Associate Professor of Special Education
D.Ed., The Pennsylvania State University
M.Ed., Mansfield University
Becoming a Special Education teacher is not easy, according to Associate Professor of Special Education Rick Dale. Special Education is a challenging field.
There is a lot of paperwork, as well as meetings and legal requirements to learn and negotiate, he added. Dale said a student interested in becoming a Special Education teacher should have the following qualities:
“They should be really flexible and adaptable. They should like a challenging job. They should like a multi-faceted job where they switch roles from an advocate to a teacher to a facilitator and coach. They should be comfortable in all these roles,” Dale said.
“They should like kids, like being around kids. And they should like kids who may have diverse learning needs. But the most important requirement is — do you like kids?” Dale said.
Career Change of Course
Dale, himself, planned on being a physical education teacher when he graduated from Lock Haven University, but his first job was working as an adaptive physical education teacher for children with more severe disabilities. “So, I took this position as an itinerant physical education teacher working with children with disabilities. I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Dale said, “but after four years of working and taking Special Education courses, I really liked the field and the kids. ”
When funding for his position ran out, the only way Dale could continue in the Special Education program was to become a certified Special Education teacher and he needed 24 more college credits to become certified. “I worked full-time and took 24 credits between January and August so I could be certified to teach in the classroom. And my first class was with children with emotional disturbance at the high school level,” recalled Dale.
Teaching is Learning
In addition to being a Special Education high school teacher, Dale also worked matching children with physical disabilities with assistive technology. He served as a training consultant and then a policy advisor for the Pennsylvania Bureau of Education interpreting regulations and writing policy. At one point, he directed a Special Education program overseeing more than 400 employees and a $20 million budget.
“But I learned that administration was not for me. My mentor at Penn State encouraged me to look into teaching in higher education,” Dale said. “All this time I never stopped going to school, and I had amassed all these credentials.”
In Dale’s office hangs a plaque with a Latin inscription that translates to “By teaching, we learn.” A graduation gift from his mother, who was also a teacher, the message describes the heart of Dale’s teaching philosophy: “Learning has always been important to me, and I love to share what I know. In Gaelic, the word foghlaim means both learning and teaching, and I think that’s interesting and very true,” Dale said.
Get Field Experience First
“Our Special Education program at UMF is very hands-on. It starts with the first class in freshman year; our students are out at the local public schools as part of a mentoring project,” Dale said. “And then we have Practicum, which most students take their second year, where they spend time in the classroom every week all semester.”
This early experience lets students discover right away whether teaching is their career path, Dale added. And those who continue in the UMF Special Education program will continue to add valuable real-world experience as their third-year methods courses and fourth-year student teaching assignments both require time in a classroom with children, he said.
“We’re very proud of the hands-on experience we offer at UMF. I think it’s a real plus,” Dale said.
“We have a really high placement rate. Last time I checked, 100% of our graduates were working in their field. They go on to be Special Education teachers in public and private schools. Special Education is a high need area across the country,” Dale said.
Hands-on classroom experience helps graduates find teaching positions. As does UMF’s strong Education program supported by faculty who work well with one another and who remain current in their field, Dale said. Here at UMF teaching is the priority.
“I like that of the pillars of academia — teaching, scholarship and service — UMF focuses on teaching. Here teaching is valued very highly, and that’s one of the reasons I came here. I like the small class sizes and that faculty and students get to know each other,” Dale said.
“UMF students are hard-working, fun and interesting human beings,” Dale said. “They’re going to become Special Education teachers who are going to go out and work with children.”
Dr. Dale’s Class
“Many people do not understand the essence of what Special Education is all about. Once you teach them what it is about, they usually have a different outlook,” Dale said. One of his classes studies the history of how Special Education programs evolved in the United States.
“Every state has a constitution that says there will be a thorough and efficient system of public, compulsory education, but up to 1975, if you were a child with a disability either you were not in school or you were in a segregated, often inferior setting,” Dale said. “In 1975, Congress said we need to protect children with disabilities so they have equal protection under the law.”
Knowing the history of Special Education gives students a perspective from which they can advocate for children with disabilities, observed Dale. Students come to understand that fair treatment does not mean the same treatment, but rather just treatment. In the case of children with disabilities, fair treatment means meeting their needs, Dale said.
Off the “Beat”en Path
In his free time, Dale is a student and scholar of Beat poet and writer Jack Kerouac whose works include On the Road and The Dharma Bums. Kerouac was a literary rebel whose philosophy and life presaged the anti-establishment movement of the 1960s.
Dale, who displays a rubbing from the author’s grave on his office wall, published his own book, The Beat Handbook: 100 Days of Kerouactions in 2008. The book offers insight into what Jack Kerouac would do. For instance, on vegetarianism-Kerouac would likely say — eat what you want. “It’s a companion book to Kerouac, ” Dale explained. “It’s partly tongue-in-cheek and partly serious philosophy. ”
Dale joins other Kerouac fans yearly at the literary festival that commemorates the author in his hometown and final resting place of Lowell, Massachusetts.
“I leave a copy of my book on Jack’s grave every year. In it there’s a note that says steal this book — it’s an Abby Hoffman reference. One year, Kerouac’s definitive biographer, Gerald Nicosia, picked up my book and took it back to his room and read it and loved it and told me he thought it was full of Jack Kerouac’s heart, and he commended me for it. We’ve taken up a letter-writing correspondence from San Francisco to Maine, because that’s what the original Beats did, wrote letters to one another. I’ve met some really interesting, seminal people from that period.” Dale noted.
Dale also maintains a self-described Kerouac-obsessed blog called “The Daily Beat, ” which has garnered him some attention and several hundred views daily. The blog contains Dale’s musings as well as interviews with Kerouac’s contemporaries and book reviews.