Tips for Success from a Special Education Professor
Meet Dr. Cade Charlton, a professor in the Counseling Psychology and Special Education department here in the McKay School of Education!
Cade wanted to become a teacher because he understands that teaching opens up a new world to kids. Kids need teachers to help them learn new skills - especially those who learn in different ways. In his own words he explains that as "you teach a 'difficult' student new skills, you in turn see them in a whole new light." Four years ago, after working with public schools for 10 years, Cade joined us here at BYU.
When we asked him about the value of becoming a teacher, Cade said that through teaching, you change your own life; that there is no higher work than teaching. He mentioned that the Savior worked one-on-one with people, and that a miracle was always a byproduct of teaching. Cade believes that teachers do the same kind of things.
"Yes, we open up doors for students, which is miraculous, but we are going through those same doors with those students. Teachers can promote faith, patience, joy, kindness, etc. These are the skills we learn as well."
Cade remembers a particularly impactful teaching moment that encapsulates the joys of teaching for him personally. He was working with a young non-verbal student whose family was struggling. He communicated mainly with the father who struggled to have meaningful interactions with his child. On one occasion, Cade worked with the student on communication skills while the father was present. Although the language produced by the child was hard to understand, it was the first time that father and son were communicating and engaging with one another. Cade shared that “it was amazing to watch a parent who was closed off to their child open and connect with their child.”
According to Cade, the McKay School prepares students to become teachers through a mixture of clinical experiences informed through coursework, but he advises that this is meant to help you learn how to look at the world; the skills and knowledge of theory gained in classes must be tested out by the perspective teacher. Cade pointed out that the McKay School's Special Education program offers plenty of opportunities to be in the classrooms, starting with the introductory course, CPSE 203.
The program prides itself on having their students in schools half the time, meaning that the time for their students to test out their skills is increased dramatically from University students who spend all their time cooped up in lecture halls. The McKay School experience also includes the opportunity to make connections, both locally and internationally.
To finish up, here are the tips that Cade had for incoming McKay School Students:
1. Get involved. Special Education has their own social groups and organizations (service organizations or Student Council for Exceptional Children SCEC), but the same is true for other groups too. Join groups that address autism, or join the TOPS program that will allow you to tutor children in local schools.
2. Do research. Be a part of a research study. Learn about what your professors are interested in studying and help them with their research. You can learn a variety of skills, possibly learn to code or develop curriculum.
3. Ask questions. A critical part of having a growth mindset, when in an environment where people are competing with one another, is having the humility and courage to take a step back and say, "I am comfortable asking questions and taking initiative to learn what I don’t know." You will miss opportunities to make meaningful connections if you are just going through the motions and sitting in lectures.
“Trust your heart in making decisions of what you want to study; what program you want to pursue. The best opportunities come when you truly believe in what you are doing. Be courageous. People are afraid to do teaching because it is what someone else tells them not to do. If you are passionate about something, do it. Don’t turn your back on it just because you are afraid."