Innovative Special Education Teacher Training Program Already Making Impacts in APS Classrooms
Melody Hughes and her son.

Innovative Special Education Teacher Training Program Already Making Impacts in APS Classrooms

The four-term program has created a comprehensive support structure for new teachers that helps them enter the classroom with all the tools they need
June 17, 2020

Melody Hughes got her bachelor’s degree 20 years ago and planned to be an elementary teacher. But then she started a family and one of her sons was diagnosed with autism. Instead of teaching, she spent the following years raising her kids and helping her son. While her son was in school, Melody quickly saw the importance of special education. She also saw how important it was for parents to be part of their kid’s special education experience. 

Fast forward to the present. Melody’s son is mostly grown and she decided it was time to start her career. The obvious choice was to become a special education teacher, which is why she enrolled in CNM’s Special Education Teacher Training program last year.

The four-term program, a collaboration between Albuquerque Public Schools (APS), CNM, and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation (ATF), is designed to prepare teachers like Melody with on-the-ground training from day one. During their first term, SETT students teach four days a week in the classroom alongside a lead teacher and then attend classes one day a week, all while receiving a teacher’s entry-level salary. During the second term and onward, the students are given their own classrooms and continually supported by other teachers and special education-specific programs. 

“I can't imagine stepping into the classroom without the modeling, instruction, and support that the SETT program provided,” says Melody, who’s currently teaching fourth and fifth grade special education students at La Mesa Elementary. 

Kelley Peters, who runs the SETT program at CNM, says the program’s structure has a very intentional design. At any one time, APS usually has over 100 vacancies for special education teachers because the burnout rate is high. She says SETT aims to not only help fill those vacancies but also slow the burnout rate by better preparing new teachers while simultaneously providing the financial support they need to enter the field. 

 “We’re trying to facilitate their entry into the profession so they have the support and network they need to get through the tough times and so that they have their feet firmly underneath them,” Kelley says.  

Nicole Paulson is another student in Melody’s cohort. Before CNM she worked in CYFD and knew she wanted to continue working with children who needed extra help. She was scared to enter the classroom, but says she felt supported the entire way as she began teaching 7th grade special education students at Tony Hillerman Middle School. Her cohort also faced the COVID-19 changes, but she says that was easier to adapt to than expected.

“Moving online was new, but everything in this program has been new and we’ve had lots of help and gotten used to tackling new challenges,” Nicole says. “I think as a cohort we did really well with the transition.”

Ultimately, both Nicole and Melody say they feel lucky to have landed in the CNM program under Kelley Peters. They’re excited to keep teaching and know they have the tools necessary to succeed.

“I can’t say enough about the SETT program and its leadership and approach,” Melody says.

Learn more about the SETT program at their website.