Recent SOE graduate reflects on becoming special education teacher
Amanda Steeley and family at graduation

Amanda Steeley with her family at her graduation in 2015

After recently receiving her master’s degree in special education, Amanda Steeley’s focus shifted to becoming comfortable in her classroom, understanding the ins and outs of special education law and discovering the best ways to meet the needs of her students so they can be contributing community members when they grow up.

“I just feel like teaching is where I am supposed to be,” Steeley said. “I had a lot of different jobs before I ended up in education and it’s just such a blessing when you figure out what you want to do and have the right support to be able to make it happen.”

One of her first introductions into the education field came through a job at The Faison School for Autism, which had an affiliation with VCU. While working on her undergraduate degree in mass communications at the time, the option to have some credits paid for and also work with kids, influenced Steeley to work for the The Faison School for Autism.

“Students who go there are pretty high need and it was definitely a unique environment. I just felt right there,” Steeley said. “It influenced my desire to teach because I learned the value of using students’ interests to drive motivation and instruction.”

After finding that teaching served as the perfect fit for using her creativity and energy, Steeley joined the VCU School of Education as a student in the M.Ed. in special education program. She chose to continue her education at VCU because of the convenience of the school’s location and her experience earning her undergraduate degree at the university.

“It’s just such a blessing when you figure out what you want to do and have the right support to be able to make it happen.” – Amanda Steeley

Although she had experience working with a private school system through The Faison School for Autism, Steeley decided to do her externship in the public school system at Goochland Elementary School where she continued to work after graduation.

“I love education and I love children: I just feel that as teachers, we are so blessed to get to work with the best population out there, and that is our youth,” Steeley said. “I wake up every day happy to go to work, go to sleep every night exhausted, and I love it.”

In the future, Steeley hopes to help support other students and possibly get her doctorate. Special education law is also important to her because she wants to ensure that she serves as a resource for students as they learn how to self-advocate. Not only does she want to be an asset to students, but to parents and her school district as well.

To students interested in following similar career paths as her own, Steeley encouraged others to “stay as positive as possible and know that all the work you’re doing will benefit you in the field.” When she herself was a student, her advisor Dr. LaRon Scott and professors such as Dr. Colleen Thoma became the “village of support” she needed to reach her desired lifestyle.

Thoma, professor and chair of the Department of Counseling and Special Education, first met Steeley when she was considering the M.Ed. program. While there were many talented and dedicated students in the master’s program, Thoma reflected on how Steeley’s “passion for learning and ensuring that students with disabilities have access to high quality education, set her apart.” To Thoma, Steeley demonstrated a passion for learning and a desire to make a difference in the lives of children and youth with disabilities.

“Now that she has graduated and is teaching in her own classroom, I often hear from her about some of the innovative, research-based strategies she is not only implementing in her own classroom,” Thoma said. “She has not lost her enthusiasm for learning and I have no doubt that her students are fortunate to have her as a teacher.”