The Challenges and Rewards of Working in Special Education

February 21, 2017

Education alumnus Billy Kickham filled us in on his experience working with students with communication challenges.

What is your current job and what does it entail?

I am a head classroom teacher. I work with a population of 16-year-old to 21-year-old male students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis. In my role as a head classroom teacher, I supervise 3 teaching assistants, who I try to empower and to whom I try to listen, as they are the ones who tend to best know their students. Our team meets weekly and I am responsible for communicating with students’ families daily.

What brought you to Simmons?

I chose Simmons because I had previously worked with several Simmons graduates. These colleagues were informed of current practices and were well prepared to implement them. I wanted the same preparation in order to navigate my role as a special educator.

During the application process I was impressed by the staff, who helped me figure out the financial aid package and secure student loans. The staff of the college, as a whole, was very kind and the amount of effort they put into helping me was refreshing. 

How did Simmons prepare you for your current job?

The most beneficial part of the graduate program is the group work. It taught me the skills needed to work in a collaborative environment. The most important skill I gained from this structure was the ability to track and budget my time. Working full-time in a school setting and completing graduate group work at the same time requires keeping a tight schedule, but also being flexible.

These skills, along with the content of the courses, have shaped me in to a competent first year teacher. I have learned to collaborate with teams of people who have different background experiences and expertise.

At Simmons, I gained a leg up on many of my peers. One of the most valuable things I was taught is how to read and understand a research based article. Many people I have encountered outside of the Simmons community did not receive direct instruction in picking apart research. This skill has enabled me to pull out key insights and be solid contributor to discussions about educational methods.

In what ways is your career rewarding?

The most miraculous moment I get to experience as a teacher is the moment following a communication breakdown. This moment, when working with students with significant communication challenges, is a time when the most learning happens. It makes all the planning that had gone out the window minutes before worth while. This moment requires patience and acknowledgement of the challenge, but is the perfect opportunity to build new skills.