Sandra Sandoval Considers the Victories and Challenges of Special Education

Sandra Sandoval

Over six years after completing her credential at UCSB’s Teacher Education Program, alumna Sandra Sandoval (ESC, M.Ed. '13) remains an unwavering advocate for inclusion. After graduating and becoming a special education teacher, Sandra has poured her energy into creating an inclusive community not only within her classroom, but within the entire school culture through activities such as improving student access to inclusive field trips.

Now Sandra brings her values and dedication to special education to the Elk Grove Unified School District as a Regional Program Specialist, where she provides behavior and education services trainings and support to teachers. She continues her advocacy as she creates policies and changes grounded in a student-centered focus.

We were fortunate to have the chance to chat with Sandra about her experiences in the field  of special education, how our program influenced her teaching, and her advice to future and current TEP students. Thank you for taking the time to share with us, Sandra!

GGSE: What led you to the career path of teaching?
Sandoval: I’ve always worked with students in one capacity or another. After college, I wasn’t sure what to do, so I started subbing as a para-educator. I worked with a student with Down Syndrome and it was my first time working with students with disabilities. I loved being able to see how the small goals he accomplished when we worked together, such as writing his name consistently, brought him a feeling of success. After being a para-educator for two years, I decided to become a special education teacher. 

GGSE: What did you get out of UCSB TEP that you couldn't have gotten anywhere else?
Sandoval: I feel like I came out very prepared. Natalie [Holdren, lecturer and supervisor] and Andrew [Fedders, Interim TEP Director and special education teacher] did a really great job of making assignments applicable and worthwhile. More importantly, they taught with a purpose: to be student-focused and cognitive of the needs of our students and how to address them. They were both so passionate in advocating for students with disabilities, and they built that passion into us. Ultimately that really framed the way that we started thinking about not just our students, but writing IEPs and thinking about our students’ futures. I think that has helped me be so driven in creating opportunities for students.

GGSE: What attributes or commitments do you think are needed in future special education teachers?
Sandoval: Future teachers need to have a passion and a drive to be an advocate for their students. Teaching is not just teaching a lesson, but providing student support in all areas of need and working within systems to make that happen. Being a special education teacher is definitely difficult, but life-altering, especially if you maintain a student focus.

GGSE: What is your advice to current TEP students?
Sandoval: Make mistakes. You are still in a protected environment, so take advantage of that by taking chances and making mistakes. If it’s possible, take on leadership opportunities to learn how to be a leader both within the classroom and the school community.