In April 2019, Vital Research facilitated a panel event for current and former SELECT-LA scholars on the California State University – Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) campus. The goal of the panel was to provide a forum in which SELECT-LA alumni could share their stories of success, challenges faced, and words of advice with current scholars completing their first year as university interns in the classroom. Five alumni from the first cohort of SELECT-LA (2017-18) participated in this event and were provided teaching supplies as an incentive. All ten SELECT-LA scholars from the second cohort (2018-19) were in attendance. This brief provides highlights from the event and was produced to document the experiences of new early childhood special education teachers teaching in inclusive classroom settings.
SELECT-LA SCHOLARS HAVE AN IMPACT
SELECT-LA alumni each provided one story of success that highlighted the impact they feel they have made in their classrooms. Two alumni relayed stories about individual students who were identified as having behavioral issues and developmental disabilities upon entering their classroom, but that with additional supports, both students transitioned out of special education in the following year. Two other alumni shared details about students with physical disabilities that limited their ability to communicate, one of whom had significant behavioral problems as a result. Through consistent work with each of these students, the alumni reported their students made progress in learning to sign and speak to communicate their needs rather than act out. The last alumni scholar focused on making an impact on the ways in which collaboration took place with his co-teacher. He noted that working with other teachers who may not fully understand special needs or have experience in preschool settings may be difficult but learning to successfully navigate those challenges had made him a better teacher to his students.
COLLABORATIVE CO-TEACHING CAN BE DIFFICULT TO ACHIEVE
Current SELECT-LA students asked alumni about challenges they faced in working with general education teachers and ways to overcome those challenges. SELECT-LA alumni agreed that collaboration with their classroom general education co-teachers was the most significant challenge they faced during their first year of teaching. Some alumni commented on the resistance of co-teachers to embrace their roles as qualified special education teachers and felt as if they were sometimes treated more as daycare providers or teacher’s assistants. In addition, they commented on how the co-teachers often didn’t “see the vision” behind the ways in which they worked with students with with special needs. For example, visual cues to remind students about the daily schedule were questioned in some cases. In another classroom, the general education teacher questioned why a student needed time to take a walk and get out of the classroom for a bit. Current scholars and alumni related how challenging it could be at times to balance the demands of teaching, relating to co-teachers and maintaining a positive outlook.
One alum stated, “At school, they teach you academically and how to do the work, but I wish there was a memo saying, ‘heads up, it sucks emotionally.’ It’s tough.” However, the alumni were steadfast in their beliefs that students were their priority in the classroom, and that even though collaboration was difficult to achieve, they were still focused on the positive outcomes of their work. The alumni provided sage advice to the current SELECT-LA scholars, such as focusing on retooling their own frame of mind and relying on administration only in limited ways. They noted that even though principals can assist in mediating issues between themselves and co-teachers, “at the end of the day, you have to work with the person” and find ways to work together to ensure the needs of their students are being met.
WITH EXPERIENCE COMES CONFIDENCE
Overall, SELECT-LA alumni reflected on how they felt towards the end of their first year in the classroom and noted the more experience they gained, the easier teaching became. They suggested that the longer they were in the classroom, the more comfortable they were in trying new things and their confidence naturally grew. In addition, alumni noted that finding supports outside of the classroom, such as with administrative staff or teaching assistants, could also increase confidence and provide a network of allies on whom to rely.