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Special education students earn more than a graduate degree at SUNY Oswego
February 25, 2013
Dr. Amanda Fenlon is an associate professor at SUNY Oswego and one of the full-time faculty members of the special education master's program.
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For students committed to making a difference, dedicated to improving the quality of education for all students and interested in improving their marketability as a teacher, the special education graduate program at SUNY Oswego could be the perfect fit.

“Our programs are immersed in learning about how to ensure students with disabilities are meaningfully included, have true access to education and receive quality instruction,” said Dr. Amanda Fenlon, associate professor in the special education program.

Graduates of SUNY Oswego’s special education master’s program are highly sought-after, since the program has a well-established reputation of excellence.

“Having a special education degree from SUNY Oswego increases your marketability because it speaks to your ability as an educator to really teach all kids,” Fenlon said. “If they get a degree in our special education program, they come out with a bigger toolbox, with the knowledge and skills to reach a broader range of kids and be able to teach those kids well.”

Program faculty Dr. Roberta Schnorr (left) and Dr. Amanda Fenlon (right) work directly with graduate degree candidates.

A master’s degree earned in SUNY Oswego’s special education program can help prospective teachers stand out in the job market, particularly at a time when opportunities for classroom teachers are sparse. Special education continues to be a need area, with positions available in local school districts.

“School districts are looking for someone who can reach all the kids and knows how to differentiate their instruction while collaborating with other professionals,” Fenlon said. “Our candidates are prepared to do that.”

Graduates of the special education program earn more than a degree; they also have an advanced understanding of literacy instruction, the unique opportunity to participate in professional development conferences and the chance to work with the new technology that will change special education.

With the revised Common Core standards in effect, there is a stronger emphasis on literacy and accountability for literacy instruction for all students – including students with disabilities.

“Literacy is a huge emphasis in our program,” Fenlon said. “We focus heavily on that and we prepare our candidates to teach students with disabilities in that area.”

The foundational understanding of literacy these graduates have is unique to SUNY Oswego’s special education program; many other graduate programs do not prepare their students to teach literacy instruction.

The need to incorporate literacy instruction into the special education program is directly related to a message at the core of the School of Education, the idea of teaching as a social justice.

“Teaching for social justice is all about equality, access and quality instruction. We see literacy as a social justice issue because literacy means accessing important information about the world and ultimately gaining greater independence, future employment and living meaningful adult lives. When kids lack literacy skills, they may be unable to meet their goals in life. Because we view literacy as a social justice issue, we strongly prepare our candidates to teach students in this crucial area.”

“We’ve got a great program, it’s rich, it’s authentic and it’s unique. For our most complex kids, we need our most highly skilled teachers. Those are our students.”
Amanda Fenlon
Special Education Professor, SUNY Oswego

Another unique feature of SUNY Oswego’s special education program is the strong focus on professional development and understanding the role of a special educator through field placements and close relationships with faculty.

“We have a big emphasis on professional development and encourage a lot of participation in state and local conferences,” Fenlon said. “We want our students to understand their important leadership and advocacy role as educators.”

In the past, graduate candidates have attended and participated at such events like the New York State Reading Association Conference and the New York State Council for Exceptional Children.

Students work directly with their professors, as everything from state presentations to field placements is supervised by full-time faculty.

“We have really close involvement with our students and that’s something that not a lot of programs offer,” Fenlon said.

In order to produce leaders in special education and in education as a whole, SUNY Oswego’s education programs offer students the chance to work with the latest technology.

“Technology is extremely important working with kids with significant disabilities,” Fenlon said. “What is wonderful for the candidates is that we offer a lot of technology for them to use out in the field.”

Through a SCAP (Student Computing Access Program) grant, the curriculum and instruction department was able to purchase a wide range of software and hardware to enhance the instruction of students with disabilities. Now, students can use SOLO6 (a premier literacy and writing support software), iPads, adapted keyboards and even more assistive technology.

“It’s really exciting and our students get to take all of that stuff right out into the field and use it,” Fenlon said.

All of the elements of the special education program are incorporated into the curriculum for the same reason; to give graduates the tools, support and experience they need to be the teachers of tomorrow.

“We’ve got a great program, it’s rich, it’s authentic and it’s unique,” Fenlon said. “For our most complex kids, we need our most highly skilled teachers. Those are our students.”

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