Support Teacher, Beers Elementary School
Pamela Hagans has been a teacher at Beers Elementary School for the past 10 years.
She left a law career to pursue a master’s degree in special education and a career in the classroom. We asked Ms. Hagans about her role as an educator.
Why did you become a teacher?
I was blessed to have a child whom I love and adore who was born with autism. And at that time I knew nothing about any type of disability and certainly nothing about autism.
In my first career, I was a lawyer and on the side, trying to learn as much as I could about autism, so I could provide my child with the best life possible.
I took a leave of absence from law and eventually stopped working altogether so I could focus some time on him.
I heard about DC Teaching Fellows, and I decided that would be a good way to go back to school, get my master’s degree in special education, and help my son and other children as well.
I made the first cut for DC Teaching Fellows and went to the interview, which required teaching a practice lesson in front of a panel.
When I finished, I looked at the panel, and they said to me, “Do you have any questions for us?” And I said, “Yes, why aren’t you asking me any questions?” They told me I was wonderful and a natural.
The rest is history.
Beers is unique because it follows the Schoolwide Application Model, or SAM, where all supports and services are fully integrated and available to all students. That means special education students aren’t taught in a separate setting from their nondisabled peers – they are part of the general education classroom. Can you talk about what this means and how it influences you as an educator?
When I was working on my master’s degree, my thesis was about leveling the playing field in all aspects of life, especially educationally, for students with disabilities.
SAM provides just that. All children are treated the same regardless of whether they have a disability or an IEP, and they are included in every aspect of the school community.
As a result, when you go into the classrooms at Beers, you cannot pick out students with IEPs. They are just like every other student, and they all belong to the general education teacher.
The general education students get the same benefit of a support teacher or related service providers within the classroom. I give direct instruction, co-teach or I give one-on-one assistance or small group assistance to whomever needs it, whether or not they have an IEP.
Why are you called a support teacher instead of a special education teacher?
We used to be called special education teachers, but the term now is support teacher because we don’t just teach special education students – we teach everybody. We give support to all teachers and all students, so the label of special education is unnecessary.
Why is teaching an incredibly important job?
We set the tone for what every individual chooses to do in life, and what type of adult, parent, employee and employer he or she becomes. It’s a very important and critical job, and no one should take it lightly.
Parents are a critical part of their children’s achievement. How do you engage parents?
I am very open about my own life and my child with a disability, and I tell parents about it, which helps build camaraderie right off the bat.
I have an open door policy and encourage parents to participate and volunteer in school activities.
What are three words you would use to sum up your daily role as an educator?
Advocate, listener, supporter.
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