Filling teacher shortages in Connecticut


When Dr. David Zera was studying for his bachelor's degree in the 1970s, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed, mandating that special education services be made available to all children with special needs. As he pursued his master's degree and sixth-year certificate, he says, special education was an up and coming field and an area where he felt he could make a difference.

Today he has his Ph.D. and is teaching in Fairfield University's Graduate School of Education and Applied Professions, and he is making a difference. As assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Special Education, he is preparing graduate students to fill in a gap where the State Department of Education says Connecticut has a shortage of teachers.

In addition to special education, Karen Creecy, assistant dean of the Graduate School of Education, notes that there are shortages for teachers in the areas of bilingual education, Spanish, mathematics and school media specialists, areas where Fairfield has long-standing and highly developed programs. "The State of Connecticut does searches throughout the year to find the areas where teachers are needed. In some cases school systems have had to hire people who don't hold certification, because no one with the proper credentials was available. So we are happy to be providing a service to the community by preparing teachers to fill these needs."

Dr. Zera points out that Fairfield University likes to send students preparing to teach special education into the field early to learn first-hand the broad needs of the children. His students are asked to interview social workers, school psychologists, speech and language pathologists and special education teachers as part of a State-mandated special education survey course. "It's a real benefit for our students to be in communication with the range of people who provide various services in special education, before they begin their own student-teaching," Dr. Zera noted.

Practica/internship assignments are made all over Fairfield County, including urban, suburban and rural areas. The graduate students have the opportunity to observe, evaluate, plan, instruct and interact with pupils with challenging learning needs and behaviors from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds. "Federal law mandates an individual education plan for each child with special needs and we want our graduates to have the tools to both evaluate, understand and provide for each child's needs," said Dr. Zera.

Depending on a graduate student's background, studies are available in Initial Educator Certification in Comprehensive Special Education and Cross-Endorsement Certification in Special Education.

The master's degree program in Media-Educational Technology explores the effects of information technologies on the learner, the educational system and society, with emphasis on theory, production and applications of technologies of instruction. Students in the program use state-of-the-art facilities, including multimedia computer laboratories, color television studios, video postproduction, digital still picture cameras, portable video cameras and recorders and a host of media equipment.

Fairfield has also been a leader in bilingual education, another area where teachers are needed in Connecticut. As the only institution of higher education accredited by the Connecticut State Department of Education to offer initial educator certification in bilingual education at the graduate level, it was awarded a three-year grant in 1999 from the U.S. Department of Education to train bilingual education teachers. Fairfield has offered courses in bilingual and multicultural education and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) since 1976.

For information on these or any other program in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, please call (203) 254-4250, or check the web site at www.fairfield.edu.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on August 1, 2001

Vol. 34, No. 13