Ozarks education grads realize their dreams

Release Date: 7/2/2012

One of the most gratifying experiences for a university can be hearing back from its successful graduates. It's good to know when you're on the right track.

One example of this came in the form of an email from Lara Maddox, a special education elementary teacher who graduated from Ozarks in 2011 and is now employed by the nearby Lamar (Ark.) School District.

"Yesterday, we held interviews for the two special education job openings in our school district," she wrote. "There were seven people total who interviewed. Some of these people were veteran teachers and others were (recent) graduates from other colleges. My building principal was there for every interview and talked to me about them afterward. He asked if U of O graduates were given classes on how to interview for a job. I told him we always do mock interviews at the end of the year."

Maddox said the two applicants from Ozarks - Tadera Garland and Amy Scaccia - took a different tack than the other applicants with some of the questions.

"He told me they asked all the applicants a question regarding how to implement differentiated learning in the special education classroom," she said. "That's a pretty technical question in a way. All of the interviewees except for two said they would put students into groups. The other two interviewees, who just happen to be from Ozarks, went a different direction with their answers. These two mentioned how special education classes are already in small groups, and they both went on to explain how they would create lessons and assessments to fit the students' individual learning styles, because all students learn differently."

Maddox said she smiled when she heard about those responses. "I told him hey, that's just the result of four years in Ozarks' education department. He laughed and said U of O must be doing something right because those two people are the ones we are offering jobs to. If they accept, there will be an Ozarks graduate in each of the buildings of the Lamar School District in the special education department. We are taking over!"

Both students did accept the job offers with Lamar.

"I'm very impressed with not only how well U of O prepares its graduates for the interview process, but also their student-teaching internships," said Lamar Middle School Principal Jay Holland. "Unfortunately, I only got one of them - Tadera Garland. The high school got the other one."

"My dream has always been to teach," said Garland. "I truly feel that the real-life teaching experiences I was exposed to through U of O has benefited me the most of all the things I learned there. Ozarks' education program provides its students with the opportunity to observe and teach in a variety of settings. Some people believe that the field of education consists of an endless number of jobs. This is not the case. It is a very competitive field that requires a specific set of skills and knowledge to be successful in. I came prepared."

She went on to provide an example. "An event from my student-teaching experience comes to mind. It was only my second week as a student-teacher, and my cooperating teacher, who was mentoring me, called in sick one day. A lot of teachers were sick at the time due to a bug, and there were a limited number of substitute teachers available, so I had the class all by myself. At first I went into a panic! But then I remembered what I had been taught about 'modify and adjust' and the value of relying on colleagues as necessary. I used those two simple concepts I'd learned in class at Ozarks to get through the day successfully."

Maddox recalled her own early experiences. "My stomach was in knots the very first day of school," she said. "I wanted everything to be perfect. But imagine my surprise when I got to school and the veteran teachers were just as nervous as I was. I guess that feeling never goes away. Nothing goes perfectly. It's how you handle what happens that sets the tone. What has helped me the most was the opportunity as a student to go out into real classrooms and practice what we had learned. Ozarks makes that opportunity available far more so than most education programs."

She acknowledged the difficulties as well as the rewards of teaching. "Being a teacher isn't easy," she said. "Luckily for me, 'easy' is not what I signed up for when I made the choice to go into education. I spend about two to three hours each night working on lesson plans, grading papers, and doing paperwork for special needs students. The real reward comes when a student has the 'ah-ha' moment. I love watching the expressions on their faces when they figure out something for the first time. That really does make it all worthwhile."

Amy Scaccia, who interviewed with Garland and was hired as special education teacher at Lamar High School, spoke highly of the mentoring she received at Ozarks. "Dr. Glenda Ezell and the education department at U of O have given me a tremendous amount of support and encouragement for the job market and for furthering my career and for my professional growth," she said. "I can't think of a better role model for any teacher than Dr. Ezell.  I am eternally grateful to the education department for helping me realize my dream of teaching."

As Education Division Chair Dr. Glenda Ezell put it, "Our students succeed because we continue to train them in the cutting-edge educational philosophies that place them in the forefront of applicants for teaching positions, no matter where they apply. They represent the 'new-news' in education, wherever they end up."

Garland is ready to start her first day in class as a teacher. "Even though I have not officially started teaching, I am very excited for my first day," she said. "I am expecting that my first day will be similar to the experiences I had as a student-teacher, expect for being more prepared. I'm nervous, but excited, because I know that Ozarks has prepared me well."

Having gotten her education degree and successfully landed her first teaching job, Garland had a simple piece of advice to give those graduates still searching for a job. "It's just this," she said. "Do not settle for anything less than you deserve. You have trained in a very specialized field and deserve the best. So go get it."