Julia Van Ness, B.S.E. '18, now an 8th grade special education inclusion teacher, recalls her time as an undergraduate student in the Elementary and Special Education program at Seton Hall University. Van Ness describes her first moments at the College of Education and Human Services as her “new home” to inspire others to become educators themselves, in which Seton Hall provides experiential learning opportunities and dedicated faculty for students to grow in their field.
With early career success, Van Ness speaks to newcomers about her journey before, during and post-graduation with monumental moments that shaped her into the well-rounded, inclusion-focused educator she is now.
Dear Future Educators,
In my college search, it became clear that Seton Hall was meant to be my new home during a College of Education and Human Services (CEHS) “Brunch with the Dean” event. My mom encouraged me to come, and the community came alive for us in this intimate space. Students expressed that their professors deeply care about their pupils and that nobody is ever viewed as “a number.” With a highly trained faculty, student-centered focus, and preclinical experiences beginning one year earlier than most universities, CEHS soared above the other education programs I had explored. The Dean at the time, Dr. Grace May, sat with me and my mom at length, fielding our questions and inviting me to sit in on a class. Dr. May demonstrated the same personal approach that I saw in all of my professors, each being as invested in us as we were taught to be in our students. Just to prove that dedication goes beyond words, four years later, I left Dr. May, my Senior Seminar professor, a panicked voicemail when faced with an edTPA error on the night it was due. She responded in the middle of the night from her vacation in Iceland!
At Seton Hall, I was chasing my dream to become an elementary school teacher without realizing that I was actually preparing for middle school inclusion. Every class I completed in the Elementary Special Education program taught us in the framework of the diverse classroom; we were constantly taught how to differentiate our lessons for various types of learners who had their own unique strengths and needs. Even though many of us were aiming to become general education classroom teachers, it was unquestionable that we needed to know how to approach a diverse student body and ensure that every student had equal opportunities to learn in our classrooms. I completed several courses about disabilities, ranging from comprehensive overviews to specific categories of disability, gaining exposure to writing for Individualized Education Programs, creating and monitoring student learning goals, designing effective assessments, Applied Behavior Analysis, and identifying possible signs of a disability.
The College of Education and Human Services prioritizes getting its students into the field as soon as possible and so beginning my sophomore year I was already accruing hours in various elementary settings. During my Senior year, I had an excellent student teaching experience in a 4th grade inclusion class in Cranford. I joined a team comprised of a general education teacher, special education inclusion teacher, and instructional aide. I witnessed how co-teachers planned lessons, evaluated student progress, experimented with new teaching strategies, and shared the stage in their teaching for the benefit of all students.
Since my program equipped me with four different teaching certifications, I was eligible to apply for jobs spanning grades Pre-K to 12! I never saw myself as a middle school teacher, yet I had several interviews and offers for middle school special education thanks to my elementary inclusion background. While most middle school special education teachers work in just one academic area, I knew how to differentiate in all four main areas (science, language arts, history, and math) and had experience collaborating with a team of teachers, both extremely valuable characteristics in my field. Now, I have happily been an 8th grade special education inclusion teacher since I graduated from SHU in 2018.
Seton Hall offers exceptional special education training within the elementary education program. I am beyond grateful to the faculty for equipping me with rich experiences, effective and contemporary instructional practices, and an eye for seeing the child before the disability.
Julia Van Ness
Seton Hall University, Class of 2018