Would you describe yourself as “compassionate,” “flexible,” or “patient”? Are you able to see “lots of sides of a situation”? Do you love working with children? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then maybe a career in special education is fit for you, according to Lois Staugaitis K’78.
During her Connect to Careers in Special Education talk, Staugaitis recounted the path to her current position as a special education teacher-- a winding path of various careers. After graduating Kirkland with a degree in religious studies, Staugaitis worked in non-profit for five years, and soon after became an appraiser with a real-estate consulting firm. After having children of her own, however, Staugaitis realized just how much she wanted to work with kids. This recognition led her to become a certified special education teacher.
Many student attendees shared their personal experiences in the classroom as well, whether through internships, fieldwork in current courses, or volunteer work. Staugaitis highlighted the importance of college students in the classroom, as they serve as both role models for the students as well as extra sets of hands. The “liberal arts mentality” is also important in the classroom, according to Staugaitis. She often uses skills she developed at Kirkland, such as the ability “to think,” “to communicate thoughts to other professors,” and “to inquire.”
A career in special education is by no means easy. Much of the job requires “meeting the children where they are,” Staugaitis said. This means being open to shifting lessons plans and even entire curriculums or accompanying her students and their families to doctor appointments. Many times, her relationships with her students’ parents are the hardest part of the job. She compares working with parents to “peeling an onion”-- you might know where you need to get with a family, but it might take a year to “peel” everything to get there.
While her teaching certainly extends beyond the classroom, Staugaitis noted that her current job is more rewarding than any job she worked prior. The ability to establish personal, life-changing relationships with her students-- to play an important role early in their development-- is a reward no other job could offer.