From the Pre-K — 12 Classroom to the University Classroom: Preparing Future Special Educators

National Teacher Appreciation Week, May 8–12, 2023

This Teacher Appreciation Week, a few Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) Scholars who completed their degree programs with support from a Personnel Development to Improve Services for Children with Disabilities (ALN 84.325) discretionary grant administered by the Office of Special Education Programs shared “Why I Teach.”

Lauren Zepp, Ph.D.

By: Lauren Zepp, Ph.D.

I teach because I believe that reading is a human right.

I am passionate about ensuring that all people, including those with disabilities, are taught the skills they need to become readers.

My teaching initially centered on providing high-quality, evidence-based reading instruction for students with disabilities. Since completing my Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with funding from a Personnel Development to Improve Services and Results for Children with Disabilities (325D) grant, I now prepare future special educators to ensure all children learn to read at school. I teach because I make a difference every day, in the lives of my students and in the lives that they will touch as educators.

Students are always at the center of my work, and my relationships with them have sustained me through challenging times in the profession. There is so much joy to be found in building those relationships. I feel very grateful that so many students have stayed in touch with me after they graduated. They share their college experiences and career decisions, and even life events, and it means so much to me to be part of their lives.

These relationships I build with students are my favorite part of teaching. Each student brings something so unique to the classroom, and even as I have transitioned from working in pre-K–12 settings to higher education, keeping students at the center fuels my passion for teaching. I love being able to teach them valuable skills, helping them find those “a-ha” moments of understanding, and providing them with a safe person they can rely on.

After teaching special education for 12 years, I have so many treasured memories, but graduation was always a special time as a high school teacher. My favorite memories, the ones I look back on most when I need a lift, are celebrating graduation with students. I loved seeing them don their caps and gowns with pride, beaming as their families cheered them on. It was always deeply moving to know that I played a part in their journey – especially supporting students who were the first in their families to graduate high school and those with disabilities who wondered if they would ever earn a diploma.

Every young person deserves to have folks cheering for them, celebrating their successes, and knowing that there are people in their corner. The magic of teaching is getting so many opportunities to be one of those people.

Since leaving the pre-K–12 setting, I’ve had new professional development experience. I primarily taught reading intervention, so I loved continuing my education to learn about new research in literacy instruction. My most meaningful professional development experience, however, was completing Developmental Designs training. What I loved most about Developmental Designs was that it focused on students as human beings and highlighted the power that teachers have to honor students’ humanity. It was an intense professional development course, but I left with so many tools to help me build relationships with students and create a safe community for them.

I hope that more people who are committed to justice and equity join the teaching field, especially as special educators. We have an incredible opportunity to work toward disrupting the dual systems of racism and ableism to creating more inclusive schools and communities. Although this is challenging work, it is incredibly meaningful, and in the words of television’s Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

There is so much joy to be found in teaching, especially — in my experience — in teaching the students most marginalized by systemic inequality to read and see themselves as powerful agents of change.

Lauren Zepp, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of special education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She is an OSEP Scholar, Preparation of Special Education, Early Intervention, and Related Services Leadership Personnel (84.325D), who completed her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in December 2022.

About OSEP Scholars and Personnel Development Program Grants

The U.S. Department of Education funds discretionary grants used for professional development to improve services results for children with disabilities. Individuals interested in finding a Personnel Development Program that meets their needs can visit the OSEP IDEAs That Work’s Discretionary Grants Database, select the “Program” filter “Personnel Development” and then use additional search options such as “State,” “Disability,” “Age of Children,” or “Type of Competition.”

Organizations interested in open grant competitions for Personnel Development to Improve Services and Results for Children with Disabilities (84.325) can learn more on the Applicant Information page.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *