National Special Education Day is celebrated on December 2. In 1975, President Ford signed our nation’s first federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Act. This law made public education available to all eligible children with disabilities across the nation and ensured that proper services were provided to those children.
Learn about some of our faculty’s role in the special education community and how they are striving to create an inclusive and equitable education for all.
Dr. Vanessa Goodwin
Dr. Vanessa Goodwin is an Associate Professor in our Special Education department and the Director of the Special Education Literary Clinic in the Teaching, Learning, and Counseling Consortium (TLCC)at CSUN. Vanessa always knew she wanted to work in education and started her journey in a single subject credential program, though her goals shifted when she started interning, “While interning at a continuation school I started to realize that this was a place where they put students to get them out of the way rather than supporting their learning needs. They were not properly identified as needing special education services, which is parallel to what Dr. Annamma spoke of her at the last EFAC sponsored lecture, Prison schooling: DisCrit, youth prison education, and abolitionist imaginary.” She then started thinking about her brother who has a cognitive disability and asked her parents if they still had his IEPs (Individual Education Plan), “I took every IEP my brother had and read them in chronological order and it was really a guidebook of what we shouldn’t do. There were labels that kept him from several services.”
Special Education has evolved from Vanessa’s interning days. “I’m seeing a shift from a label to a support model. We are now asking what are the supports needed for students to succeed and we are moving away from putting them into categories.” Vanessa argues that it’s all about inclusion and access, “The conversation comes down to one word, inclusion. Every single thing comes down to if our students are given an opportunity, full participation, and full membership with their peers. We are giving them access to the (class) room but we still need to give them full access to learning.” Vanessa expresses that there is a disconnect between research and practice and that we need evidence-based practice to be placed in the hands of our current teachers. To help bridge that disconnect she proudly works with the LA Intervention Project (LAIP), an Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) funded grant in collaboration with LAUSD specializing in improving the reading and literacy success of high school students with disabilities. LAIP provides free, evidence-based curriculum co-designed with classroom teachers.
We are currently in a teacher shortage and special education is facing a severe teacher shortage. Vanessa offers some words of wisdom for any aspiring special educator: “Patience is not the crux of special education, it’s an ingredient. If you want to pursue special education you need to have a desire to solve problems, be a critical thinker, and then be prepared to solve each problem as it comes. You also have to think creatively, think outside of the box, and view problems as a challenge, not a barrier.
Finally, you have to possess divergent thinking, you have to get away from the notion that there is one single correct answer, and embrace that there are many solutions to the problem.”
Special education is a community of practice. It includes teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, students, families so the one word that comes to mind is collaboration. Vanessa firmly states, “Include us, give us a seat at the table. We want to be with you to meet our students’ needs. When our collaboration is met with open arms we will then feel accepted and appreciated.”
Dr. Amy Hanreddy
Dr. Amy Hanreddy is an associate professor in the Special Education Department at CSUN where she focuses on preparing future teachers, specifically special education teachers, how to provide individualized instruction as part of inclusive education. She is also a liaison with CHIME Institute, a model demonstration school site. Amy’s early experiences led her to pursuing special education. She participated in a program in high school where they paired “at risk students” such as herself with students with disabilities and together built reciprocal relationships. Amy now had a reason to be at school because someone was looking forward to seeing her and expected her support. Amy would visit her friend at the institution where she lived. There was one visit that Amy will never forget. Her friend’s roommate got an infraction which lead to five attendants holding her down as a form of punishment. Another experience was when she was a paraprofessional supporting a little boy in elementary school that had cerebral palsy, was deaf and blind, and was the first child with extensive needs to be fully integrated in general education at his school. This was highly controversial at the time; the teachers’ union was opposed to it, but Amy was committed to learning and being there for the student to support his needs, even though they were both under a microscope. “It was these experiences that gave me a wake-up call, to be an advocate for civil rights and made me passionate about disability rights.”
Amy talks about the ways in which special education is evolving and how there are more equity-related special education initiatives in Los Angeles and in the nation than ever before. “I think it’s a really exciting time for aspiring special education teachers. There are so many different ways in which you can teach special education. Teachers now have an opportunity to decide what kind of special education teacher they want to be. There is more collaboration and special educators are much more a part of their school communities than they were in the past.” Within her teaching, Amy stresses that educators should acknowledge the intersectionality of racism and ableism and how all teachers really need to be advocates to support change in their schools. “We interview our teacher candidates at the end of our program to ask about their experience with advocacy at their schools. We ask how they advocate for their students, how are they helping create inclusion and collaborate with general education teachers. It is great to see evidence that our program is giving our teacher candidates to be advocates.”
Amy argues that “Special education is complicated because we are working on being an integrated field within general education, we were never supposed to be separate. It’s really important for educators to understand it’s general education first for all students; special education students don’t just belong to special education teachers, they belong to all teachers.” She says it is important for schools to celebrate and embrace students with disabilities and at the same time emphasize commonalities, rather than differences. In celebrating special education, we should be careful to avoid sending messages that special education is separate from, rather than a part of, general education.