Emily Stegall’s ESE Class

Students never really know what to expect when they walk into Emily Stegall’s Survey of the Exceptional Learner (ESE) class.

This class is required for all education majors, based on the fact that schools nationwide have moved to an inclusive classroom format where ESE* and non-ESE students learn side-by side. The course is intended to help pre-service teachers effectively teach students of varying abilities, but Stegall takes that goal even further.

First-hand experience

In Stegall’s ESE class, SEU students may find themselves sticking their hand inside a large toy called “Ned’s Head” to pull out “fidget” objects that provide sensory input, which can be helpful for students with sensory processing challenges or autism. They might write words on their desks with shaving cream, which demonstrates a way to engage students using multiple senses.

Students also have the unique opportunity to experience a class that has been modified so that they can actually feel what it is like to have a disability while learning. Through an innovative and very creative format, Stegall creates ways for her SEU students to experience a class as if they have a disability, such as dyslexia, ADHD, fine motor challenges, and hearing or visual impairments.

“I believe that experiencing something is the best way to not only learn about it, but to empathize with it,” Stegall explains. “As teachers, we meet students from all walks of life, each with their own needs. Even students who aren’t classified as ESE have their preferred ways of learning. Understanding and actually experiencing how to reach these students is critical to a teacher’s success.”

Throughout the class students create a binder full of ideas that they can use when they have students with learning challenges, a listing of where to find or how to make learning tools, and reliable resources that can help them when they get “stuck.” Stegall has had many students come back and say how useful this binder has been in their student-teaching, their internships and their classrooms.

Teaching success

Stegall teaches using the format “information/application/reflection.” This means that once the students receive the information and apply it to a situation, she ensures that they then evaluate how the experience made them feel. This information is also recorded in their course binders for easy future reference.

Stegall explains that the key to reaching students of all abilities is to meet them where they are. She cites an example of a young student who was so preoccupied with the characters of a cartoon television show that he didn’t want to focus on a math task in her class. So instead of trying to make him comply with the lesson, she made the lesson comply with him. She used the characters and situations from the show to teach the boy the math concept and not only did the student catch on, he got excited about learning and wanted to know more. It’s stories like this that help Stegall’s SEU students see how they can use their own ideas, knowledge and abilities in their future classrooms.

It’s about time

Stegall recognizes that some students may come to college with little-to-no skills when it comes to personal time management for classes, papers, exams, and extracurricular commitments. Even those that juggled a lot in high school may have trouble adapting to the rigors of college.

“I love the opportunity to provide mentorship in this critical skill,” she explains. That’s why she offers any of her students the opportunity to sit down with them and plan out their semester using their planners, course syllabi and the university calendar. These skills are critical to their success in college, and ultimately as teachers. “Successful teaching isn’t just about classroom management … it’s also about time management and prioritization.”

Bringing Christ into the classroom

While teaching in public school Stegall, like many teachers, recognized that a student would not be able to learn if, due to their personal circumstances, their basic needs were not being met. She kept a box of anything a child might need (food, socks, clean shirts, etc.) and she would take a few minutes at the start of each day to ensure that each child felt taken care of before she started trying to teach them anything. And it worked.

“You can always incorporate the fruits of the Spirit into your classroom, even in a public school,” Stegall explains. “It’s as simple as ensuring that your students feel safe, respected and cared for. Students can feel God’s love through your example.”

While new to SEU’s full-time faculty, Emily Stegall is no stranger to the university, having earned two master’s degrees here and then working in an adjunct and faculty-at-large capacity. Stegall also brings more than 13 years of classroom experience in the Polk County school system.

* In Florida, children who have special learning needs are called exceptional students. Exceptional students include children who have disabilities and children who are classified as gifted. The accommodations these students are given at school are called exceptional student education, most often referred to as ESE. Source: fldoe.org

Emily Stegall teaches in SEU’s College of Education, and is just one of our many high-caliber faculty members.