University of Pittsburgh School of Education

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Mark Onorato - Supporting Students through Special Education

Published on 3/23/2016 6:00:00 AM


Name: Mark Onorato
Degree Program: Master of Special Education with Academic Instruction Certificate (MOSAIC)

What is the best part about MOSAIC and how is the program preparing you for the field?

MOSAIC is an incredible program in many ways. From the faculty and mentors to my fellow classmates, and the field experience to the courses, being a part of the MOSAIC program has been a tremendous experience. It is hard to say what is the single best aspect of the program, because there are so many great facets, but I would have to say it is the willingness of faculty, mentors, and supervisors to support my growth and progress without any hesitation. On various occasions, I found myself in need of direction from my advisor, instructors, field mentor, or field supervisor, and they were all eager and ready to provide me with feedback and support. This is a simple aspect to overlook; however, as I reflect on my involvement in MOSAIC, I can genuinely say this willingness and preparedness on the part of the faculty, mentors, and supervisors has been an incredible experience for me, which I can only hope to mimic as a professional educator in the future.

Where did your initial interest in education come from?

When I was in ninth grade, I had a unique opportunity to engage in a field-based learning experience, which simply means I got to go out and experience a professional field of my choice full-time for two weeks. At first I was unsure what I wanted to do,  with minimal exposure to the world. Ultimately I decided to commit my time to working at Head Start in Lowell, Mass., which was an incredible opportunity for me. Almost immediately I fell in love with the idea of education, but I had not yet fully realized what it was I enjoyed so much. 

In the following year, when I was in tenth grade, I had the same opportunity to choose a professional field to spend two weeks shadowing full time. I thought about how much I loved my placement from the previous year, so I decided to shadow my former eighth grade social studies teacher at the middle school I attended. He was a great first mentor, as he gave me numerous opportunities to get in front of the class, see how he went about planning for each day, and familiarize myself with other teachers and staff in the building. It was at this point that I knew I wanted to be a teacher, and ever since then I have had so many great mentors and supports who help me to realize I am glad I chose this path in life.

How did faculty, mentors, and/or fellow students help you outside of the classroom?
Faculty, mentors, and fellow classmates have all provided extensive support in the classroom setting, whether it be in my coursework at the University of Pittsburgh or in my field experience. Likewise, faculty, mentors, and fellow students have all helped me immensely outside of the classroom. As a pre-professional student, I have been highly satisfied with the level of respect and competence of my instructors. As a MOSAIC student, I have had encounters with instructors and faculty from both the special education department and the social studies education department.

In my experiences with both special education and social studies education, instructors and faculty are consistently willing to clarify concepts from class in a prompt and articulate manner. Whether it be through email or in-person, my instructors and faculty have clearly demonstrated how passionate they are about ensuring students grow academically. In my field experience, my mentors and supervisors constantly advocate for me as an aspiring educator by actively making suggestions about how to advance my professional growth and develop my skills for a career in education. I am truly confident my mentors and supervisors continuously have my best interest in mind, and are always on the lookout for ways I can better myself as an educator.

Lastly, my fellow classmates have been there to lean on throughout the year for day-to-day concerns. In the MOSAIC program, we take many classes together, share field experience sites, and become very close friends with one another, therefore allowing for numerous opportunities to bounce ideas around and receive peer feedback. I am extremely grateful for the connections I have made with the MOSAIC faculty, my mentors, and fellow classmates, without them, I would not have had the same amazing experience.

What would you like to do and/or where would you like to teach after graduation?
After I graduate from the MOSAIC program at the University of Pittsburgh, I would love to be a special education teacher in Pittsburgh. I went to the University of Pittsburgh for my undergraduate degree and now I have just spent an extra year here, so I feel so connected to this city. Pittsburgh is a uniquely diverse and eclectic community, with so much to offer, from great food to historical roots to the great people that live here.  I think schools are the truest representation of any community, therefore I could not ask for anything more than to be a part of education in Pittsburgh. In particular, special education has stolen my heart. Being a special education teacher is what I am passionate about, because I love the bond a teacher creates with his/her students, as they support them in reaching their goals. I want to support my students as they grow in the classroom, in the social arena, and in their vocational experiences, so they can live up to their own expectations and dreams.

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