In Case You Missed It: Teacher Appreciation Week 2023

National Teacher Appreciation Week, May 8–12, 2023

By: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

Last week, we celebrated teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week, May 8–12.

In case you missed it, OSERS highlighted two states working to address the special education teacher shortage. Additionally, 10 dedicated teachers and professors shared why they teach.

Meet the Teachers

Joanna Alvarez Joanna Alvarez

6-8th Grade Special Education Teacher
OSEP Scholar, California State University — Long Beach, 2019

“I teach because my commitment to students in special education is my purpose of being a lifelong learner.

“The Department of Education’s Office of Special Education’s 325K program grant I received while doing my credential program gave me the practical skills to support students transitioning from high school to living independent lives, obtaining employment, and enrolling in a post-secondary school.

“As my students’ teacher, I can contribute to guiding them to apply their self-determination skills in planning for after high school and beyond.”

Read more about Joanna Alvarez’s experiences as a special education teacher and OSEP Scholar.

Katelin Blevins Katelin Blevins

K–5 Special Educator
Towson University, Class of 2025, OSEP Scholar, Pursuing a Master’s in Special Education, Teachers as Leaders in Autism Graduate Program

“I teach because every child deserves the opportunity to feel valued, safe, and connected, to be seen, heard, included, accepted, and understood. Every child deserves a champion — someone who sees their worth, applauds their strengths and successes, advocates for their needs.

“Every family deserves a partner who is committed to their child’s education. I teach because every child deserves to be seen as more than their challenges. This is more than a job; it is life-changing.”

Robert BergrenRobert Bergren

K–7 Special Education Teacher
Rocky Boy Elementary School, Montana

“Growing up, I used to think about some of the complicated or abstract ways my teachers delivered instruction.

“As I got older, I thought I could contribute to the field by becoming a teacher and delivering ‘no nonsense’ instruction to students to help foster their learning experiences. Although the field (and special education) has humbled me in years since those thoughts, I still try to do it justice.

“I teach for the student who doesn’t learn like everyone else. I teach for the student who doesn’t have the best homelife. I teach for the students who are motivated and those who aren’t.

“Most importantly, I teach because I love kids and young adults, and I want to help them become academically and emotionally successful when they are older.”

Benjamin GallegosBenjamin Gallegos, Ph.D.

Academic Program Coordinator, University of Central Florida
OSEP Scholar, University of Central Florida, 2016

“I have been empowered to teach because of students, families, communities, and hope.

“I have taught students of all amazing abilities from preschool to doctoral level students, in-person and remote. Each incredible student I have served, of all backgrounds and identities, have shared their spirit of inspiration, inquiry, creativeness, and wonder.

“Why I teach is to let every student know that they are enough and don’t let me or anyone else slow you down.”

Stacy KellyStacy Kelly, Ph.D.

Professor Northern Illinois University
OSEP Scholar, Northern Illinois University, 2008

“It was amazing to be an OSEP Scholar and be a part of a project that was advancing not only a particular field of study but OSEP Scholar training for the long term. The National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairment has served as a model and as a blueprint for other OSEP doctoral and scholar training programs for many years now.”

Read more about Stacy Kelly’s experience as an NCLVI Fellow and OSEP Scholar.

Dana PageDana Page, Ph.D.

Interagency Coordination Specialist, Minnesota Department of Education
OSEP Scholar, University of Louisville, May 2023

“I teach because there weren’t many teachers who looked like me in the school building let alone the district. I wanted that to change as well as the disparities within special education related to the intersectionality of disability and race/ethnicity. This prompted me to pursue my doctoral degree… Now, I get to apply my research and knowledge in new ways to help teachers in the field provide quality instruction and experiences for their students, and I get to show people who look like me that they can do it too.”

Read more about Dana Page’s journey from paraeducator to interagency coordination specialist.

Elaine SmolenElaine Smolen, Ph.D.

Visiting Assistant Professor, Columbia University
OSEP Scholar, Columbia University, 2020

“I teach to ensure that every child who is deaf or hard of hearing can achieve their goals through language and literacy. I am hard of hearing, and I was proud to serve as a role model for my students when I worked as a classroom and itinerant teacher of the deaf.

“Now a university faculty member, I train the next generation of educators and scholars who will continue to revolutionize the field of deaf and hard of hearing education.”

Read more about Elaine Smolen’s experience as a teacher of students who are deaf or hard of hearing, an OSEP Scholar and a visiting assistant professor.

Khadine SolomonKhadine Solomon

6–7th Grade Special Education Teacher
Towson University, Class of 2025, OSEP Scholar, Pursuing a Master’s in Special Education, Teachers as Leaders in Autism Graduate Program

“I teach because I want to be a representation to my community, to be a voice for the voiceless and to inspire. I need students and families to know I am an advocate for their success. I am vital to the frontlines of marginalized communities. When I see my students masterfully execute a task, communicate their needs, discover an ability they previously felt inept to do, it brings me great joy.”

Lea TirantafillouLea Tirantafillou

Preschool and Pre-K Special Educator
Towson University, Class of 2025, OSEP Scholar, Pursuing a Master’s in Special Education, Teachers as Leaders in Autism Graduate Program

“I teach because my mission has always been to positively make a difference in as many lives as possible. My classroom composition is reflective of the recent increase in prevalence rate of Autism. I am pursuing continued education concentrated in Autism to ensure my teaching is intentional. I teach to build social engagement so my students can connect with the world and the people who love them.

“I teach to advocate for inclusion, acceptance, and education of Autism.”

Lauren ZeppLauren Zepp, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Special Education, University of Wisconsin-White Water
OSEP Scholar, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2022

“I believe that reading is a human right.

“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.”

Read more about Lauren Zepp’s experience as a special educator, OSEP Scholar and assistant professor.

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.


  1. As someone who began a long career in SpEd, BS, MEd,EdS and EdD, and now is slowly approaching retirement, I have been in the field in virtually every possible way–classroom teacher, public school administrator, higher ed professor, certified education consultant, independent contractor—except State level.I have observed and supported special and regular professionals from highly committed,energetic starting points to often weary, occasional flagging commitment. It is a very demanding field with numerous hoops to jump through from early observation and concern follow-up to the IEP process with all its required steps, let alone deadline date bound paperwork and participation in countless meetings and assumption of goodwill and intention of all involved.Is there any wonder why there is a continuing national shortage of special ed professionals?

  2. You are all amazing !!! Ms. Alvarez you are truly a very special person to each and everyone of your students and family .. You are truly appreciated for all your dedication❤️

  3. Wonderful! Each of your reasons for teaching our young people are inspiring and motivational. I saw a bit of myself in each of you and I was truly moved to learn of your pathways to educator.

  4. Why are educators/administrators not addressing the nationwide special education teacher shortage and its major causes? Giving special education teachers new titles like “Education specialists” will not change the situation impacting schools. There are special educators who have offered solutions but their solutions fall on deaf ears.[not due to money but due to arrogance] The dysfunctional business of special education will NEVER improve UNLESS people begin to listen to the educators on the front line. Until then, the shortage of qualified educators will remain. “The Evidence continually reports that special education ( SPED ) teachers stay in the field three-to-five academic school years before leaving the profession.” The educators that have made their EXIT have good sense! Unfortunately, I am not one of them?

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