MAT Grads Discover High Demand for New Special Ed Credential

October 31, 2013

By Olivia Niland

New Master of Arts in Teaching graduates who have earned special education credentials are discovering an overwhelming demand for their specialized skills in schools and districts around the country.

Angelina Clark

Angelina Clark MAT ‘13

As soon as my MAT degree and special education credential were posted, it was like ‘bam, bam, bam’ – one interview after another. I couldn’t believe it. Even now, I’m still getting phone calls and job offers.

While USC Rossier graduates already find themselves at an advantage in the job market, the recent implementation of Rossier’s special education teaching credential now gives graduates an additional edge in a sector that desperately needs highly qualified teachers.

“There’s definitely a high demand for special education teachers in California,” said USC Rossier Professor of the Practice of Education Marleen Pugach, who also helps to lead the Master of Arts in Teaching online program. “Typically, because a person has a special education credential, that’s what makes them attractive to employers and really gets them in the door.”

USC Rossier’s MAT special education credential program launched in Fall 2012. It is offered as a dual credential paired with the multiple-subject or single-subject regular education credentials, a model which makes the program particularly effective

“Historically, many states only require a standalone special education credential,” said Pugach. “But many are now realizing the importance of getting a general education background in addition to special education. We’ve got the right model because it allows our students to identify with general education as well.”

This is especially important, according to Pugach and USC Rossier Professor of Clinical Education Margo Pensavalle, who is also an MAT online program leader, because special education and regular education have become increasingly integrated in recent years.

“Far more [special education] students are being included in mainstream classrooms, which creates hope and concern,” said Pensavalle. “We are concerned that all teachers are equipped to teach a broad range of students. We certainly focus on that in the MAT program.”

According to Pugach, USC Rossier’s dual credential MAT program is one of a handful across the country pioneering a new approach to special education.

“This kind of program is becoming more and more common, but it’s still not the norm,” said Pugach. “One of the big questions in the special education community right now is whether special education should require general education credentials first. This is the leading edge of how many people are now thinking about special education.”

For Clark, whose son was considered an “uncommon learner,” the decision to earn her special education credential stemmed partly from her own personal experiences as a parent.

“We had to switch schools almost every year,” said Clark. “I was his lone advocate. Gifted education and special education are really not all that different, and some people even consider gifted education to be a disability because so many students lack adequate social skills.”

Clark hopes that she could use her own experiences to relate to the parents of special education students.

“Because of my experiences, I feel that I will be needed the most in special education and that I can empathize with parents,” said Clark. “I’m able to tell them ‘I do care for your child, and I do care what happens to them, because I’ve been through the same thing.’”

After receiving multiple job offers, Clark chose took on a position as an inclusion teacher at Desert Mirage High School in the Coachella Valley Unified School District. The school enrolls slightly more than 1,800 students, of which more than 98 percent are Hispanic, and more than 30 percent live below the poverty line.

“I chose this school because I know I’ll make the most impact here, rather than in a more affluent area,” said Clark. “One in five students at this high school is in special education, and even though special education is a lot more work, it’s worth it. I can’t put into words the satisfaction you derive from seeing the light in students’ eyes when they say ‘I finally get it.’”

At Desert Mirage High School, Clark teaches a small group of mostly tenth graders, who receive special education instruction for everything from behavior disorders to physical and cognitive disabilities. Clark collaborates with four content specialists at the school to teach world history, English composition and geometry.

Providing educators with the skills necessary for collaboration, and instructing both regular and special education, is one of the most important aspects of USC Rossier’s special education credential program, according to Pugach.

“When special education teachers co-teach with general education teachers, they often aren’t familiar with the curriculum, and are put in a helping rather than teaching position,” said Pugach. “But someone with both regular education and special education credentials can co-teach and collaborate more effectively.”

Clark said her education at USC Rossier is the reason she is able to make a difference in the lives of learners today.

“Every single one of my MAT classes was relevant – from neighborhood and resource mapping to the practical applications of different theories of learning,” she said. “And the special education credential made a whole world of difference in preparing me to advocate for my students – for all students.”