The SJSU Lurie College of Education provides a range of opportunities to support students in their academic endeavors to become transformative educators, counselors, therapists, and leaders. We spoke with our Special Education Department graduate students Joanna Gaeta and Samuel Bland, who were able to collaborate with Assistant Professor Saili Kulkarni on a research project that examines beliefs about disability and race among special education teachers of color. Listen to Joanna and Samuel’s insights below!
“We are currently working on studying special education teachers of color and what their beliefs are about disability and race. We’re trying to see how do teachers position themselves to help out our students when we see disparities – whether it’s behavioral issues or academic issues within the school setting – and then how we as the special education teachers contend with that on the education front.”
What is your name, academic affiliation (undergrad, grad., etc.), and major / academic concentration?
My name is Samuel Bland. My major from my undergraduate was child development. I’m currently a graduate student in the Special Education program for Mild-Moderate Disabilities certificate.
I’m Joanna Gaeta and I am currently in the dual program for getting my credential in Mild-Moderate Disabilities and my Master’s in Special Education.
Can you provide a brief description of the research project that you have been contributing to this year?
Joanna: We are currently working on studying special education teachers of color and what their beliefs are about disability and race. We’re trying to see how do teachers position themselves to help out our students when we see disparities – whether it’s behavioral issues or academic issues within the school setting – and then how we as the special education teachers contend with that on the education front. We’re trying to create parallels between our student’s experiences and things that we also contend with and try to create more awareness and justice-oriented educators. I think it’s important because we don’t find a lot of conversation around this area. We’re in a place where we actually have the opportunity to highlight the special education teachers’ voices as well. We get to hear about their experiences with the students and then also between educators and other staff members.
What has the project consisted of thus far?
Samuel: Some of the tasks that we’re focusing on right now gathering focus groups of teachers color. Me, Joanna, and the faculty member who we’re working with, Dr. Kulkarni, developed focus group questions to get a better insight on what the perspectives are of teachers of color, including special education teachers because there’s not that much research. Right now, we’re gathering a focus group to begin the research.
Who is your faculty mentor? What has your relationship has been like working with them?
Joanna: Our faculty mentor and lead of this project is Dr. K. She’s been a really great help. She’s provided literature to give us more insight into the research that we’re handling and to make sure that you know we are well-equipped with recent research on these matters and how we can apply those lenses to our current research project. She’s very insightful and she has a lot of experience. I think that that’s a great tool that we have right now. We all have our experiences as well – Samuel brings his experiences; I do as well. All of us come together and I feel like we bring a lot to the table with this research. I feel like Dr. K wants to highlight all of us – she realizes that we all have something to offer and she values that. That’s something that I find that’s very unique and I really value that.
Can you share an experience that you’ve had with this project so far that has been enlightening, surprising, challenging, etc.?
Samuel: Looking at the research of teachers of color and speaking from my perspective of being in a classroom as a temporary special education teacher – how I’m treated on a daily basis and how I can relate that to the research – it’s very relatable. Being a special education teacher, I always feel that I have to be better than my peers who are general education teachers. I’ve learned so much about a word called imposter syndrome and how that has affected our confidence as teachers and educators. That can relate to children as well, showing their value. There were some challenges. Right now, we’re in a shelter-in-place so it’s really hard to get into contact with the teachers of color who we want to recruit. So that’s one of the challenges right now – just holding a focus group.
How has this opportunity overall shaped you – personally, academically, or professionally – going forward?
Joanna: The way that it’s shaped me is that I have more research under my belt to make me more informed about issues that we’re experiencing not just with our students, but with faculty as well as, specifically with teachers of color who are in the realm of special education. It does make you take a step back and think, “If I’m experiencing this, how many other people are experiencing it and what are we doing to start a conversation about these issues so we can move forward, so we could have an action plan and actually have some solutions to bridging the gaps that we’re seeing?” There are academic gaps, achievement gaps, behavior gaps, but we also have gaps with our educators as well. I would love to see this research serve as a springboard to opening this conversation.
Samuel: I’ve also used this opportunity to do research as a springboard for getting close to my peers at work and my colleagues. Joanna brought up a good point about the achievement gap – there’s an achievement gap between staff members and faculty of us working as a strong team to help and to meet the needs of these children and these students. I think if we do that and we’re able to see the insights of doing the research right now, we can carry that on to our daily lives of being educators and being strong assets to the education field.
Connect with Lurie College at https://linktr.ee/sjsulurie to receive more news about academic and student life! Audio recorded by Brian Cheung Dooley. Interview transcription provided by otter.ai and edited by Sydney Ahmadian.