When Jesse Arvidson '20 applied for a social studies teaching position at South St. Paul Secondary, over 180 candidates submitted applications. When he wanted to transition to special education, the competition wasn't quite as stiff.
In fact, there were no other candidates. As in, zero.
Part of the reason, according to a 2016-2017 U.S. Department of Education report, is the consistent teacher shortage across the country. Minnesota was no exception, and special education is a space where the shortfall was felt most acutely.
The trend, Arvidson said, is alive and well today.
"Working with these students who have unique needs, I noticed that there was a big gap in the industry," Arvidson said. "There are not a lot of people who want to do this work — there's a big shortage for special ed."
Arvidson graduated with his M.S. in Teaching in 2018 through the Graduate Teaching Licensure program at St. Scholastica while concurrently teaching social studies. There, he became acquainted with special education students and felt he needed to shift his focus.
"I was teaching social studies and the opportunity came to do a Setting III Emotional Behavior Disorder (EBD) classroom in special education, and I just fell in love with it," said Arvidson, whose students exhibit disabilities across the broad areas of social, emotional, adaptive and academic development. "These are the students that probably need the most help; the ones I could help the most."
"Their needs make me want to help them."
Arvidson — who is currently teaching on a variance while he earns his license — said that teaching in special education has a distinct appeal that accompanies its challenges.
"There's always something new, there's always something interesting," Arvidson said. "My big thing is that I'm calm and centered and I'm helping them find their calm and center. It's figuring out how we appropriately express our needs and desires."
For Arvidson, the Graduate Special Education Licensure program couldn't have been rolled out a better time.
"At the same time I was transitioning to special education, it just so happened that St. Scholastica came out with the program. It just feels like it was meant to be," said Arvidson, who also serves as the advisor for the South St. Paul Key Club, which promotes volunteerism amongst students. "The professors are amazing; they have real-world knowledge and they share it generously."
Arvidson said that the Graduate Special Education Licensure program has been especially helpful to him, as he is able to apply what he learns in almost real time.
"What's amazing with this program is that it impacts me every day," Arvidson said. "It's not just the philosophy, it's the practical aspect. It's ‘How do you create positive behavior improvement plans? How do you work with students in crisis and help them grow?'
"We get into all of it."
As he moves forward, Arvidson is excited to serve his students as a more fully empowered educator. He also believes this program can have an impact in growing empathy and capacity for teachers who may never solely teach special education students.
"What's great about this program is that no matter your path, you're going to better serve the whole student population when you're done," Arvidson said. "The skills you learn in this program will affect your teaching for years to come."
Learn how you can transition to the field of special education. Study online and obtain your Graduate Special Education Licensure through The College of St. Scholastica.