Five years ago, Patricia Garcia, a pre-K special education teacher at Palmer-Laakso Elementary School in Los Fresnos, began her dream job.
“When I was a little girl, I would help my mother prepare her classroom every year,” Garcia said. “When I was in fifth grade, after lunch we would visit with the students in the early childhood classrooms, where we joined in on activities and played with them. That experience of working with students of such divergent abilities inspired me to go into special education.”
A 2005 Los Fresnos High School graduate, Garcia teaches in the Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities (PPCD) with Los Fresnos Consolidated Independent School District. She received her bachelor’s degree in education from The University of Texas at Brownsville in December 2009, qualifying her to teach Early Childhood (EC) through 4th grade; additionally, she has the special education endorsement that covers EC through 12th grade.
To prepare future teachers for their careers as educators, a semester of practice teaching is required, no matter their area of specialization. Daniel Martinez has just begun his practice teaching at Brownsville’s Rivera High School for the first seven weeks of the fall semester.
“The staff at Rivera High School has been welcoming; they remember I graduated with honors five years ago, and I remember their support throughout my education,” said Martinez, a former special education student himself.
Martinez will spend the second half of the semester at Gallegos Elementary School and Southmost Elementary School working with blind students.
According to Dr. Steve Chamberlain, Interim Chair of the UTB Department of Educational Psychology and Leadership Studies and Associate Professor in Special Education, all elementary teachers must take core content area classes that include reading, English, social studies, music, math and science. Those on the special education track will take additional courses such as Introduction to Exceptional Children, Problems in Language and Literacy for Individuals with Special Needs, Classroom Instruction for Individuals with Special Needs and Assessing Children with Learning Difficulties.
Chamberlain explained how the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act created an inclusion movement for children with disabilities.
“After the legislation, all children with disabilities received greater access to general education classrooms and curriculum,” Chamberlain said. “That law has really changed the whole terrain for children with disabilities – in school and in broader society.”
Job opportunities for special education teachers look bright. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of special education teachers is projected to grow six percent from 2012 to 2022.
“I feel that UTB has prepared me well,” Martinez said. “I am meeting challenges that I was expecting, and I am thinking back to courses in which I learned about how to handle certain situations.”
Garcia has continued her education and obtained her master’s degree in special education from UTB in August 2013.
“I wanted to reach out more to my students through research-based interventions, and to do so, I felt I needed to learn more about assessments, the scoring process and what the scores reflect,” Garcia said. “This is such a gratifying profession. At the end of the day, it is rewarding to see that each student has learned something new to enhance their personal and academic skills.”
For more information on special education, visit utb.edu/coe.