Jean Kang, Assistant Professor in the Specialized Education Services department in the UNCG School of Education, discusses the challenges children face transitioning to kindergarten, and what led to her career in Special Education.
1). One of your areas of interest is in a child’s transition to kindergarten – could you discuss the factors that affect this critical stage in a child’s life, and the challenges/opportunities faced by young children with disabilities in today’s schools?
Kindergarten transition is an important experience for many children because it impacts children’s future social and academic performances. Research studies have shown that children who do not adjust well in kindergarten experience difficulties in making friends and keeping up with academic expectations. There is clear evidence that many children experience difficulties in adjusting to kindergarten because of discontinuities between preschool and kindergarten. For example, kindergarten classrooms place more emphasis on academic skills and often do not have as much play time as preschools. Many families also experience changes as their child enters kindergarten such as communication pattern with teachers and expectations on family involvement. For children with disabilities and their families, the transition to kindergarten can be more challenging because of child characteristics, disability type, services need to be provided and a number of people have to be involved.
To make the transition go smoothly, the key is to reduce the discontinuities by preparing not only the child but also the factors surrounding the child (e.g., family, school, community). When those key factors collaborate well and establish strong connections, young children and their families can make a smooth transition to kindergarten and adjust well to the new environment.
2). What do you enjoy most about working in the Specialized Education Services department at UNCG?
There are so many reasons why I love working in SES. If I have to pick one, I would have to say great teamwork. The department has a great group of people who know how to work well with each other, enjoy each other, and respect each other. Although everyone’s area of interest is very different, we still collaborate a lot – everyone doesn’t mind pitching in whenever it is needed.
3). What inspired you to focus your career on Special Education?
I am originally from South Korea. I have a cousin who has a mild physical disability. When we grew up, she was not able to receive formal diagnosis or support by the school because the field of special education was just introduced and the formal system was in a development stage. By watching her go through the educational system, I became aware of the importance of support for individuals with disabilities, especially within educational settings. That was when I started to get interested in Special Education. After studying special education for 4 years in college and completing a number of practicum and student teaching experiences in a variety of settings, I realized my passion is in working with young children with disabilities.
4). What key personal traits and skills must a prospective special education teacher possess in order to become successful in the classroom?
There are many personal traits and skills that are required for future special educators. However, I believe the most important thing is to know how to work well with others because collaboration is the critical in providing the best support for children with disabilities and their families. Another important personal trait a special education teacher must have to be successful in a classroom is respect for differences. It is something that can be easily said but hard to achieve. In a classroom, it means a teacher must be able to create an environment that truly appreciates differences, and be able to design lessons or activities that accept different learning and communication styles. When working with families or other professionals, a teacher must be able to accept different perspectives and working styles.
5). You have taught classes at UNCG on Inclusion and Family Centered Practices, as well as Teaching Methods in Inclusive Settings – could you please talk about what your students experience and learn by the end of the semester in one of your classes?
In SES 602, Inclusion and Family Centered Practices, we discuss different family theories, family sub-systems (marital, parental, sibling, and extended) and challenges many families experience by having a member with disabilities. Another key topic we spend a significant amount of time exploring is family-centered practice, which critically reviews current practices we frequently use in the field when working with families and discusses how those practices impact inclusion of children and students with disabilities. The learning objectives for this course are not only to gain knowledge of family theories and practices but also to reflect on our own beliefs and values of family centered practices. Therefore, students are provided with a variety of opportunities to reflect on their beliefs and values of the issue of family and disability by writing a research paper on the topic of their interest, visiting community agencies, closely working with families of a member with disability, working on a creative expression, and discussing current events related to the issue of families.