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When I began this program in the fall of my senior year, I had just come back from spending the summer at Camp Easter Seals, a camp for children and adults with disabilities. After my 10 weeks caring for the every need of my campers, I was excited to begin my coursework on my way to becoming a special education teacher. Camp was, in a way, a “crash course” in Disability Characteristics. I couldn’t explain what autism was according to federal law, but I could tell you what it looks like, because I had worked with numerous campers with varying degrees of autism. The downside of this experience was that because the majority of the campers I worked with had very severe physical or mental disabilities, I had not considered the mild/moderately disabled population and their place in special education. As a result, I was at first very confused about the idea of inclusion- it seemed to me that students who were severely disabled would be best served in a self-contained setting where they could receive individual attention and their needs could be more intimately met. Over the course of my graduate coursework, I learned more and more about the whole spectrum of disabilities and special education services, I came to realize that there is much more to special education and disabilities than what I had experienced at camp. Many of the students I worked with during student teaching could have gone to a “typical” camp and fit in perfectly- their main struggle was in academics! As I learned more and more, I came to embrace inclusion and all the benefits it provides for students with disabilities. Of course, there are situations where a child’s least restrictive environment is a self-contained classroom, but for the most part, I believe that students should be included in the general curriculum as much as possible!

Content Expert
When I first began this program, I knew I wanted to teach, but knew pretty much nothing about how to teach. I found my classes to be particularly helpful in teaching educational pedagogy, particularly my Reading and Math classes. These classes provided me with an abundance of teaching strategies and evidence-based practices that I can draw upon as I begin my teaching career. In addition, I have been introduced to dozens of resources- I am confident that if I ever am at a loss for what to do, how to teach, or how to manage a behavior, I have the resources to find the information that I need.

Reflective Practitioner
I have learned through this program the importance of self-reflection. I had never truly considered the importance of self-reflection, but through my classes, I was asked to reflect on a number of lessons that I taught, including two lessons that I videotaped. I found reflection to be a powerful tool. By looking back at my lesson, I am able to analyze how it went, what the students learned, and how I performed as a teacher. I can use this information to make decisions and plan future lessons, modifying my original plans based on the needs of my students.

Effective Collaborator
I not only learned what collaboration was this year, but I also was able to experience it first-hand. I attended two professional development sessions with T/TAC on co-planning and co-teaching, and had the opportunity to co-plan and co-teach a lesson with a third grade math teacher. This was truly a wonderful experience, and I, surprisingly, loved co-teaching.
Collaboration is important for teachers because everyone has their own “tool box” of strategies- and everyone can benefit if they share their tools with others! At our student teaching orientation in September, Dr. Gareis told us that great teachers are “great actors and great thieves.” We are actors because we needsto be able to remain calm and engaging, even when we are exhausted and out of energy, and thieves because we “steal” instructional strategies from our colleagues!

Educational Leader
I believe that one of the most important qualities of a teacher is to be an educational leader. While I cannot confidently say that I am an educational leader yet, I hope that I am well on my way to becoming a leader in the future. I feel that I have strong background knowledge and know the recent, up-to-date trends in special education, and I hope that I can use these skills to be a leader, role-model, and resource for my colleagues in the future. While it may be tempting at times to take the back seat and let the more expected teachers run the show, I hope to be able to contribute effectively to the decision-making process.

CEC Standards
As I have demonstrated in this portfolio, I have made great progress this year in meeting the CEC Standards. If someone had shown me the list of standards at the beginning of the program, I would have been overwhelmed with the amount of information it contained! Now, so many of the standards seem like second nature to me, I have received a strong educational background, and I consider most of these factors without even realizing it. I can truly say that I have learned SO much and grown a lot this year- and I hope that I am able to impart an equal amount of knowledge on my students in the future.

Student Growth
One of the most, perhaps the most, rewarding experiences of teaching is seeing student growth and progress. I had many opportunities to see student growth this year- as a result of my teaching! In just two sessions of Discrete Trial Training to practice noun labeling with student SW, he learned 4 new words! When I implemented my BIP, JJ’s thumb-sucking behavior decreased by 37.5% over 13 days! Jenny’s ability to decode CVC words with short vowels increased 35% over 4 days when I gave her direct instruction and used CBM probes. These are just a few examples of student progress- and I hope to see a lot more in years to come!