Pamela Walencewicz, Special Education Master’s Student

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Pamela Walencewicz
“UH was willing to pay for me to attend this program in exchange for three years of teaching in a DOE school. This was too good to pass up!”
Hometown:

Waikoloa, HI

Department:

Special Education

Degree:

MEd in Special Education Student

Where do you teach?
I am currently co-teaching in a first grade inclusion class at Waikoloa Elementary on Hawai‘i Island.

Did you always know you wanted to become a teacher?
No! Ironically, I often heard people tell me, "You should be a teacher." I balked at that remark because I never really saw myself fitting the image of what I remember a teacher to be. When I went to elementary school, everyone sat in alphabetical order at separate desks arranged in rows, and you never ever moved from your spot. There was no differentiation, no resources, no brain breaks, and, of course, no special education. Fast forward to my 40s where I decided that, after 18 years in healthcare, I needed a career change and wanted to become a French teacher. So, I applied at the neighborhood public school, Waikoloa Elementary, and from there I began my journey to becoming a teacher.

How did you become interested in special education in particular?
Preschool students are the sole reason for me switching from becoming a French teacher to becoming a special education teacher. When I was hired at Waikoloa Elementary, I was assigned to the Preschool, which is a fully SPED self-contained classroom. I really loved my job and my students and could see the need in our community. I knew there was a statewide shortage of SPED teachers, and I realized that the greater need was to help children with learning disabilities. I could always travel to France in the summers!

Why did you choose to pursue this program?
I chose the UHM program for a couple of reasons. First, it is a hybrid program, which allowed me to stay in Waikoloa while attending UH and continuing to work in a DOE school. This was important to me. Second, and equally important, UH was willing to pay for me to attend this program in exchange for three years of teaching in a DOE school. This was too good to pass up! It takes a teacher at least three years to achieve tenure with the DOE, so what did I have to lose? Nothing!

What was the best part of the program for you?
I love that I have a new community. In that community are my fellow cohort peers, my professors, my mentor, and all of the UH staff who supported me from beginning to end. Even though it's a hybrid program, and we didn't see each other in a classroom every week, I feel that we were still a close cohort. My professors did a fantastic job of being available, and having a mentor has been a real blessing. Even though many of us were from different islands working at different schools, we still connected, shared, and learned from each other. Receiving that level of support and feeling part of a community was a wholly unexpected gift for which I will always be grateful.

In what ways do you hope to make a difference in the field of education?                                                                                   My burning questions revolve around cultural and linguistic diversity. I am interested in exploring why there are so few Native Hawaiian SPED teachers here in Hawai'i (currently, I am the only elementary SPED teacher that is Native Hawaiian at my school). The other area of education where I hope to make a difference is in disproportionality as it pertains to students who are also English Learners. Are we appropriately identifying our students as having learning disabilities who are also learning to speak English as a second or third language? Would our Native Hawaiian students with learning disabilities benefit more from being taught by a Native Hawaiian SPED teacher? These are just a few questions I hope to answer.

How did the people and the program in the COE help you along your way to becoming a teacher?
In addition to having a close cohort, I feel that my professors got to know us as individuals and not just as students. All of my professors provided me with great feedback that was specific to my work and made me feel like, "I can do this!" This was really helpful because, when you are completely new to a profession like I am to teaching, sometimes your confidence level is low or non-existent. It was invaluable to have an expert tell me that I was doing something right or I had touched on something he or she had also considered.

How has your cooperating teacher impacted your teaching practice?
My Cooperating Teacher (CT) was, and still is (we're now colleagues!), a great resource in a number of ways:  suggesting materials for lessons, being a sounding board when writing IEP objectives, and sharing her mana'o of Wonders curriculum (grades K-2). The time she took to arm me with information when I was in the program saves me time now. In addition, she was always willing to videotape and/or attend some of my observations and offer her feedback. This was really helpful because I feel that the more feedback, the better!

What is/was the best part about your placement?
There are three aspects that I would rate equally as the "best parts" of my traditional placement. First, my CT was willing to be a CT, plus she is also a Nationally Certified teacher. So, not only does she have a lot of knowledge to share, but she wanted to share it with me. This makes such a difference! Often teachers are asked to do things they don't really want or have time to do, which could result in a subpar placement. Teacher candidates should select their CTs carefully. Next, by being in a traditional placement, I could focus solely on my coursework and my own learning. What a huge plus! Last, when you are not the teacher, you get to watch the teacher. I was able to observe veteran teachers in action which had many benefits. I am a visual learner, so seeing teachers use strategies and methods I was learning about was better than any textbook.