Special Education teacher Ruth Feldman details how earning her master’s degree in educational leadership improved her teaching skills and understanding of school structure within the realm of special education.
The Feldman family carries a tradition of education.
“My mother was a teacher and my daughter is a teacher, so it kind of runs in our family. I love children,” says high school special education teacher Ruth Feldman. “I’m a very caring person. I try to empower my students so they feel like they can grow and do well and develop and be successful.”
Feldman was first drawn to teaching as a young child. However, she hasn’t always been a special education teacher. In fact, Feldman originally taught home economics for 15 years before realizing her calling in special education. One of Feldman’s children is learning disabled, and her experiences raising him compelled her to return to school and earn her special education certification.
Today, Feldman teaches special education at Delran High School in New Jersey, where she has worked for nine years. At Delran, she works with students with special needs, introducing modifications to general curriculum, and providing instruction and guidance about the future for her students.
Duties of Special Education Supervisors
The Council for Exceptional Children lists several major responsibilities of special education supervisors, including:
- Determining educational standards and goals for special education programs
- Ensuring compliance with laws
- Setting policies and procedures for other special education teachers
- Reviewing and adjusting special education programs
- Motivating teachers and staff
- Writing grants and preparing budgets
Source: Council for Exceptional Children
As a special education teacher, one of Feldman’s main tasks is to develop IEPs, or Individualized Education Programs, for each of her students. When developing an IEP, Feldman takes into account the specific needs one of her students might have, and talks with parents to get a better understanding of how to meet those needs.
“We interview the students, we test them, and perform any other services we think they need,” Feldman said. “Like counseling services, speech services, occupational therapy, physical therapy…those would be written in the IEP. Whatever modifications and accommodations are required.”
IEPs are written each year in the spring, and are introduced into the main curriculum the following year. Modifications added to a curriculum might include adding extra time to tests, reading directions out loud, rewording directions, or providing study guides to the students. Feldman notes that these adjustments truly rest on an individual basis, and each student has different accommodation needs.
While Feldman has seen success through the years as a special education teacher, she has also recognized the need to grow professionally. Feldman’s years of experience working with special needs children – both in her personal and professional life – have given her a mastery in the Field of Special Education. Feldman considers herself a life-long learner, but didn’t think earning a master’s degree in special education would be as beneficial as gaining knowledge in a new area.
That’s why five years ago, Feldman decided to enter a master’s in educational leadership program at William Patterson University.
“I always wanted to further my education and broaden my horizons,” Feldman said. “I feel like it enhanced my leadership skills, which really helped me to be a better teacher.”
Gaining a new set of skills in leadership allowed Feldman to introduce new tactics in the classroom – from different ways to motivate students, to enhanced communication skills. Feldman says that going back to school, allowed her to provide her students with an example of how learning is a long process, and just because you’re a teacher or an adult, doesn’t mean you get to stop.
“They saw me go to school, they knew I was going to school,” Feldman said. “It gets them motivated for life-long learning. I like to do that with my students to motivate them. They thought it was funny, you know, ‘my teacher’s going to school. She has to study, she has to take tests.’”
Feldman’s leadership courses stressed the importance of communication skills, both within a school’s organizational structure and within the classroom. Working with special education students, Feldman’s courses in leadership communication come in handy – both in implementing IEP standards into the classroom and ensuring all special needs are met.
“As a leader, communication is the number one skill or ability to have,” Feldman said. “To also advocate for their needs as special ed students. How they learn, what will help them learn, what’s their best learning style – whatever they need to be successful in the classroom and beyond.”
Educational leadership programs also dive into the psychological factors behind an organizational structure. Feldman says by understanding the psychology of leadership, she has improved her understanding of the ways her students relate to her as a teacher, and how students relate to each other in the classroom.
With her master’s degree in educational leadership, Feldman has the chance to take more of a leading role in special education in the future. By continually implementing effective lesson plans and being a role model to her students, Feldman hopes to one day become a special education supervisor.
Special education supervisors play a more central role in working with other special education teachers to improve teaching ability, communication skills, and organizational skills. Feldman says special education supervisors are critical to helping other special education teachers realize their potentials.
“As an effective supervisor, instead of giving [the teachers] the answers to their questions, you have them reflect and try to come up with the right answers,” Feldman said. “You work with the teachers and help them become better, more effective teachers. I would also try to team build. Instead of saying, ‘you did this wrong, you did that wrong,’ you really help them try to improve.”
Feldman says becoming a better leader directly pushed her to become a better teacher. In this aspect, her master’s degree has more than paid off in the advanced skill set she gained.
“Helping kids and being a better leader makes you a better teacher,” she notes. “I’m a caring, empathetic, understanding kind of person. It gave me a confidence – having my master’s – that I didn’t have. I was nervous going back to school after 30 years, so it was a challenge to me, and I can relate to that in my classroom.”