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Marlee O’Dowd

Professor Harvey
EDUC2301
December 28, 2014

Field Experience #1: Special Education Teacher

1. Describe your journey into becoming a special education teacher.
Becoming a special ed. teacher was an easy journey for me because I never wanted to do anything else. I
never questioned my decision either in college or when I started teaching. My Bachelor’s and Master’s
Degrees were in Special Education, and I loved all of my classes. I felt prepared to teach the academic
aspect; however, I wish I had had more training in dealing with behavioral problems.

2. Why did you choose special education?
When I was in middle school, there was a student I would see only at lunch, recess, and P.E. I remember
wondering why she did not go to class with us, where did she go to class, and what was wrong with her.
She acted differently than the rest of us. For example, she would chase me around the playground and
pull my hair. I avoided her at all costs and would see other students making fun of her. Occasionally, I
would make fun of her, too (not proud of that now). Once someone explained to me that she had Mental
Retardation (the label used at that time), I became more interested in students with disabilities. I started
researching and asking questions and knew from middle school on that I wanted to work with that
population of students.

3. How or when did you know special education was the right area for you?
In middle school, I became interested in the field of special education, but by high school, I was
convinced that it was the field for me.
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4. What are some resources or programs you use to teach your class?
I taught middle school (6th-8th graders) from 1984-2002. To keep my students in line with what the
general ed. students were doing, I always used the same curriculum as the general ed. classes. I had to
use lower levels with many of the students, but I tried to teach the same types of concepts the other
teachers were teaching. That way, when there was a particular theme the general ed. classes were
teaching for the week or month, my students were involved and participated in that theme’s activities as
well. I also had the students do daily sponge activities where they had to correct a sentence/sentences
written incorrectly (misspelled words, incorrect grammar, etc.) and work a few math problems that we
had studied previously. On Fridays, the students did timed math drills, spelling tests, and a quiz over
concepts learned for the week.

5. What was your worst teaching moment?
My last year of teaching (2001-2002), I had seven 8th grade students move in to the district who had
criminal records. That whole year was extremely challenging. I felt like no one learned anything during
that year because I had to spend the entire time dealing with behaviors.

6. What was your best teaching moment?
My first three years of teaching, I had a student who was identified as Gifted/Talented but who was also
severely dyslexic. He was very bright but could only read at a Kindergarten level (He was a 6 th grader
that first year). When he left me in 8th grade, he was reading at a 4th grade level. I worked with him
before school, during reading and language arts classes, and after school for those three years. He was
extremely motivated so that was definitely a plus in his progress. Being a new teacher, though, I was
extremely proud of the work we had accomplished.
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7. When had you decided that you were actually making a difference in these children’s lives?
After approximately my first five to six years of teaching, students would come back to see me and tell me
that I helped motivate them to stay in school. I tried to show each and every student that I cared about
him/her and that he/she was super smart! I have students today that I have not seen in 25 years who
come up to me and tell me things I said or did (things that I do not even remember) that made an impact
on their lives. That is what teaching is all about…it is saying and doing things out of love and concern
for the child without wanting the glory.

8. What do you wish you had known before you started teaching?
I wish I had received more training in working with students that have behavioral issues. I felt prepared
to teach students with intellectual disabilities and learning disabilities. I did not, though, have a box of
tools or techniques to use for students who were aggressive or oppositional. I really struggled in that
area and had to seek out much training in that area.

9. If you had one piece of advice for an entry year teacher, what would it be?
My advice for a new teacher is to not take students’ inappropriate behaviors personally. They are not
acting out because of something the teacher is doing (usually); they are most likely acting out because of
things going on at home. Teachers have no idea of all of the “junk” their students have to deal with
outside of school…hunger, parents’ divorce, poor living conditions, abuse, to name a few. If teachers can
just take time to stop and talk to their students about their students’ lives outside of school, they might
find out a wealth of information that would give them more insight into the students’ behaviors. Just do
not take it personally!

10. What do you think about the ARD process?
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My only complaint about the ARD process is when ARD committees do not include ALL members in
making decisions, especially general ed. teachers and parents. Sometimes the special educators are the
ones making the decisions without even realize that is what is happening. I work really hard in ARD
meetings to talk in a parent-friendly manner (without so many acronyms) and to ask for parent input
throughout the entire ARD meeting. I think educators forget that parents do not have the background in
what IEP, ARD, FAPE, LRE, and STAAR all stand for and mean. We sometimes throw those acronyms
around without explanation. Also, school today is all about Least Restrictive Environment, so students
are staying in their general ed. classes much more than they did when I was teaching. General ed.
teachers have much knowledge about their content area. We need to listen to their input during the ARD
meetings.

11. What is your opinion about paperwork in special education?
I think there is too much paperwork with some redundancy. If we as the educators do not even know what
box to check at times, how is the parent supposed to understand what they are agreeing to in the ARD
meeting?! I understand that there has to be paperwork designating what everyone has agreed to and will
be implementing; however, I do think it has gotten out-of-hand. That is due, however, to due process
hearing decisions that have occurred. The paperwork is to not only inform school personnel of what has
been decided, but also it is there to protect them in case of a complaint by parents.

12. Describe the diversity of your students.
I taught school prior to the development of Life Skills classrooms; therefore, I had students with learning
disabilities, intellectual disabilities, ADHD, emotional disturbances, hearing impairments, visual
impairments, and autism. I had all of the disabilities! I also had a 60-student caseload with a part-time
aide. I did not have many bilingual students or African-American students in my district (S & S). The
majority of the students were boys. At the time I taught, I usually had most of the students for reading,
language arts, and math.
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13. What would you say are the biggest changes you have seen in your years of experiences in
working with children and their families?
Parents sometimes feel inadequate in helping their child because the difficulty of the school work is
sometimes beyond their own level. What students are learning at each grade level now is probably at
least two years ahead of what their parents were learning at that same grade level! If teachers will stay
in contact with parents and keep them informed of how their child is doing, including calling or e-mailing
them when their child has done something good, parents will work with the schools and become their
partner. Parents need the school’s help in knowing what to do with their child at home. Having
parent/teacher conference, making phone calls, sending e-mails, etc., will go a long way in keeping good
rapport between school staff and parents!

14. How do you support the families of the children you work with?
Back then when I was teaching and even now in my role as the Assistant Director, I call parents and/or
meet with parents when I hear they have a concern. I do not wait until an ARD meeting where there are
so many educators there staring at the parent! I will give parents ideas/techniques that I have used or
have seen used and will write those down for them. Making that personal connection lets families know
that I care about them and their child.

15. How do you feel the administrators have supported you over the years? Or not?
I was very fortunate. First, I had only one administrator the entire 18 years I taught special education!
Second, my principal ALWAYS had my back even when I was in the wrong. He would totally support me
in front of parents or other staff. Afterwards, he may call me in privately and talk to me about an issue,
but I always knew that he would back me up to the best of his ability (as long as I did not do anything
illegal…and I didn’t!). I also supported him in front of parents and other staff. It is very important that
the administrator is respected even if you do not necessarily like that person. A teacher loses credibility
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and respect himself/herself if she gossips about her administrator or co-workers in front of others. That
causes hard feelings and lack of cooperation among the staff. Having a great administrator is a blessing.
He/She can make or break a teacher’s spirit.

Interviewee: Salina Byrd
Current Position: GCSEC Assistant Director
Teaching Experience: Special Ed. Teacher
S & S MS (6th-8th grades)
1984-2002

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