Special education department to offer teaching certificate

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

UT graduate students in special education will soon be able to earn a teaching certificate.

This year, Diane Bryant, learning disabilities and behavior disorders professor, and her colleagues will launch a program to equip graduate students in the high-incidence disabilities master’s concentration area with a special education teaching certification. The program will take three semesters and a summer, and classes will be available beginning in the fall of 2016. Students will be eligible to take the state certification exam at the end of fall 2017.

Bryant said the new curriculum aims to meet the needs of children and youth with high-incidence disabilities — reading and math disabilities, ADHD, problem behaviors, mild autism and mild intellectual disabilities — in elementary and secondary grade levels.

“This program is designed to respond to requests from graduate students to be able to graduate with special education teacher certification,” Bryant said. “There is a need for highly qualified, well-prepared special education teachers to assume teaching positions at the elementary and secondary levels in school districts in Texas.”

Jessica Toste, learning disabilities and behavior disorders assistant professor, said she will teach a course on reading instruction for students with dyslexia and focus on skills critical to reading development, such as how to read words, access texts and interpret meaning.

“When I teach alphabetics — the understanding of the sounds and symbols that govern our written language — we begin by talking about theoretical foundations related to how we process sound, how phonological awareness develops [and] the rules and patterns that govern our written language,” Toste said.

Toste said graduate students will spend most of the time learning how to teach alphabetics — how to provide explicit instruction to support students with significant and persistent reading challenges and how to select words and texts to use in teaching.

Rachel Siegman, an English senior at Pepperdine University, said she is interested in taking part in the program because it would allow her to earn a credential alongside a graduate degree. Siegman said this program would be the culmination of her current studies as an undergraduate, which includes receiving English teaching credentials with a Spanish concentration, in addition to a liberal arts degree.

Siegman, whose career goals include working in education policy, said she found her passion for special education after a teaching placement where she worked with students with mild to moderate disabilities in study skills, math and English classes.

“Special education has expanded my heart in ways I did not think were possible,” Siegman said. “I want to be the voice for the students and teachers who are not heard.”