According to the Virginia Department of Education, the No. 1 need in Virginia’s public schools is for special education teachers. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 47 U.S. states declared a shortage of special education teachers during the 2013-14 school year.
This fall, the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education is opening a Master of Teaching program in special education in U.Va.’s Northern Virginia center with the specific aim of training more special education teachers. Though the school has offered varied special education programs from the center for years, this is the first time a Master of Teaching is being offered and the first time the Curry School is offering the degree away from its Charlottesville campus.
“By opening a second Master of Teaching program in Northern Virginia in addition to our program in Charlottesville, we have the capacity to double the number of special education teachers trained at the University of Virginia,” said Bill Therrien, professor and program coordinator of the Curry School’s special education program.
Ranked at eighth or higher in the nation for 13 consecutive years by U.S. News & World Report, the special education program has long stood as a national leader in the field. Emeriti professors Dan Hallahan and Jim Kaufmann literally wrote the book on special education, “Exceptional Learners: An Introduction to Special Education.” The book, now in its 12th edition (with the addition of current professor Paige Pullen as a coauthor), has long been one of the most widely read textbooks in the field.
“Curry has been a center of the special education world for decades,” said Michael Kennedy, an assistant professor of special education who joined the faculty in 2011. “Kauffman, Hallahan, professor John Lloyd and others are household names to those in special education. These professors literally created our field.”
The new degree program will bring the same high level of excellence found at the on-Grounds program to a new location and to a new kind of student.
“The new program will differ from our on-Grounds program in that it is offered part-time and is geared toward working professionals who are looking to enter the teaching profession,” Therrien said. “This professional might be someone who is looking for a career change or who is already in the education field in some capacity.”
Schools often hire paraprofessionals, individuals filling roles in schools that do not require a teaching license, such as teaching assistants. The Virginia Department of Education also offers provisional licenses to teachers without a special education license who are willing to teach the subject in response to the critical shortage.
“For the professionals already in schools and classrooms, this part-time program allows them to fill the role where they are needed while concurrently receiving the specific training to become a licensed special educator,” Therrien said.
To increase the capacity to produce special education teachers, the Curry School needed to open a program in a different location than Charlottesville.
“A significant part of the training in our teacher preparation program is the practicum experiences in schools,” said Linda Boone, Curry’s manager of the teacher education program. “There is simply a finite number of schools within driving distance of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.”
Opening this program in Northern Virginia significantly expands the number of potential schools with which the Curry School can partner for practicum experiences.