morphing fully into a graduate program.
This ensures that students complete two years of core instruction and then remain in the program for two years.
The synchronous and asynchronous options have generated immensely positive feedback.
“A large proportion of our students come to us as teaching assistants, so they work in the schools all day,” Jarry said. “The flexibility of having online classes in the evenings in this synchronous way really seems to work for them. They seem to enjoy it, take a lot with them and it fits their schedule better.”
A big part of what makes all of these courses so special is the innovative approaches the instructors use to teach. It’s not just PowerPoints and assigned readings, it’s videos, podcasts, and discussions. Students also have the opportunity to create their own innovative projects instead of just writing papers.
“Again, our department as a whole is really trying to be flexible, creative and diverse This will work for most students while maintaining the quality education that we offer as a flagship university in New Mexico,” Pham said.
Recruiting new teachers has become an even higher priority for COEHS in recent years. All programs have a strong emphasis on filling special education positions.
The teacher shortage in New Mexico has been a crisis in recent years that the state and its schools have been trying to fix.
“We have gone to great lengths to recruit and retain employees. We want more students to enter the field of special education,” Qi said.
All three programs have a partnership with the Albuquerque Teacher Residency Program/District Teacher Residency Program. This partnership has just received a new boost for its residents, where student teachers receive a $35,000 stipend over two semesters in exchange for teaching as a licensed teacher in their partner district for a minimum of 3 years.
This has already led to an increase in enrollments.
“We need to recruit students early, who will be New Mexico’s future teachers,” Pham said. “We are truly here to meet the needs of New Mexico’s children and why we are pushing for quality while remaining flexible in our offerings.”
While salary increases and bonuses for student teachers have improved staff retention, attracting special education teachers is still difficult. A recent report shows that special education teachers are estimated to make up the largest percentage of all job openings almost 200.
“Our state needs dedicated special education and general education teachers to positively impact the lives of students with disabilities and their families,” said Qi.
Eight graduates took their overall examination this semester. While this team is trying to increase that number, they want potential applicants to understand the difference they can make.
“We know we can do it,” said Scherba de Valenzuela. “Our urgency is to ensure our special education teacher candidates are prepared to handle whatever their students need to be taught, while also recognizing differences in the local community to ensure that all students who advance, regardless of the setting, have a received excellent education.”
Your efforts could drastically affect the future of the state. Because of this, all of these professionals emphasize the importance and magic of teaching.
“Teachers should be valued more for the work they do out there because I don’t think they really are. I just wish I could see teaching as a profession in a more positive light.” —Dual License Program Coordinator and Instructor Erin Jarry
“I believe that a strong public education system is the bedrock of democracy and our civil society. In this way you can be directly involved in the development of a society you want to live in.” – Julia Scherba de Valenzuela, Concentration I Coordinator and Associate Professor
“Teaching can be fun. It offers enormous space for creativity and growth. You have a lot of control that can affect children’s outcomes and I find it intellectually meaningful and rewarding. – Coordinator of Concentration II and Associate Professor Yen Pham
Learn more about each degree in COEHS’ Special Education Department at Department of Special Education.
There will be one too information event on an upcoming interdisciplinary training fellowship for special education teachers on December 1st. Any interested educator can also participate in an upcoming virtual one information event to find out more about the different master programs within COEHS. That will be January 18, 2023 at 4:30 p.m