Providing Support for “Strong and Sturdy Teachers”

Bethel faculty are committed to supporting everyone who works in the special education field. Through hosting events like Camp Hope and the Refresh Gathering, they’re making a space for special education professionals to experience renewal, be taken care of, and receive encouragement from colleagues in the field.

By Katie Johnson '19, content specialist

June 24, 2022 | Noon

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We see you, special education professionals. We see you, and we want to honor you.

This is the heart beating within Bethel’s special education programs, according to Katie Bonawitz, who serves as program director for Bethel’s M.A. in Special Education and graduate licensure programs and as assistant dean of the Center for Access and Integration. Bonawitz and her colleagues are eager to support Bethel students throughout their education, equipping them with skills to write a strong resume, to interview well, and to live into the probationary status as a new teacher. Bethel faculty also offer their expertise to special education alumni and professionals outside the community through their books, resources, and educational retreats.

This year, special education faculty have been especially invested in the wellbeing of their students and alumni and have been intentional about offering renewal resources during the summer. When asked about her personal desire to support special education professionals, Bonawitz teared up and said, “It just hurts my heart so much to know that many children with disabilities in the schools haven't had teachers this year. They have people subbing that may or may not have any experience and knowledge on how to serve their needs. That’s partly because of COVID, but it's also partly because these teachers are exhausted. If we can fill them up in some small way in order to help them remember why they're doing what they're doing, then why wouldn't we?”

Here are a few ways Bethel honors the call to support special education professionals both across the institution and across the Twin Cities:

Refresh Gathering

The Anderson Center Community Room was bustling on the morning of June 15 with hugs, conversation, and a time to connect with others in the special education field. For the second year in a row, Bethel’s special education programs hosted the Refresh Gathering to intentionally honor teachers who had recently finished their school year. Anyone working in the special education field, regardless of their Bethel connection, was invited to gather and enjoy treats from Dunn Brothers, Chick-Fil-A and Brueggers Bagels, live music, professional development opportunities, donated door prizes, and time with a therapy dog named Hubble.

Bonawitz, who collaborated with other staff and faculty in the special education department, is impressed by how her colleagues stepped up to offer support for the Refresh Gathering. Some faculty members donated gift cards to bookstores and coffee shops as door prizes while others helped make posters and invited former students. “Our whole team cares about special education professionals deeply,” Bonawitz says. “Everyone just steps up and says, ‘How can I help?’ We really care about our teachers and want to intentionally honor them.”


Camp Hope | Photo credit: Sierra Hegstrom with Que Sera Sera Photography

Camp Hope

Associate Professors of Education Peg McCormick and Geri Von Grey helped facilitate Camp Hope, a 44-hour retreat held for the first time on Bethel’s campus from June 16-18. Camp Hope provided emotional and spiritual restoration for elementary and high school educators. Campers enjoyed great meals, connected with other teachers, experienced outdoor micro-adventures, and learned about the Science of Hope theory as a pathway to increased personal and professional wellness. McCormick is known for saying that Bethel programs help equip “strong and sturdy teachers” for their leadership in the classroom, and this retreat is part of that equipping process.

“Camp Hope exceeded our hopes and expectations,” says McCormick. “Our 13 attendees represented a wide range of years in the field, age, gender and diversity. One highlight was floating lanterns on the lake at Silverwood Park at sunset. That experience meant something different to each person, but the basic message was this: how does it feel to put your hope on the water? Can we accept that there are things we can and cannot control and can we find peace with that?”

With events like the Refresh Gathering and Camp Hope, Bonawitz hopes the dedicated time and space offer support to special education professionals and ultimately help promote longevity in the field. She acknowledges that special education professionals are leaving classrooms for valid reasons, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, but she also knows how important it is for students and their families to have a consistent teacher presence from year to year. That consistency prevents regression and sends the message to families that teachers know and care about their child.

“We want Bethel to be known as a university that cares for new teachers from the start of their education, through induction and beyond,” says McCormick. “After the initial investment to earn their degrees, we want to support their ability to enjoy a long career as educators and to see Bethel as a place where they alumni always return to connect with their professors, restore their vision for the field, and have a place to rest and be acknowledged at the end of a school year.”

Camp Hope | Photo credit: Sierra Hegstrom with Que Sera Sera Photography

Camp Hope | Photo credit: Sierra Hegstrom with Que Sera Sera Photography

Loving Your Job in Special Education: 50 Tips and Tools 

In an effort to support special educators as they enter the field, Adjunct Instructor of Special Education Rachel Jorgensen wrote a book called Loving Your Job in Special Education: 50 Tips and Tools, which will be released this November. Jorgensen shared her expertise as the speaker at the Refresh Gathering, noting that burnout is more prevalent in special education teachers than general education teachers. She wrote her book as a response to the research about teacher turnover. “Teacher turnover is a huge impediment to the effectiveness of programming for students in special education,” she says. “Students need us to approach our work with energy, joy, love, and hopeful hearts.”

“The Bethel community is built on the tenets of love, grace, diligent work before God and joyful dedication to all of life's experiences. I believe that future teachers who attend Bethel will carry this with them throughout their careers.”

— Rachel Jorgensen, adjunct instructor of special education
Jorgensen hopes that the summer proves to be a time for special educators to refresh themselves and nurture their hearts. She prays that educators return to their classrooms “ready to bring love and the gift of learning to students who need it most.” She encourages teachers to take time to get outside or experience a new adventure that nourishes their spirits rather than drains their energy.

Adjunct Instructor of Special Education Rachel Jorgensen spoke on her book, Loving Your Job in Special Education: 50 Tips and Tools, at the Refresh Gathering.

Become a compassionate leader in special education.

When you join one of our special education programs, you’ll be equipped to help students reach their full potential. Teaching children with disabilities is a high calling, and our faculty members are here to support you every step of the way. Through stand-alone licensures, flexible bachelor's degree programs, masters-level work, and even Doctor of Education coursework specific to directing special education programs, there's a Bethel program to fit every stage of educational preparation.

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