Eastern Oregon University > Mountaineer Magazine > Summer 2022 > Special Education, One License at a Time

Special Education, One License at a Time

Garrett Christensen 

Accessibility to education encompasses teachers as much as students. Years of rigorous schooling and graduate study can create a qualification bottleneck. At Eastern Oregon University, however, the field of special education is opening to a new generation of educators at the undergraduate level.  

The College of Education’s new Special Education Initial Teacher Licensure undergraduate program trains special education teachers at the undergraduate level, helping to meet a dire need for qualified special educators across the state.  

“There’s a shortage of SpEd teachers in the U.S., and especially in rural Oregon,” said EOU Education Professor Dr. Jerred Jolin, who designed the new program and curriculum. “I’m enthusiastic about this project. I’ve been trained in this field and have first-hand experiences with the positives of helping students with learning differences be successful in the classroom.” 

According to Jolin, students who major in Special Education graduate with a state-approved teaching license that includes a special educator endorsement, which qualifies them to go directly into classrooms where their expertise is in high demand. The on-campus program entails two years of core coursework.  

Students participate in practicums during their junior and senior years, and then a 15-week student teaching field placement in the final two terms of the program. Students explore a wide range of special education settings, such as resource rooms, life skills classrooms, classrooms for students with behavior challenges, or academic interventions with math or reading.  

“Since this is a generalist program, students need experiences working in K through 12 settings, supporting students with a variety of disabilities,” Jolin said. 

Notably, the program provides an alternative to graduate level licensure options, bypassing an additional eighteen months of schooling for students interested in special education at the start of their careers. 

“It’s efficient. There are certainly strengths to going through the undergraduate elementary program and being a teacher in gen-ed and then transitioning, but there are also people who just want to be special education teachers. We’re hoping to attract those students to this new program,” Jolin said.   

While it spans the breadth of ages and needs, EOU’s program prioritizes special education in a rural environment. Practicums and student-teaching placements are located in Eastern Oregon. Jolin said schools in less populated areas and small communities tend to have even higher demand for special education teachers.

“We plan to focus on the unique challenges of being a SpEd teacher in rural settings,” Jolin said. 

The program officially opened in fall 2021. A single student joined the initial cohort, but that didn’t curb Jolin’s enthusiasm, who noted that even a small run provides many learning opportunities.

“We have a student and are in full implementation. That’s the most significant milestone we  have achieved at this point,” Jolin said.

The program is still expanding, too. Professor Hyun Uk Kim was recently brought on to teach courses and contribute to program development and expansion. 

“You want a mix of perspectives, so you want multiple faculty teaching various courses,” Jolin explained. 

The program is also reaching out to school districts for further collaboration, and Jolin has plans for a hybrid remote/in-person course offering down the road. 

“Currently our main focus is just to get another, larger group of students on campus in La Grande so they can fully take advantage of the various special education classrooms and service providers that are available here in Union County,” Jolin noted.

The program welcomes a new cohort in fall 2023.

“We have qualified faculty providing the instruction that our teacher candidates need to be successful. We have qualified teachers out in the field who are ready to serve as mentors for those teacher candidates. We are ready; bring them on,” Jolin said.