Extra had the rare opportunity to speak with Chilean learning behavioral specialist, Pamela Reyes-Wasson, a special education teacher at Pierce School of International Studies in Chicago. Wasson has 29 years of experience of teaching. She credits her success to her husband and their stress to use positive enforcement when teaching children of all abilities. Coming from a full family of educators, Wasson uses the full inclusion approach, which includes going to parents homes, and teaching the parents the material to help students do their homework.
EXTRA: When did you get started teaching special education?
Pamela Reyes-Wasson: I started teaching in 1987 and began teaching special education in 1993.
What was your motivation to teach special education?
One student inspired me. His name was Danny Tello, who is in his 30’s now. He was a rough one, and teachers warned me that he was rough. When he came to my classroom, we just connected, and I realized he wasn’t angry, he was just frustrated because he was struggling to read. So we just took a day at a time, and that’s when I started to be more inclusive and reach out to parents. For example, Danny’s mom was at first very guarded because it seemed every year there was something wrong with her son. She was just impressed when I called her and would tell her that her son was doing a good job. From that experience I learned how much students love when they call their parents to let them know they are doing a good job. It is something I am very proud of.
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
One thing is that we do need more special needs teachers in more schools across CPS. I personally see over 25 students and I have to check up on them to make sure they are having a good day, have a good routine, get their homework done, etc. Special education teachers have to not only educate the students in their classroom, whose disabilities vary, but also to look out for students who are in other classrooms and on medication.
I have to say our school administration is very good and very open minded, and helpful, and I work hard to keep them in the loop of things I am working on and want to try. It is very important for teachers to keep administrators in the loop of what kind of children they are working with and issues they are experiencing. As always – open communication is the most important thing to make sure students get the best education available to them.
Is there a strong focus on special needs in the CPS or do they need to do more?
Unfortunately outside of Pierce, I personally don’t know what programs are available to parents who have kids that need special education. I would like to see a little more support for special needs in every school where parents can come in once a month to speak with teachers, and administration so that they understand what’s going with their Independent Education program. I would like to see a stronger and more consistent focus on special education throughout the CPS.