Teresa Berden Clarkson has a well established and admirable career working with students with disabilities. She first began teaching 20 years ago at a Western Michigan University with student services. She progressed to St. Clair County Community College – first as a Placement Specialist and then as a Career Counselor, continuing on the Macomb Community College as a Special Services Counselor. Teresa then took a detour back to secondary education in Grand County School District in Utah where she works as a Special Educator and CTE Career Coach. Teresa’s current job responsibilities include counseling students in CTE pathways and Program of Study; surveying CTE graduates; collaborating with secondary, post-secondary, and industry partners; promoting College & Career Readiness Standards; coordinating the Grand County High School Annual Career Fair; advocatingfor CTE scholarship applicants; and assisting with Work-Based Learning Opportunities.
I serve a diverse range of students – exceptional learners, CTE technical students, at-risk populations, and gifted/talented from middle school to college age adults.
When asked what has been the most important development in Transition, Teresa states that,
new online transition assessment tools which allow teachers to gather transition data and compare results from student, teacher, and a parent prospective. The most positive things about working in Transition are when the joy you see on the face of students when they get their first job or get a paid internship position. Every student should experience the sense of accomplishment for achieving a goal such as graduation or other milestone.
Teresa feels that the biggest challenge in her work with Transition students is often not with students, but with family members.
It is important for students to play an active role in their transition process; therefore, parents often struggle with letting their child set a goal for themselves for the first time. Parents occasionally need support/coaching on how to help students create realistic, achievable goals.
Teresa finds her work in Transition highly rewarding, even long after her students have moved on into adult life.
Every day in special education is unique and memorable; however, one the most inspiring moment was to receive a letter from a former student (after they had enrolled in college) in which she thanked me for teaching her, not trying to be her friend, but actually teaching her to read and write better because she would not have been successful in college without that skill. Another memorable moment this year – a former student arrived in my office to tell me he missed me at his IEP. When I asked why, he said, he felt like his IEP was more meaningful when I made him write his own goals and run the meeting (ironic because I recall the complaining about the assignment in class at the time!). Lastly, one of the highest honors was for one of my seniors to win the CEC Self-Advocacy Award.
Teresa feels that one of the most crucial issues facing students with disabilities as they transition from high school to adulthood is learning their skill set in high school.
Many students don’t realize that skills are the currency of the future. Many students with special needs are gifted in a hands-on field and should take advantage of CTE classes while in high school. Following graduation, the same students need to pursue short-term training.
Collaborating with other agencies has been vital in Teresa’s Transition work.
As a special educator I collaborated with VR for every junior and senior. In the spring of every year, we would create a list of IEP dates specific to juniors and seniors and pre-arrange dates so VR could book their schedule in advance. We had a much higher rate of VR participation.
Finally, Teresa’s words of wisdom in working with Transition students:
Always set high expectations for transitioning students. They often exceed their goals with faith and guidance.
Teresa can be reached at clarksont at grandschools dot org
This is the Spotlight on Transition Series which features people working and living in the area of Transition to Adulthood for people with disabilities.