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Making a Difference and a Living:
High Rewards and Employability in Secondary Special Education

Written by Teri Thomas

If you’re a teacher and passionate about helping everyone to realize their potential, adding an endorsement to teach secondary special education might be your ticket to guaranteed employment.

It’s a powerful combination: personal satisfaction, necessary work and increased job security. With an exceptional 96 percent employment rate for students who recently completed the Certificate in Secondary Special Education Endorsement, working alumni and instructors alike are beaming.
School districts and principals need teachers who can multi-task. With multiple teaching endorsements you’re more employable and likelier to keep that job after landing it by filling different needs for budget-crunching schools.
Also rewarding for those called to teach: the process of learning to meet all students wherever they are makes anyone a much better teacher.

Civil Rights in Action: Diverse Ways to Learn for Diverse Students

Discovering how to reach everyone where they are is key. It’s in this sacred space where learning happens, when “light bulb moments” occur and the joy of teaching lights up both teacher and student.

We are increasingly celebrating and accommodating differences between individuals, instead of labeling deficits. Special needs students who were previously cloistered away are now integrated into classrooms where possible. A new generation of parents wants to know what their children can do, and how they can lead rewarding, independent lives contributing to society.

Best practices for the inclusive classroom model include:

  • Multiple teaching methods for diverse students
  • Different ways to engage all students with individual needs
  • Diverse ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge and learning, in ways that work for them

 “Different needs are a fascinating challenge, not a burden,” says Laura Rothenberger, director and instructor for the Certificate in Secondary Special Education Endorsement and teaching associate for the University of Washington College of Education. “Most of our special education teachers really love the puzzle: how do I reach each person? They also amaze me with their collective will for service and desire to drive political change, education reform and awareness.”

Rothenberger is a passionate advocate for her certificate students, too. She is emotionally connected to these issues, and she’s a powerful mentor for students and alumni, connecting them to support, resources and jobs.

Become a Better Teacher and Advocate

The program is available to certificated secondary teachers (grades 6-12), both novice and experienced, and allows them to add an endorsement in special education, earned in three quarters. Adding these skills to content area knowledge builds the powerhouse multi-tasker needed in today’s classroom and sought by schools.

For new teachers, the added endorsement helps to land a first job. Seasoned teachers can add to their offerings, a possible insurance policy against cutbacks. Both become better teachers by learning:

  • Legislative, due process and case law guidelines for special education
  • Referral process, and standardized and curriculum-based assessments
  • How to develop Individual Education Programs
  • Functional Behavioral Assessments and behavior intervention plans
  • Positive behavior intervention support systems
  • How to vary instruction for different needs and situations
  • How to work with diverse populations

A Grad Returns to His Middle School to Teach

For new secondary special education teacher Mark Heald, the journey back to his own middle school wasn’t clear at the time. The Seattle native attended the Wedgwood neighborhood’s Eckstein Middle School as a boy. After high school the ardent Husky fan began studies at the University of Washington.
He enjoyed so many different courses and areas of study that he was finally prompted by the UW to declare his undergraduate major. Some soul-searching led him to a favorite mentor he admired – a high school teacher and basketball coach. He discovered he wanted to teach.

Heald earned his master’s degree in education from the UW, with endorsements in history and social studies. “I realized I wanted to also add a special education endorsement, because there is low need for social studies teachers in this economy. I thought the added endorsement would help me get a job. While in the certificate program, I also fell in love with teaching special needs students.”

“I get to work with kids one-to-one, and I can make a bigger difference. It’s great to witness their ‘a-ha’ moments. It’s the best feeling, to know because of my work they learned something.”

Heald just finished his certificate program last summer. He was hired for his first teaching job while finishing the program, along with most of his certificate peers. He loves the idea of giving back, and returned to teach at Eckstein where he attended just a few years ago.

A Day in the Life

Heald enjoys rewarding and challenging duties as a first-year special education teacher:

  • Supports 20 students on his case load: he modifies instruction, and liaisons between students, their parents, other content teachers, the school and other resources
  • Co-teaches with other content teachers to adapt the classroom for special needs
  • Teaches a study skills class for seven students, providing what they need to succeed

“I saw poverty and disadvantage growing up. My mom, who is Mexican, helped me learn it’s important to give back to those who are less fortunate. I’m learning through my work in special education how to be a better teacher, and to be an advocate for everyone, regardless of where they start from. At this moment I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

For more information on the nine-month Certificate in Secondary Special Education Endorsement please visit www.pce.uw.edu/certificates/special-education-endorsement.html or call the program at 206-685-8936, or toll free 888-469-6499.

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