Introduction to an Inclusive Educator
My name is Sean Phelan and I am a high school special education teacher for a school district in the suburbs of Kansas City. This past May I finished my third year of teaching. As many educators know, your first three years of teaching are always the hardest. Due to the challenges that the COVID 19 pandemic has brought the past three years, it made the start of a career in education start with many ups and downs.
There were many great firsts that occurred; the first time you helped a student use their new coping skills, your first Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting, and your first bonds that you created with your students and families. With many of the highs of being a teacher there were also many lows. The lows were the hours creating all new lesson plans, gaining respect in the professional community of educators as a 22 year old, and the long hours you put in to revamp a center-based special education program to become more inclusive.
When reflecting on my first three years as an educator there were many times when it was very hard to find the energy to keep moving forward. What kept me moving forward was my motivation to change a system that segregates students with extensive support needs through biases that currently exist and to challenge the notions that students with extensive support needs can’t go to college, can’t live on their own, and will need support for the rest of their lives.
To combat these notions that are still present in the educational system, I have had to lean on my experiences that I have gained to get me to this point as an inclusive educator. My experiences started when I was in high school and started to volunteer for Special Olympics Illinois. In the Chicago suburbs I was able to partake in many Special Olympics events and games.
After the completion of high school, I left Bartlett, IL to attend the University of Kansas (KU). I received my bachelors degree in Secondary Education in History & Government with an endorsement in Low Incidence Special Education. After completing my undergraduate degree I received my masters degree in Low Incidence Special Education from KU. The KU programs helped me gain a passion for inclusive education. During my time at KU I was one of the first peer mentors for KU-Transition to Postsecondary Education program that helps assist college students with intellectual disabilities. This experience helped show me a real experience that shows the positive impact of inclusive education. I went into this program as a peer mentor to try and help other college students and give them advice along the way but left with friends and a realization that students with disabilities need to be given the same opportunities that I had growing up to be a true equitable society.
My experiences have shaped me into not just being a special education teacher but an inclusion activist. I gained a passion to not only want to teach students with extensive support needs but to advocate for them, their families, and the community that we live and work in. My goals this summer are to learn how I can transition from advocating for my students at a local district level to advocating for them and other students like them to our state representatives. The field of special education has come a long way since the first authorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) we still have a far way to go in regards to raising expectations for students, changing school structures to promote inclusive practices, and to help change school environments to fit our students support needs rather than trying to “fix” our students to fit the current school system.
These are the reasons why I have decided to take a break from summer school and to put pause on my life in Kansas City to take that big leap of faith to see what level of impact I can start to create for my students and their families.
Follow along for the rest of my blogs this summer where I talk about the state of inclusive education from the perspective of a current teacher, and reflect on my experiences as an intern for the CEC.
Sean Phelan is currently a high school special education teacher in a suburb of Kansas City. He has a bachelors and masters degree in low incidence special education from the University of Kansas. This summer he is interning with the Council for Exceptional Children and TASH.