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Emma Packard always knew that she wanted to be a special education teacher. After working as a para-educator with a young man who was deaf/blind, she enrolled at Western Oregon University. Packard earned her bachelor of arts in early childhood education with a teaching endorsement for English as a second language in 2003. She then attended the University of Washington in Seattle, where she earned her masters in education specializing in individuals with severe or profound disabilities, graduating in 2005.
“I wanted to teach special education students even before I got my masters in that specialization,” Packard explained.
“My degree focused on children with severe or profound disabilities. The program was incredible. It prepared me to work with students of all abilities, make decisions on each child’s care and discern how to help children with physical disabilities.”
Packard is currently in a masters of education program at the University of Northern Colorado that focuses on teaching visually impaired students.
“I’m earning my second master’s degree because it’s common for children with cognitive issues to have visual impairment. My true passion is teaching children with deaf blindness,” she stated.
Packard teaches at Totem Falls Elementary in the Snohomish, Washington School District. She just finished teaching her eighth year of elementary education for self-contained students. “Self-contained” students need more help than students in resource. Packard works with students that need individual help with life skills, communication and social skills. Next year, she will teach preschool for the first time.
In addition to a good education, Packard emphasizes the importance of finding a good fit at a school.
“It’s been a fantastic experience. I can’t imagine teaching anywhere else. The school has such a great principal.”
Continuing education is required for Packard’s position.
“When you first get your teaching certification, it’s called a residency cert. You teach for a short time on that certification and then you have to change over to a professional certification.
“It’s required now to have 150 hours of continuing education during every five-year period to maintain professional certification.
“I do some continuing education during the school year, but I try to do most of it in the summer. Sometimes a conference comes along and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and then there are provisions in my contract allowing for professional development days. I’m fortunate to work in a school district where there’s money set aside for professional development.”
Packard has some advice for students who are considering the education field.
“You should gain experience in the field you’re interested in. There’s a lot to know about the field before you go in to it. I feel fortunate to have worked as a para-educator before becoming a teacher. The teachers took me under their wing and showed me what was happening in the job.”
Tracy Campion is a freelance writer covering all things Seattle. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.