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Eastern offers master’s degree in Special Education

Published on July 22, 2021

Eastern offers master’s degree in Special Education

Program to address shortage of special education teachers

Tara Ruschmeier graduated in May from Eastern with a B.S. in Elementary Education and a B.A. in English and will start her master’s program this fall

If teaching is a calling, then special education teachers are answering a very special calling. They must vary their teaching to different ability levels; collaborate with general education teachers; adjust their schedules to daily student behaviors and needs; show evidence of student growth compared to more accomplished students in class; and deal with a great amount of paperwork, among other challenges. 

To prepare students for the evolving field of special education, Eastern Connecticut State University is offering a new Master of Science in Special Education. The program is an advanced degree for certified teachers, teacher candidates who have completed a teaching certification program or those with appropriate teaching experience.

The program combines theory and practice to enhance the ability of educators to instruct K-12 students with special needs. It emphasizes school-community partnerships and includes practica in the field. The program leads toward the Connecticut cross-endorsement certification in comprehensive special education for those who hold an existing initial teaching certificate. 

“Our new program is designed to enhance the ability of current educators to work with students with disabilities, their families and other special education personnel,” said Kwangwon Lee, assistant professor of early chilrdhood education. “We envision that our candidates will develop a holistic understanding of special education for individuals with disabilities from diverse backgrounds in a variety of settings, as well as with professionals who work in special education and related services. Our uniquely designed program helps fill a need for qualified special educators in the state of Connecticut.” 

Kwangwon Lee

Lee said in recent years, reports show a steady increase in the prevalence of students with disabilities in the United States and a shortage of qualified special education teachers to meet this demand nationwide and in Connecticut. Of the 1,277 special education teacher job openings in Connecticut posted in the past year, 798 ads sought special education teachers certified to teach in grades K-12. JobsEQ also indicates that most job ads required skills in written and verbal communication, mathematics, collaboration, problem solving, adaptive technology and the ability to initiate and maintain relationships, all of which are supported by Eastern’s new master’s program in Special Education.  

Tara Ruschmeier graduated in May from Eastern with a B.S. in Elementary Education and a B.A. in English and will start her master’s program this fall. “I worked with students with special needs when I was in high school and had thought about studying special education in the past. I am excited to learn how to provide my students with the best quality education based on their unique needs.”

Another recent Eastern graduate and student in the new program is Gabrielle Bielak, who said, What excites me most about the discipline are changes to the instructional pedagogy which are transforming and improving the delivery of special education programs and services. Training in the field of special education doesn’t just benefit the educators who are directly charged with providing these types of services and supports. There’s been a shift in teaching ideology toward providing a more inclusive educational environment whenever possible.”

Tanya Moorehead 

“I am very excited that students enrolled in our new program will learn how to overcome hardships and beat the odds,” said Tanya Moorehead, assistant professor of education. “Our program offers students a unique opportunity to learn how to address a variety of areas including academic, social and community needs of students with disabilities and their families. Eastern’s M.S. in special education is the only program in Connecticut that includes a practicum in local agencies. These experiences give our candidates the opportunity to address the needs of students and families outside of the school setting.” 

Lee said the program will be offered in a hybrid model, with 80 percent of course offerings occurring online, and 20 percent occurring on-ground. The six practicum credits comprise 20 percent of the on-ground courses. The program offers working professionals the flexibility to complete their coursework within the demands of their work schedule.

“I recently began working in the EastConn Autism Program and have completely found my calling in working with children with special needs,” said Caitlin Edwardsen ’10, who earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and teaching degree in Early Childhood Education more than a decade ago. “I made the decision to pursue my master’s degree in Special Education just this past year and waited for Eastern’s new program. I love the ability to do classes online but also have consistent communication with professors as well as be able to do practicums for experience out in the field. This hybrid model has worked perfectly with my full-time work schedule.”

Moorehead said the program does not duplicate other programs offered in the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System. “This program takes a school and community-based approach, including interagency collaborations and the integration of arts, thereby fulfilling a need that other institutions locally and regionally do not currently address. We are proud that our program honors Eastern’s founding as a normal school, approaches the teaching of Special Education in a manner that highlights our liberal arts identity and enacts our strategic plan's initiative to ensure that programs are relevant, effective and challenging.”

Written by Dwight Bachman