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Radio Recap: The Clinical Preparation of Special Educators

In a recent Education Talk Radio program, host Larry Jacobs interviewed members of AACTE’s new Special Education Task Force about how best to prepare special educators—particularly in light of their current shortage around the country.

Jacobs’ guests for the October 26 show included AACTE Vice President Rodrick Lucero; Brian R. Barber, assistant professor of special education at Kent State University (OH); Valeisha Ellis, assistant professor and edTPA coordinator at Spelman College (GA); and Karmen Kelly, business officer in the School of Social Work at Colorado State University. All are members of the new AACTE task force, which is supported by a grant from the Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability, and Reform (CEEDAR) Center.

The task force is an offshoot of the AACTE Clinical Practice Commission, which is currently finalizing a white paper for release in January to help operationalize high-quality clinical practice in educator preparation. The task force comprises several members from the commission along with others currently working with the CEEDAR Center.

Lucero said 55-60% of current teacher vacancies nationwide are for special education teaching positions, and districts’ challenges with finding candidates are mirrored in preparation programs. Most teacher candidates are interested in other specialty areas, Lucero noted, and it takes particular dedication, compassion, and training to be able to work effectively with students with a variety of disabilities.

Barber noted that most candidates who choose to specialize in the field do so because of a personal connection with someone with special needs, but this group is not large enough to meet school districts’ needs for new teachers. He said more candidates could be enticed to choose special education if institutions did a better job of articulating the field’s appeal as a very technical and professional line of work.

Ellis said this kind of recruitment also can be started early, when prospective candidates are still in high school, to build a more robust teacher pipeline. The field is challenged in part by its complexity, with a broad range of exceptionalities that special educators must be prepared to address—and some institutions are extending their programs to 5 years, and/or integrating special and general education in dual certification programs.

Kelly, who is a special education parent and has also done some work in schools, said incentives are needed to bring more candidates into the field. From a parent’s perspective, she said, giving preservice teachers lots of practice working with students is extremely important—and as more candidates discover the reward of reaching students with special needs, they become more likely to choose and persist in the career.

Clinical practice provides these opportunities, as candidates develop their skills and dispositions with hands-on support from mentor teachers. “Teacher candidates are learning in front of real kids and are able to apply what they are learning in their classes directly with real children,” Lucero said.

Rather than trying to understand special education through lectures, Barber said, clinical practice allows students “to see it, and to feel it, and to try it on … those are much more of our obligations now.” What’s more, the experienced teachers in partner schools learn from the clinical partnerships.

Jacobs also inquired if any special education students ever become special education teachers, and both Ellis and Barber affirmed that this does occur. Students who received special education services themselves sometimes do pursue a career in special education, motivated to make positive changes in the lives of their students, Ellis said.

To access the full recording of the October radio show, click here.

Mark your calendar to listen to the next AACTE show with Education Talk Radio, November 16 at 12:00 p.m. EST.

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Sarah Verneret

AACTE Intern