Meet the passionate Dr. Arleen Wheat, Point Park University’s Associate Professor and Special Education Coordinator, M.A. and M.Ed. in Special Education PreK-12 Programs.
What programs do you teach at Point Park University? What drew you to this field of study? What keeps you excited about it?
I teach across all levels at Point Park University in the education department. This includes undergraduate special education courses, graduate online special education courses, and doctoral program courses. In addition, I am the chairperson for several dissertation committees.
I love teaching at Point Park University. After 35 years as a public educator, I have an opportunity to develop future special educators and leaders in education. I spent more than half my public education career as an administrator. But when I came to Point Park University and began teaching in the classroom, I fell in love with teaching again. Because in my heart and soul, I am a teacher.
I always thought of education as a calling for me. I am genuinely passionate about special education. I never felt as though my teaching and administrative career was a job.
How will your programs better prepare/equip educators for the current climate they are facing? How will it help them tackle today’s education challenges?
Practitioners design the education programs at Point Park University in the field.
The course content and embedded experiences are very realistic to schools and classrooms. None of us predicted how the COVID-19 pandemic influenced how we teach. But together, we worked to ensure that our students and student teachers could continue with their teaching experiences even though we shifted our teaching platforms to online learning. We modified, adjusted, and adapted our instruction as needed. These are qualities of a good teacher.
What attracted you to teach at Point Park University? What sets them apart?
Point Park University is a very diverse campus within an urban environment. Today’s classrooms are very diverse, and teachers need to become culturally responsive to the needs of the students in their classrooms. I love the melting pot of differences at the university, as I believe this makes us a stronger community.
I also love working with the other professors in the education department. We are supportive of each other and work collaboratively as a team of educators to ensure that our students have the best programs possible.
What is your professional background as an educator?
I have a bachelors, a masters, and a doctoral degree. I am certified as a special education PreK-12 teacher, a K-12 principal, a supervisor of special education, and have a Superintendent Letter of Eligibility.
I taught as a special education teacher and then became a Supervisor of Special Education classrooms for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit. I have also been a Director of Special Education for the Armstrong School District and an Assistant Superintendent of Special Education and Pupil Services for the North Allegheny School District.
Tell us a little about yourself. Why did you become interested in education?
I have always wanted to be a teacher. In elementary school, the teachers would call my mother to come and pick me up as I never wanted to leave school. My family would tease me about being a perpetual student. I like to refer to that as being a lifelong learner.
I started at Indiana University as an elementary teacher. Still, when I had an opportunity to work with students with disabilities, I fell in love with the idea of becoming a special education teacher. And back then, you could not have a dual certification as you now can at Point Park University. I always thought of education as a calling for me.
What would you tell prospective students considering your programs about yourself? What’s something that students and colleagues should know about you?
I am passionate about the field of special education. It does not take long for students to recognize that passion. I tell them that I have been blessed to have found my life’s work. I walked into the field of education full of excitement about my career, and the day I retired from public education, I still felt that same excitement and passion about education. I hope my students experience that same “gift.”
What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing their special education graduate degree? How can people stand out in this field?
I always believed that students with disabilities need the most talented teachers in the field. Be passionate about your students. Be excited every day to see them as your enthusiasm will help support their learning and self-esteem. To those students, you are the one teacher who understands them the best.
The students deserve 100% of you each day. When I was hiring special education teachers, I looked for those with the “heart” to work alongside students with disabilities. Not every day is easy. In fact, most days you go home very tired. But, when that student finally learns to read or do a math problem or tie their shoes, there is no greater feeling in the world. Be the difference in a child’s life!