Meet Allie Szczecinski, Special Education + Social Justice extraordinaire, from the The Miss Behavior Blog.
Hi there, Allie! Please introduce yourself.
Who are you (I’d like to invite you to think about your own multi-layered identity)?
Hi! I’m 30 years old and have lived in and around Chicago my entire life. My pronouns are she/her. I grew up in a very affluent, mostly white suburb in a nuclear family. While I am grateful for my healthy upbringing, I never quite fit in our community. When I graduated from college, I immediately moved to the city of Chicago where I almost immediately felt more at home. I am most comfortable in spaces where I am challenged and around a diverse groups of people.
What are your experiences in the field of education (perhaps both as a student and/or an Educator)? In what type of environment do you work?
I have my undergraduate and masters degrees in Special Education. Educating and working alongside individuals with disabilities is truly my life’s purpose. I have the most passion in teaching in classrooms where students require an adapted curriculum to access their learning. I love adapting materials to best suit my students needs and challenging myself to make learning as accessible as possible to each individual student.
How did you ultimately decide to study Special Education?
When I was in middle school, I met a peer with autism. I immediately befriended him, and was a rare ally for him in the brutal middle school years. I remember standing on chairs to yell at my other peers for teasing my friend, and my teachers always seating us next to one another in class knowing that we were buddies. My friendship with him ultimately paved my path, as I became a peer tutor for our Life Skills class in high school, and eventually committed to studying special education in college.
In what ways can education be transformative and/or liberating?
Education, in my opinion, is the most clear form of liberation. The world can take so much away from people and people groups - but your knowledge can never be taken from you. The ability to offer education and knowledge to my learners is really an honor.
In what ways can/should the current system of education be transformed or liberated?
Education is so broken at this point in America. It’s hard for me, as a unionist and a public educator, to really pinpoint only a few ways that our system needs to be transformed.
How could teacher training better prepare teachers to work respectfully and effectively with students and families with disabilities?
Teacher training at this point does not prepare all educators to best serve their students with disabilities. Education majors often have 1-2 classes that barely dust the surface of special education and the ways in which teachers can, and should, meet the needs of students. I feel teacher prep programs as well as administrative programs should have a more direct focus on inclusion and differentiated instruction in order to best prepare educators for their actual reality in the classroom. Though a future teacher may not be studying to work exclusively with students with disabilities, they will. It is important that we empower teachers to do so, and to do it well.
Have you ever seen anyone else be discriminated against in school settings?
Constantly. As a teacher in a therapeutic day school for children with severe emotional behavior disorders, it is sadly not surprising that the vast majority of our students are black boys. Equity conversations are consistently had regarding this trend and the over-diagnosis of boys, and more specifically black boys, as having emotional behavior disorders - but we need more than awareness. We need action!
What would you like for people to know about children/persons with disabilities and/or special needs?
Children with disabilities are just that - children.
Do you have any thoughts on person first vs. identity first language?
I truly believe there is a place for both in our world, and the person that you should be asking before assuming, is the individual you are talking to or about. There really is no right answer, except asking for individual preference!