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Victoria Valentine portrait.

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A special education for a special educator

Victoria Valentine always knew she wanted to be a teacher, but it wasn’t until she volunteered at a summer camp during sixth grade that she realized she wanted to pursue special education.

During the camp, Valentine was assigned to work with a young autistic boy and began to see the world from his perspective.

“He taught me how important it is for individuals with different strengths to be given the opportunity to work together because of the various positive outcomes it allows in the areas of social understanding, problem-solving and self-awareness,” said Valentine, who is on track to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Special Education from Northeastern Illinois University in 2019. “Promoting respect and acceptance of individuals with various strengths and needs provides a platform for growth in our society.”

Valentine, a native of Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood, arrived at Northeastern in 2015 after graduating from Northside College Prep.

“Making the decision to come to Northeastern was one of the best decisions I have made for my career because of all the ways it has supported me,” she said. “Coming here has been an all-around life-changing experience and has allowed me to make so many meaningful and surprising connections with fellow students and staff.”

Credit Valentine for taking advantage of every opportunity Northeastern has to offer. In just a few short years, she has worked with the Campus Recreation office’s Adventure Program, served as treasurer of the Student Council for Exceptional Children, traveled to three special education conferences, tutored for TRIO Student Support Services and participated in two clinical classroom experiences. Along the way, she earned the Daniel L. Goodwin College of Education Scholarship and the Golden Apple Scholarship.

“Victoria’s personal strengths are as impressive as her academic accomplishments,” Special Education Instructor Deena Soffer Goldstein said. “She is intuitive, kind, enthusiastic and confident—attributes that will make her an incredible teacher.”

Valentine has already completed two very different clinical classroom experiences, which are required to provide Special Education students with an introduction to student teaching in which teacher candidates teach in the classroom, but only for a few lessons per day.

The first clinical experience was in a self-contained classroom made up of students with behavioral disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder in an elementary school on the Northwest Side of Chicago. The classroom fostered a structured environment with each student’s schedule posted on the wall. Among academic activities, students participated in “group” every day, which offered an opportunity for the students to work on their social and emotional learning skills such as taking turns, making eye contact during conversation, asking follow-up questions and expressing their thoughts.

The second was in a high school classroom that co-teaches in settings that include students with and without disabilities. In the classroom’s resource classes, which provide a smaller teacher-to-student ratio for students with disabilities, Valentine helped to manage differentiating instruction based on individuals’ needs.

“I worked with a student with Down syndrome on developing independent living skills with money management,” Valentine said. “I also implemented lessons on adding and subtracting fractions in a resource setting with real-life applications in measuring amounts for recipes.”

Valentine will move into a full student teaching role in Spring 2019, and eventually wants to work with students in middle or high school with emotional and behavior disorders, intellectual disabilities, or a combination of both.

“I feel like my long-term goals are changing with all the experiences that I have within special education,” Valentine said. “My philosophy is to promote acceptance and understanding of individuals with disabilities and provide them with meaningful experiences they can generalize to independent living in order to have a self-determined future with as many opportunities for independence as possible.”

Valentine’s potential for great success is something College of Arts and Sciences Education Program (CASEP) Coordinator and Instructor Melanie Bujan recognized early on, when she encouraged Valentine to apply for the program that is designed for future teachers.

“The variety of classes I took through this mindfully structured program helped me become a more thoughtful writer and a more engaging presenter, as well as provided me with meaningful electives to help me better understand the politics of teaching,” Valentine said. “This cohort model connected me with fellow future teachers in the various content areas and grade levels that led me to opportunities within my career path and on campus.”

Bujan has enjoyed seeing Valentine grow as she grows closer to earning her degree.

“Victoria is not only an academically gifted student but also a kind and caring human being,” Bujan said. “There are some students out there who are going to benefit from an amazing future teacher, and I am proud to say that she was one of my students.”

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