(Tahlequah, OK)--As an intern teacher, Northeastern State University student Kyla Chittenden of Broken Arrow is getting her first full-time experience instructing a classroom.
Like anyone entering a career, she is discovering where she excels and what she can improve. She must also learn how to help students communicate with her in ways most teachers need not bother with.
"I need the kids to be very verbal with me," Chittenden said. "I need them to explain, and not just point or in some cases grunt. I need them to stretch themselves and tell me what they're pointing at. I find most students are extremely receptive and don't even think twice about it."
In first grade Chittenden was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a genetic disorder afflicting children. Its symptoms are similar to age-related macular degeneration that attacks the retina. It left her legally blind.
She is completing her internship at Haskell Middle School in her hometown of Broken Arrow after starting at Leisure Park Elementary. In a 16-week special education internship, she must spend eight weeks each with an upper and lower grade.
"It's been amazing and I have loved every minute of it," Chittenden said. "People have welcomed me with open arms and shown me what I need to know. The kids are my favorite part. They're so receptive to new people and I've just made some great connections here."
Chittenden's academic adviser is Dr. Kim Cottrell, an assistant professor for Curriculum and Instruction. Cottrell recalled Chittenden's lesson plan presentation in Special Education Methods. Chittenden employed a Powerpoint presentation and a hands-on activity. Cottrell said the students were silent for a few seconds afterward until one said, "Are we going to be graded on how well she did?"
"Kyla has presented her lifetime experiences with her visual impairment to my Introduction to Special Education course two times," Cottrell said. "Her presentations were well received. She has been responsible for guiding at least four students to choose a career in special education. Her attitude and outlook on life and education are exceptional and she has a bright future."
Being visually impaired, Chittenden said she can connect with children in special education.
"I've been the kid who needs modifications and accommodations in order to be successful," she said. "I feel like I can relate to that in a way that people who haven't had that experience can. I'm not saying I can directly relate to a child with autism or a child with intellectual disabilities, but I feel I have some common ground with them. We can work together."
Chittenden, already holding an associates degree, enrolled at NSU because "I had heard pretty amazing things about their teaching program." The proximity of the Broken Arrow campus, the class schedules and the assistance of the faculty and staff facilitated her pursuit of a bachelor's degree. She was able to take all her classes at NSU-BA.
She credits NSU for the preparation it has given her to enter the field of education, but the part of the education she most relishes is the real-world exposure offered through her internship.
"The things you don't learn in the classroom are more 'personal growth' things," she said. "You have to grow into the role of being a leader or a time manager. Also, we all have weaknesses and the way to discover those is to go out there and do it. The internship has given me a pretty good heads-up as to what I'll have to work on when I'm in the schools."
Chittenden serves as the social director of the Student Council for Exceptional Children. Among the activities it plans are twice-yearly dances for students in the Tulsa metro area.
"We really try hard to give the kids who sometimes don't enjoy regular school dances an opportunity to come out and have a good time and be themselves," she said. "It has been the most fun to be a part of that."
Chittenden said her experiences at NSU have left her with too many people to thank.
"The disability services provided at Broken Arrow by Christy Arnold and Melissa Mahan have made a big contribution," she said. "I have not had to stress about my books and testing. As for the other faculty and staff, I couldn't narrow it down. They've been so supportive."
Chittenden will graduate NSU summa cum laude with a bachelor’s in science in Special Education – Mild/Moderate on May 17.
Published: 5/13/2010 2:49:18 PM