Andelee Espinosa is a special education teacher and has been supporting students in high school regular education classrooms for 20 years. She has a passion for personalized learning and teaching students to use their voice. She currently supports in Physics and Biology classrooms at Brookfield Central High School in Brookfield, WI.
I have lived in Wisconsin my entire life. We can have extreme weather with 100-degree weather in the summer and 50 below in the winter. My family is mostly here in Wisconsin. I grew up in Menomonee Falls outside of Milwaukee and now live in Wauwatosa that is close to where I teach in Brookfield.
Both my parents were teachers. My dad was a Science teacher and my mom was an English teacher. They started in middle school but finished their careers teaching at the high school level. I would see my mom sitting at the kitchen table before any of us got up in the morning grading English papers, and my dad spending weekends reviewing lab reports. They were both active in different aspects at their school either the theater program, yearbook, or my dad was involved in the teacher’s union. From my perspective, being a teacher means you are doing a lot of service for others.
My husband, Brian, and I have two sons, Ethan and Logan, who are freshmen in high school, the same age as the students I teach in my school. Logan is on the left in this picture – fun fact, he’s always on the left in any posed picture. That’s how we’ve kept them straight throughout the years. My dog’s name is Arthur, a rescue from Alabama, so we don’t really know much about his make-up.
What it was like for you as a student
I was pretty good at playing school. I played it safe and knew what the teachers wanted. I was far more passionate about everything that I was involved with outside of school especially the kids I was learning about on the weekends and nights. I was really active in 4H for eleven years doing a lot of service work. The part of 4H that I loved was the service aspect. I was planning community service in 4H and what that looks like for a teenager or an elementary student. Then I was involved in student council in high school through my passion for a community service component. Going into education was a natural progression for me regarding the things I really enjoyed, learning about myself and learning about different disabilities along with the challenges they faced in school and combining those with community service.
Did you always want to be a Special Ed teacher?
I always wanted to be a Special Ed teacher. I got involved in this field at a pretty young age. I was eleven and was the babysitter for a family down the street from me that had twins where one of them had cerebral palsy. Throughout middle and high school, I understood what a family who has a child with significant needs goes through. I think that some of those fears and apprehensions that people have — that was my babysitting gig. I was their go-to person. The mother had started some support groups for families in the community with children with special needs. The word got out about me as a babysitter so I had a little monopoly going on.
Your journey to become a Special Ed teacher
When I was in my freshman year in college, I had an inspiring Biology professor. I was really considering switching majors and going into regular ed focusing on life or earth science. Then I went back to my roots and thought that this wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be involved in the curriculum but science wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. So I became a Special Ed major with a Biology minor. That can be helpful because I wanted to work in a regular classroom beside the teacher supporting the students and working on curriculum figuring out ways that all students can be successful. Having that background knowledge of the science curriculum definitely has been helpful. In 2004, I earned my National Board Certification in the area of Exceptional Needs Specialist and successfully re-certified in 2012.
I currently case manage approximately 15 students with disabilities including specific learning disabilities, emotional behavioral disabilities, other health impairments, and autism. In addition to case managing, I support Biology teachers one semester and co-teach Physics with Mike Mohammad in a 1:1 technology environment the other semester. One of my missions over the years to really make sure that we protect our Special Ed teachers because there are only so many directions we can be pulled at during the day. Between case managing students and being available at any moment during the day, don’t put us in three different classrooms. Let’s spend time getting good at one area where we can make a difference and develop relationships with our fellow co-workers in one content area instead of being pulled in too many directions.
Moving to Personalized Learning
In our district, Personalized Learning rolled out slowly. For a while, special ed was not part of the cohorts that were being trained with it. Mike and I have grown together developing our vision of personalized learning together. When I work with other teachers or present at conferences, I mention that what Mike and I built did not happen overnight. This was eleven years in the making. When we talk about Personalized Learning, we often tell teachers that you pick one thing that you are going to work on or one way to change your way of thinking in this unit. Then next unit, you may add a second thing. Then the next time, you may go back and revise. You’re constantly making things better and you’re going to reflect that you can’t change everything in one fell swoop.
There is a misperception about Personalized Learning that kids have full freedom and that’s not it at all. It is meaning that all kids have access to whatever it is that they need. We are all working toward the same endpoint but how we get there is different.
Below is a link to a Google Slide deck that provides the structure for my student-led IEPs. This is where we start and I add or delete slides to personalize it for the student’s need. The student and I work on it together so by the time we go into the meeting, they are comfortable with the conversation.
Below is a link to a blog post and a video about a really cool project Mike and I did in conjunction with our school’s FabLab. http://arespinosa.blogspot.com/2018/12/and-its-inclusive-practices-for-win-or.html
[This is Barbara – Make sure you listen when Andelee explains in the podcast how she encouraged student voice and developed relationships with students from what they shared about themselves in their Learner Profiles.]
Andelee Espinosa, a National Board Certified Teacher, is passionate about meaningful inclusive practices, Universal Design for Learning, Personalized Learning, strengthening co-teaching teams, utilizing Learner Profiles to help students better advocate for themselves in the classroom and conducting student-led IEP meetings. She enjoys integrating activities that promote collaboration, critical thinking and communication such as BreakoutEDU and Project-Based Learning in her classes. In addition to case managing, she co-teaches Biology and Physics. Outside of school, Andelee is actively involved in Destination Imagination and enjoys spending time getting dirty in her butterfly garden or cooking with local and seasonal ingredients.
- Website: http://arespinosa.blogspot.com/
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Twitter: @AndeleeEspinosa
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andelee-espinosa
For all of the Rethinking Learning podcasts with Barbara Bray, click on the podcast tab at the top, the logo below, or go to https://barbarabray.net/podcasts/