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A Heart for Special Needs

by Monica Smith

Oct 01, 2019, 9:00 AM.

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An M.S. in special education student profile.

When Veronica Larios started her master’s degree in special education, she didn’t know she’d spend the majority of it pregnant and delivering a baby in the middle of the semester. But she is determined to make it to her December graduation from Florida International University. Thankfully, her professors have been extremely accommodating.

A graduate of Miami-Dade College, and resident of Miami, Larios applied to a special federal grant initiative to obtain a master’s degree from FIU in special education. She’s one of only a handful of students who were selected for the competitive online program that features some on-campus courses and she couldn’t be more excited about the learning techniques she’s absorbed to solve behavioral issues in the classroom, she said.

“Students with disabilities are talented and capable of so many wonderful things. They deserve advocacy and support,” she declared.

Benefits of Program

A high school special education teacher for more than two years, Larios teaches non-native English speakers. She likes FIU’s online/hybrid master’s degree program because it takes less than two years to complete and offers summer “intensives,” which worked with her schedule. With summers off, she was able to get a good chunk of classes done and online learning allows her to study on her time—around doctor’s appointments for her pregnancy. When she graduates in December, she’ll be able to apply for her state Autism Endorsement. Larios appreciates that teaching on how to work with culturally and linguistically diverse students is embedded in every course. This is crucial to the Miami special needs teacher.

“I have always loved working with people who have special needs. I started at a young age and haven't stopped since. My heart continues to grow for them; it makes me emotional,” she said as her eyes welled with tears describing the successes and failures she’s experienced with her students.

Making Connections

Larios said her biggest challenge with her job is her emotions because she becomes so determined to see her students succeed, so it can be hard when they don’t. She admitted that there are plenty of failures, but that you have to remain positive.

“There will be a next time. In all things in life, you fail at things. But I don’t see failures as negative—they’re part of the learning process,” she explained and said that she stays motivated when her students are happy. At the same time, she derives strength through the love she has for her special needs students. She described how important it is to put love into everything you do in special education.  

"I make sure to guide everything in my classroom with love, whether it is a lesson or just a conversation with a student. It's the little things that make a big difference to students, even something as small as remembering their favorite color, she explained. “When students know you care about them, they are more receptive.”

Increased Skills

"I realized that I had built a relationship of trust when one of my students, in the midst of a medical emergency, was worried about me being there with him through it all. Before he left my class at the end of the year, he told me 'thank you for being my friend.' I was able to reach this student through trust and my presence made him feel safe. There's no better feeling than that,” Larios recounted as she proclaimed that she’ll be teaching for years to come after she graduates and is thankful for all of the new skills and research she’s learned from her online program.

Teaching is a profession that requires lots of love. As a teacher, it is important to always be positive, and keep a light heart. Students need that from us,” she concluded. “I’m going to continue to teach and hopefully become a better advocate for all of my students as well as a more effective teacher.”