Claire Villard, MST ’13, Teaching Students with Disabilities in Middle School

Claire Villard, MST ’13, had a successful career in PR, marketing and advertising, but something was missing. She wanted to make a difference, and made a career change into teaching.

“I decided to become a teacher because I wanted to make an impactful and positive difference in the lives of children,” Villard said. “I wanted to help empower them to use knowledge, education and resources to find their own voice and passions. By using the classroom and teaching as my medium, I wanted to help craft future generations of kind, informed and productive members of society.”

Villard came to Pace through the New York City Teaching Fellows Program, which hires and prepares highly motivated and dedicated professionals to work in New York City public schools. The program is a highly selective alternative preparation program, one which Pace University has proudly partnered for several years.

When she began the Fellows program, Villard began working in District 75, a special education district for New York City students. It is an especially high-need setting, one that can seem daunting to even seasoned educators. But not Villard.

“I chose a special education route to teaching so that high needs populations, in particular, could receive caring support and quality teaching,” she said. “I’m very passionate about my students and helping them to become good people and critical thinkers.

She credits the graduate program at Pace with helping her enhance her classroom practice and truly develop as an educator. “I have learned how to use research-based methods, differentiation, creative planning, classroom management and cultural understanding to better myself as a teacher. I have experienced several quality professors who have modeled excellence in the classroom and have shared their expertise in working with students with disabilities. I have been able to apply much of what I have learned at Pace in my own classroom to help meet the needs of all of my students.”

Working with young people who require extra patience and understanding was not a new experience. While in college, Villard, a native of San Diego, Calif., volunteered with organizations serving children with special needs, pregnant and parenting teens, and various other high-needs populations.

Villard describes herself as a “reflective practitioner” with a multi-faceted teaching philosophy.

“I have enhanced my notion that all students can learn and that developing interpersonal relationships with students is critical to their learning process,” she says. “I’ve also learned the importance of starting each day fresh; more specifically, allowing any conflicts/crises from the previous day to stay in the past and approach the new day with optimism.”

Claire Villard recieves the Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award from Education Update in June 2013.

She completed her Masters of Science in Teaching Students with Disabilities in Middle School in May 2013, with a 4.0 GPA and an award for Exemplar Scholarly Achievement. In June 2013, she received an Outstanding Teacher of the Year award from Education Update, an independent news source widely read by many New York City public school teachers, administrators and policy makers.

Villard has recently completed her second year of teaching in District 75, mostly to students with emotional difficulties. This environment has proven to be particularly instructive for this growing teacher. “I’ve learned the importance of developing relationships with my students and that reasoning with them is often more effective,” than other methods of classroom management, she says. “I have seen the positive effects of praise, encouragement and persistence with student outcomes.”

Villard is upbeat about working with her students and helping them to be their best. She is cognizant that there are significant challenges, but she also sees opportunities to break down obstacles to achievement. Students are sometimes far below grade-level and Villard has to work to mitigate this deficit, within the limits of class time, student behavior and high-stakes testing. “I have approached this challenge by creating differentiated lessons/activities and finding time for individual instruction,” she says.

“Despite this,” she adds, “there is a great opportunity for success with individual students. Through motivation, hard work and creativity, I have seen the fruits of my labors as students have grown academically and personally.”

Much like her work with students, Villard isn’t satisfied with just the status quo. She plans to continue to grow as a teacher and pursue additional credentials in Educational Leadership or Education Technology.