"It's a teacher's responsibility to figure out how to teach each student in order for them to thrive and become as independent as possible."
- MEd, SPED: Interdisciplinary
How did you become interested in the special education field?
When my daughter, Rachel, was a baby we lived close to a family with a child, Toni, who had multiple and profound disabilities. When Rachel started school our families carpooled together; taking Toni, her wheelchair, her oxygen tank, and her other necessities with us. Soon the girls were playing at each other’s houses and developing a close bond, even though Toni couldn’t talk or walk. It was fascinating to see that Rachel didn’t perceive Toni any differently than her other friends. Rachel would climb up on Toni’s wheelchair and dress her up with hats and jewelry. She’d share her toys with Toni and brush her hair. When Toni would drool Rachel would get a napkin and wipe Toni’s mouth and talk to her just like she talked to anyone else. To Rachel, Toni’s special needs were non-issues.
This experience of observing Toni and Rachel together had a significant impact on me. Watching the girls interact with each other, and caring for Toni when her parents were out of town, taught me that every person is capable of learning and developing meaningful relationships. It is our responsibility to figure out how to provide access to education and relationships for students with severe needs. Rachel is now 21 and completely comfortable around those with disabilities. One of her closest friends has Down syndrome. I believe that Rachel’s early and frequent exposure to Toni played a significant role in Rachel’s ability to see past others’ differences and accept people as they are.
Only through purposeful inclusion, educating students of all ability levels together, will general education students have the opportunity to learn from those with severe disabilities. And only through purposeful inclusion will students with severe disabilities and autism have the chance to access the social and emotional opportunities to which all students are entitled. This realization drove me to want to do something to provide more students with opportunities similar to what Toni and Rachel experienced together.
What is your philosophy of teaching?
Teach the whole child. Students with severe disabilities and autism often have as many social, communication, and emotional needs as academic needs. It’s a teacher’s responsibility to figure out how to teach each student in order for them to thrive and become as independent as possible. Every student can learn.
What types of candidates do you hope/recommend to pursue our Post Baccalaureate Certificate, Severe Disabilities and Autism Track?
Teacher candidates who are patient and tenacious will thrive in this specific program. It often takes a lot of trial and error to figure out how to reach each student.
How does the Severe Disabilities and Autism Track programs best support and prepare its students?
Every semester of the program, teacher candidates get to work in the classroom with students who have severe disabilities and/or autism.
What words of advice would you give to people looking to pursue this profession?
It’s okay to not know everything. Asking questions shows that you care about your education and are teachable. You can do this program – one day at a time.
Briefly describe your own road to higher education.
I earned a B.A. in philosophy, then many years later went through this same program to earn a teaching certificate. After earning an M.Ed. in special education I taught in the public school system in Hawaii for several years, then became an instructor at UH.
What are your research interests?
Severe disabilities, autism, self-management, community support
What are your goals/future plans?
I hope to continue as an instructor in the special education department for many years to come.
What do you like to do outside of education?
I swim in the ocean with my friends almost every day, read, walk on the beach, listen to 70s music, garden, and best of all – spend time with my big family and dogs.