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Jayhawks take flight

Monday, March 19, 2018

LAWRENCE - Maggie Beneke, Eric Common and Molly Siuty earned doctoral degrees in August 2017 through the Department of Special Education and began faculty positions this past fall. They recently took time to write a few observations of their new careers and the paths that led them to where they are now.

So, tell us about your current job. 

MAGGIE BENEKE- I am currently an assistant professor in the College of Education at the University of Washington-Seattle. I love being in a college committed to advancing equity in education in partnership with communities. I am constantly inspired by the work of my colleagues.

ERIC COMMON- I am an assistant professor at the University of Michigan-Flint, teaching primarily in the inclusive education graduate program and early childhood programs. My students and their level of engagement and commitment to supporting all students’ academic, behavior and social development is simply contagious.

MOLLY SIUTY- I am currently an assistant professor of inclusive teacher preparation at Portland State University. I feel very fortunate to have a position where I can work in a dual license program that values inclusion and social justice. Every day my students and colleagues challenge me to reconsider my takenfor-granted biases and how to use my position as a scholar and teacher educator to dismantle systems of injustice. Living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest is definitely a huge perk, too!

What are your research interests? 

BENEKE- My scholarship focuses on increasing access for children and families from historically marginalized backgrounds to inclusive, equitable education. Through critical analysis of the local processes and consequences of identity construction (e.g., disability, race, gender), I aim to highlight and support inclusive practices, as well as identify and interrupt deficit discourses surrounding young children’s competencies. 

COMMON- My scholarship revolves around the active role schools play in child development and prevention efforts through the use of tiered interventions and supports at the earliest indication of need. More specifically, my research examines socio-emotional and behavior supports within comprehensive, integrated three-tiered models of prevention (Ci3T) and empowering educators to monitor intervention effectiveness by examining treatment integrity, social validity and student outcome data in tandem. 

SIUTY- My research focuses on critical and intersectional approaches to inclusive teacher preparation. I am passionate about exploring the ways in which inclusive teacher preparation can be a tool for disrupting dominant ideologies that construct “normalcy” in urban school systems.

What are you teaching and what are you trying to get students excited about through the classes?

BENEKE- This year I am teaching EDCI 507: Methods for Teaching Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Exceptional Learners and EDSPE 563: Collaborating with Families and Educational Teams. In both courses, I am excited to talk with pre-service teachers about building relationships and sharing power in their practice with children, families and colleagues. 

COMMON- This year I am teaching classes in (a) classroom management and child guidance, (b) introduction to early childhood and special education, (c) social foundations of schools, and (d) social and behavioral strategies for the inclusive classroom. 

SIUTY- I am teaching a learning strategies course where we are talking about the ways we can “cross-pollinate” between inclusive/special education practices and culturally sustaining pedagogy. We are also talking about the role of teacher wisdom to facilitate innovation around specific learning strategies to cultivate the strengths of their students and the communities where they work. 

What made you decide to start a doctoral program? 

BENEKE- Throughout my childhood, my mother taught in the first public, inclusive early childhood program in our small Midwestern town. Watching her partner with families to create classroom communities in which children engaged in meaningful learning animated my commitment to inclusive education. As I entered the field as a teacher, I became painfully aware of ways my own identities (e.g., able-bodied, White, middle class, English-speaking, cisgender) were often centered in educational spaces. With support from mentors, I began to intentionally reflect on my participation in perpetuating oppressive narratives, actively discuss issues of inequity with young children and families, and continually adjust my practice. These experiences pushed me to rethink notions of inclusion, and spurred my desire to work alongside educators in understanding how to redistribute learning opportunities for historically marginalized children and families in educational settings. 

COMMON- Every year new knowledge is generated out of the humanities and sciences related to student learning and human development. I was interested in understanding the systems by which theory and research inform and shape policy and practices better, and how to empower all agents of change — particularly families, individual students and educators — to improve the developmental outcomes of all students. 

SIUTY- Before attending the University of Kansas, I was a special educator for five years in New York City Public Schools. I noticed that when students with disabilities did not demonstrate academic growth over time, administrators directed students with disabilities to outside “specialized” schools that were supposedly better suited for their needs. I often felt caught in the middle of parents who wanted their children to remain at their community school and the agenda of my school administration. Even in an organization seemingly committed to promoting social justice through education, those with power wielded it to segregate the very students and families it was supposed to serve. Moreover, the ways in which a mostly White teaching force making educational decisions about a population of majority families of color caused me to question my original intentions for going into the education field. Even though I did not have the knowledge or language of critical theory at the time to fully recognize the inner workings of systemic oppression and my role within it, I understood that I needed to grapple with these issues in order to fulfill my commitments to social justice. 

Who or what helped you the most during your doctoral program? 

BENEKE- There are too many people to name… my dissertation chair and advisor (Dr. Greg Cheatham), my amazing committee members (Drs. Subini Annamma, Eva Horn, Tom Skrtic and M’Balia Thomas)… folks in the Early Childhood Unified Specialization and the Disability and Diversity in Education and Society Specialization… all the brilliant doctoral students I got to learn alongside… my partner, Peter, and my son, Oscar. 

COMMON My advisor Dr. Kathleen Lane and our research team were both a source of support and inspiration to grow as a scholar across my teaching, research and service. 

SIUTY- I am forever indebted to my advisors and many mentors throughout my doctoral program. My co-advisors, Drs. Elizabeth Kozleski and Suzanne Robinson, challenged me to constantly articulate, revise and clarify my scholarly identity. Now that I am a faculty member, I feel that this exercise helped me to have a strong sense of my professional commitments which guide all of my work. I was also very fortunate to develop strong bonds with my cohort-mates. Navigating the doctoral program and experiencing important life events together has solidified life-long friendships. 

Any words of wisdom — or of caution, or encouragement — for students who are in a doctoral program or contemplating starting one?

BENEKE- Just enjoy the time to think and read and talk and write with colleagues. Remember you are not a machine — even when it’s stressful, try to come up for air and do something kind for yourself. We are all #stilllearning. 

COMMON- When considering a doctoral program, get to know graduate students and faculty alike to get a gauge for what academic life entails. In your first year of your doctoral program make friends with a student at every year of the program so that by the end of your first year you can get a better understanding of every stage of the process and for each milestone. Mentors and friends are invaluable. 

SIUTY- The academy does not determine your value! Seek out and cultivate friendship, community, hobbies and interests outside of your doctoral program that bring you joy and nurture your soul. 

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