The Special Education field is rapidly expanding and so are the demands of the unique needs of the students. Mary Brennan, specialist professor in special education, knows that meeting these unique needs are critical, yet challenging at the same time. Students who take her course titled, “Assessment Approaches P-12” are offered a variety of undergraduate courses for students in the disabilities field.
Junior Rachel Fox feels the class is just the right challenge. “I like her class. It is rigorous but you learn a lot. Professor Brennan is very knowledgeable.”
Junior Ashley Suppa also agreed that she has learned a lot from Brennan. “I also took Human Exceptionalities with her and she knows a lot about the field of special education and makes it relatable to our lives. I learned so much that I can do when I teach because of her.”
Brennan has had a lot of experience in the teaching field and has served in a variety of roles. “I started as a history teacher in a middle school and then continued my education and became a special education teacher with an additional certification as a teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired,” she said. “I taught in this field for six years in the middle school and high school level. Then I became a college administrator and instructor for 18 years in NY.”
When she moved to NJ, Brennan returned to teaching in the special education area and working as a Learning Disability Teacher-Consultant. She said, “I have been a case manager, consultant and evaluator for a number of school districts. Since coming to Monmouth University I have also been responsible for coordinating the Learning Disability Teacher-Consultant program.” (LDTC)
The Teacher-Consultant program is offered at the graduate level and provides courses in the area of case managing students with an array of different learning needs as well as educating classroom teachers on possible modifications as a result of these issues. This role requires previous experience as a classroom teacher.
In addition to this program, Brennan teaches a number of courses on the undergraduate level. These include Human Exceptionalities, Assessment Approaches and Strategies in Special Education.
Brennan said, “All special education teacher candidates need to have a strong foundation in the area of exceptionalities so they will be highly qualified to meet the challenges that they will encounter during their student teaching and teaching career. In addition, the assessment course helps to ensure that the instruction they provide is effective and successful.”
She added, “The data from the assessments they give will help to guide their instructional planning and procedures. On the graduate level, the courses often are taken by students who are already working in the field. They want to add the special education endorsement because they feel it will help them in their daily teaching duties. Often teachers want to change careers but stay in the education field so they attend Monmouth University to purse the Master’s degree and LDTC certification.”
Brennan said that the Master’s degree allows graduates to work in special education programs as a member of the Child Study Team.
The biggest challenge of all, however, is to ensure that all of the important strategies are able to get covered in the given semester.
“My biggest challenge is to cover all the material that I want to in the time allotted. I have so many ideas and stories that I want to share that I find myself running out of time,” Brennan said. “I also find it challenging when students are not motivated to be a special education teacher but are taking the courses because they were told to take them. Special education requires one to be open to all possibilities and it is not a field meant for everyone to be involved in.”
The field of special education is more demanding than others because teachers have to be aware of all different needs and be open to an array of options on how to help the students. Brennan encourages all teacher of students with disabilities (TSD) majors with some words of wisdom to help them get the most out of the program.
The most rewarding thing of all, however, is for Brennan to see how a student grows from the beginning of the term to the end. “The students come in eager to learn,” she said. “They are often surprised by the level of activity in the classes. Most of the learning is directly related to what they will experience in a classroom so it is easier to engage them.
Brennan added, “They have one idea of what the course will be like and often leave with many new ideas and strategies that they can add to their toolbox of helpful hints. One of the biggest changes that I see is their level of support for each other. They mature in how they articulate their ideas. They demonstrate a new level of understanding for the field of special education.”
Brennan said that students leave with a better ability to communicate their philosophy of assessment and special education and grow overall as teachers. Brennan has been able to share the wonderful reward of not only being a special education teacher but also what it means to help others and ensure their success. Students eyes are open to the world of teaching and beyond because of her array of methods in the education field.