In special education, it takes a community
Joy Walsh M.S. Ed. '07 can't remember a time when she didn't want to be a teacher.
"I've wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl, but I got really into special ed when I volunteered for a special education program in high school," Walsh said. "I fell in love with making a difference in the lives of people who learn differently."
After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies with a concentration in special education from Longwood University, she continued her studies and earned a master's degree in education with a concentration in special education
"The Longwood program was perfect for me because it puts you in the classroom setting so soon," she said. "You know very quickly whether teaching-and special education-is something that's for you. For me, it was a dream come true."
Walsh said the real-world practicum experiences Longwood's program provides prepared her for the challenges of being a special education teacher. Special education classrooms are seldom filled with students who share a common disorder or disability. Teaching techniques that work for some students don't work for others. For a teacher, that requires both a broad and deep skill set.
As a special education teacher at Pocahontas Elementary School in Powhatan, Va., Walsh uses a modified curriculum tailored for children with severe intellectual disabilities, autism, cerebral palsy and other impairments. Community-based programming helps to reinforce job and living skills.
"If we're talking about math, we're talking about real-world examples like money skills or cooking," she said. "You need to know about fractions to follow a recipe. You need to have counting and sorting skills to work in a store. We're teaching the kids these concepts and then we're taking them out into the community to put the skills they're learning into practice."
It's no wonder that Walsh was named Pocahontas Elementary School's Teacher of the Year this past year. She is passionate about the impact she makes on the lives of her students.
"Even five years after graduating, I think about my Longwood professors daily," Walsh said. "One piece of advice that really resonated with me is that teachers don't control a child's home life. We control their school life. I can control the life my students have here at school, and it's my mission to make it the best it can be."