Going above and beyond: New B.A. in Special Education exceeds licensure and develops leaders in the field

Professor Tammie Samuels embraces cohorts from her class in Special Education's new B.A. program

Special education is a craft. An art form of care and education coupled together to assist the growth of individuals with moderate disabilities.

It also is a demanding occupation that requires patience, persistence, and constant evolution. So it’s no wonder that certified special educators are in high demand not only Massachusetts, but all over the country.

"We know there is a great need in the field, there just simply aren’t enough teachers to fill all the jobs out there." - Michelle Hosp, associate professor and program coordinator

In response, the College of Education now offers an undergraduate program in Special Education that is authentic, incorporating both theory and real life experience.

The special education faculty worked together and approached the program development by visiting school districts and meeting with administrators and principals to find what expertise their teachers needed in order to be successful. “We built our program above and beyond what the state requires, because we were hearing from districts what they really needed from teachers - aside from the training necessary for licensure,” Hosp continued. “So we prepare our students to match exactly what the school districts are asking for, which we know will help them not only stay in the field for years to come, but be exceedingly competent in it.”

The College has recruited highly experienced special educators to teach in the program. Tammie Samuels, who has worked in public schools all over the country for over 20 years, is a lecturer and coordinator in the program. Samuels brings not only class work, but the real life work to her students that sets this program a part.

“These undergraduate students are my babies,” Samuels begins. “I take on a maternal role because I want to model what they need to do as a special educator. Once they enter the classroom, they have to ascribe to being family to their students. Their focus must be on the student’s social, emotional, academic and spiritual wellbeing. That’s my focus…to model what effective teaching is supposed to look like, particularly when the majority are teaching minorities.”

Samuels has taught in classrooms across the Southeast and Connecticut. Today, she works in Massachusetts teaching undergraduates to be reflexive practitioners. “I want them to question their efficacy, particularly their pedagogy as it relates to being culturally relevant.” Samuels remarked. “I want them to question their motives and dispositions. I want them to develop an ongoing habit of questioning of their work throughout the day. Their daily interactions with students, their classroom and professional goals must be continually questioned. I want them to be professionally ready. But I also want them to be happy special educators. If we don’t prepare them properly, they won’t be happy.”

Michelle Hosp and Tammie Samuels are bringing a fresh approach to an undergraduate program based in Special Education.

“These students will be highly employable, especially with a degree from this program... We’re preparing them far beyond the licensure requirements, not only to make them the best in their field, but to ensure they are so prepared it doesn't become burdensome.” - Tammie Samuels, lecturer

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Are you enrolled at UMass and searching for what major or concentration will make a difference? Apply today for a major in Education and a concentration in either Early Childhood Education or this new, rigorous Special Education undergraduate program.