Special Education Student Uses Exploration as a Learning Tool

Eleni Brown is a student in Pitt Education’s Special Education Teacher Preparation (SETP), in which she is earning a Master of Education and a Special Education 7-12 Teacher Certification. In this Q&A, she discusses what inspired her to study special education, her experiences with student teaching, and finding her place at Pitt Education. Her quotes have been edited for length and clarity.

What are your professional goals?

Brown: My goal is to work as a special education teacher in a public school. I would love to have my own autism support classroom.

Why do you feel called to be a special education teacher?

Brown: My older brother has autism. He’s low-functioning and had some behavior issues   growing up. He has inspired me. I have a good perspective of special education because I can see things from both angles: the perspective of someone who grew up with a family member who has autism and also from the special education teacher’s side.

Why did you choose the Special Education Teacher Preparation program at Pitt Education? 

Brown: My friend referred me to Pitt Education. After talking with faculty member Katrina Bartow Jacobs, I could tell that Pitt Education had an awesome, positive culture and climate that I wanted to be part of. I chose the Special Education Teacher Preparation program because I really wanted the opportunity to work with kids at any age level. It’s important to me that I don’t confine myself to just one age.

Who has been your support system at Pitt Education?

Brown: I feel very supported as a student in Pitt Education. My advisors, Katrina Bartow Jacobs and Sheila Conway, are always there to help. They have been so positive and welcoming to me, and helped me to figure out which certificates I need to reach my goals. Even when learning online during the pandemic, we’ve had very positive interactions.

How has Pitt Education prepared you for a career in education?

Brown: Pitt Education has some of the best programs. My classes have practical, real-life assignments that I can use right now in my student teaching and in the future. For example, I did an assignment about evaluation reports. I know that next year when I’m working as a teacher, I can refer back to my notes about evaluation reports from class. Plus, student-teaching full-time for almost the whole semester has given me a lot of experience.

Tell me about what you’re doing in class right now.

Brown: Right now, I’m working on a literature review for my research class. I’m going to write about a dilemma I see in my student teaching. It’s helpful to explore things that I experience in my student teaching through scholarly study in my classes.

Tell us about your approach to special education.

Brown: My approach is one kid at a time, one class at a time. Every child is different, regardless of diagnosis. What works with one student might not work for another. You need to build rapport with them. If something doesn’t work, instead of getting discouraged, you try something different.

What has brought you joy in student teaching?

Brown: I’ve learned to celebrate the little things. Sometimes a topic or concept might be difficult for a student, but in that moment when it clicks and you see that look on their face — it’s so rewarding! For example, right now we are working on perimeter. In the initial stages, we let the kids explore shapes and think about perimeter. We use questioning to ask them what they’re thinking. I love to see the joy on their faces when they figure it out.

Tell us about your background before coming to Pitt Education.

Brown: I’m from southern Maryland. After earning my undergraduate degree at Allegheny College, I moved to Pittsburgh and worked in a residential treatment facility. I then decided that I wanted to teach at a public school, so I came to Pitt Education to get my certification.

What is something about you that people wouldn’t guess?

Brown: When I was an undergraduate at Allegheny College, I majored in Psychology and Spanish. So, yes, I can speak Spanish! I studied abroad in Spain.

Learn more

The Pitt School of Education Special Education Teacher Preparation Program with Special Education 7-12 Teacher Certification, is now transitioning to become the Master of Education in PreK-12 Special Education program. Learn more and apply.