Ask a Teacher

Jen Kilpatrick

Deaf Education Teacher Shares Her Teaching Wisdom

After earning a bachelor’s degree in special education from Liberty University in 2003, Jen Kilpatrick began her career teaching students with a wide range of low- and high-incidence disabilities at the K-12 level before focusing in on the field of deaf education.

Kilpatrick went on to earn master’s degrees in deaf education and literacy education while teaching at residential schools for the deaf. She’s currently pursuing her doctoral degree in literacy studies at The University of Tennessee, where she works as a research associate on several studies examining the writing skill development of deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

While Kilpatrick isn’t convinced that she’s done teaching deaf students in her own classroom, she aspires to teach future educators. She also wants to continue researching the language and literacy development of deaf students as well as the training and professional development of the teachers who work with these students.

Reflecting back to your first year as an educator, what was the one thing you found most valuable in training?

Kilpatrick: “In one of my courses, we developed our own standards and created pacing guides and lesson plans in year-long curriculum plan that addressed those standards. We integrated art, music, physical education, and character traits. It was very in-depth. At the time, I saw no value in this hypothetical project.”

“Now I see that this assignment was valuable, not because of the product, but because of the process. It taught me how to be independent, how to determine what information was important for my students to know, and how to make a plan to teach those things.”

“In special education, you have to be autonomous. You have to be able to look at a situation that you’re encountering for the first time and make a decision about how you’re going to proceed. In retrospect, this assignment was one way that my training prepared me to be a special educator.”

What kinds of qualities do you think are best for a special education teacher to possess?

Kilpatrick: “Flexibility and passion. Without flexibility and passion you’ll forget what’s important and why you do what you do. The day will never go as planned, but there are always teachable moments to be found – sometimes for the kids, sometimes for the teachers.”

What do you think is the most challenging part of your job?

Kilpatrick: “Special educators are super heroes – really they are. Still it is impossible to meet every need. We can’t solve every problem. And we certainly can’t right every wrong. Sometimes it’s tough to accept that we are, after all, still human.”

What discipline methods do you find work best for students with special needs?

Kilpatrick: “Consistency and understanding. We have to be clear about our expectations and we have to be consistent with enforcing those expectations. But, we must also recognize that behavior is a form of communication. We have to figure out what it is our students are trying to express and then teach them more acceptable ways to meet their needs.”

Being a new teacher can be a bit nerve-wracking. Any tips to ease the first-year jitters?

Kilpatrick: “There will be ups and downs. Celebrate the successes and learn from the mistakes. Know that you aren’t supposed to know it all. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And never forget why you wanted to teach special education students.”

Do you still have the same perspective on teaching special education as when you started?

Kilpatrick: “I think my perspective changes on a yearly basis, maybe even daily! If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that there is no one perspective. I’m still learning. We all are. Sometimes, my students are the best teachers. They’ve taught me to see the world in a whole new way. And for that, I am thankful.”

How do you stay motivated throughout the school year?

Kilpatrick: “Staying positive keeps me motivated. Every morning, I listen to a song titled ‘It’s a New Day’ while I drive to work. It reminds me that no matter what happened yesterday, today is a new day.”

“Every afternoon, I write down one positive thing that happened. It’s a lot easier to stay motivated when you choose to dwell on the things that you love about your job.”

Is there a specific moment you experienced while teaching that is memorable to you? Why?

Kilpatrick: “After nearly a decade in education, it’s nearly impossible to name one moment. There are so many. Recently, a former student sent me an email to tell me, ‘You have to read this book! It’s so, so, so good. I know you will love it!’ “

“As a reading teacher, it warms my heart to know that I have shared my love of reading with students. It’s always wonderful to know that you have made an impact on your students that has lasted beyond the time they spent in your classroom.”

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