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Teachers have always been under appreciated and underpaid and with recent economic issues, getting a job as a teacher has seemed harder than ever. However, studying to become a teacher has proven to take more time in college and require more credit hours. Even more challenging of a career is in Special Education where teachers must work harder to engage and educate children with various disabilities. So why would young adults still pursue this kind of career? For Central Michigan University student, Katie Knopp, the answer to that question is simple:

“ I do what I do because I want to advocate for them because people with special needs don’t get to speak up for themselves,” Knopp said. “They’re people just like you and I. They have the same dreams, needs, and wants and I’m helping them to live without their disability running their life. That’s why do what I do, to help them.”

Knopp’s interest in Special Education comes from a personal place. Her cousin, Maggie, has severe Down syndrome. Through interacting with Maggie, Knopp became very interested in how she adapted and lived her everyday life and developed a passion for working with kids with special needs.

Knopp is currently in her fourth year at CMU studying Special Education, concentrating on Cognitive Impairment with a minor in Adaptive Physical Education. After she graduates in December of 2015, she hopes to return to her hometown to work with the school she interned with during her senior year of high school.

“I would really like to get a job working with more mild to severe disabilities,” Knopp said. “I think I really have the ability to connect with these kids and help them to look past their disabilities.”

The academics at CMU

The Special Education program at CMU is very good with a variety of course topics and opportunities to gain field experience. Knopp mentions that Dr. Judy Chandler and Holly Hoffman were two particularly helpful people during her time at CMU.

“We have some really great professors here,” Knopp said. “[They] really are experienced in the field and do a good job of sharing their experiences with us and letting us learn from mistakes they’ve made and challenges they’ve faced.”

Dr. Chandler has been working with kids with special needs since the late 1970s and is specifically experienced in the area of adaptive physical education, which she teaches at CMU. The class consists of coursework two days a week, and once a week Chandler’s students work with a kids with special needs from the Mount Pleasant community. The students with special needs only get one other time during the week devoted to physical education, so this class allows them a second time to be active which is very important, according to Dr. Chandler.
The adaptive physical education course is also very valuable to the college students. They gain valuable experience working hands-on with individuals ranging from mild to severe disabilities. All CMU students studying physical education are required to take this course even if they were not originally planning to educate in a setting with students with special needs.

“Eventually Michigan will become full inclusion, “ Chandler said. “They will have kids with disabilities that they will have to accommodate in their classrooms.”

Both Chandler and Hoffman agree that there is great value and a great need for people to become special needs educators. There is a really high hiring rate for special education teachers and from CMU as students learn to teach in a variety of settings, Hoffman said.

Tori and Katie

This semester Knopp has been paired up with Tori Blanshan, a 19-year-old girl with severe and very classic autism. Knopp meets with Blanshan for about one hour every Friday to work on her physical skills. They have done things such as bowling, swimming, throwing balls, various station activities, and walking around the track.
Lack of communication is common for kids with autism so working with Blanshan can prove to be difficult at times.

“You can tell her to do something over and over again, but she won’t respond to anything auditory,” Knopp said. “The technique I use is to write on a white board; she can read functionally and that’s how we communicate.”

Knopp’s career goals include teaching physical education in an environment with students with more severe disabilities. She feel’s she can not only help them live without their disability running their lives, while advocating for them in society and to let people know that people with special needs are not so different.

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