On May 14, UW–Madison will celebrate its Spring 2022 Commencement. We reached out to a few of our students who are graduating from programs in the School of Education to learn about their favorite UW–Madison memories and future plans. Following is a Q&A with Brooks Duff-Bowers, who is graduating with a master’s degree in special education through the Special Education Teacher Residency program (UW-SET).
Where are you from, and what brought you to UW–Madison?
I am originally from Pine River, Wisconsin, but currently live in Benton, Wisconsin. I received a theater degree from UW–Platteville and started directing high school theater after college. When I decided to further my education, UW–Madison was the perfect option, as I knew the level of education I received would be high quality.
What led you to pursue a career as a special education teacher?
I was hired as a full-time substitute teacher for the 2020-21 school year to meet the demands of COVID-19 and fill in for any teacher that was quarantined. Near the end of the school year, I was placed in a junior high special education teacher position permanently and fell in love with special education. I had a lot of challenges growing up, so I want to be able to give back. My grandmother also was an amazing educator and was my original inspiration for going into the education field.
Why did you decide to pursue graduate study in the UW-SET program?
I decided to pursue the UW-SET program because of the amazing benefits it offered. Having a living wage stipend meant I could pursue this opportunity without taking out additional loans. I also loved that the UW-SET program is accelerated and utilizes a residency placement for an entire year, so I would be able to work with students year long and build meaningful relationships with them, as well as help them plan for their future.
What was your most meaningful experience during your graduate program?
The most meaningful experience has been the residency. I’ve been afforded the opportunity to work one-on-one with my students, write their IEPs (individualized education programs), monitor their progress — everything a special educator does, but with a mentor teacher, Eliza Leitzinger, and supervising teacher, Lauren Zepp, to help lead me in the right direction. Being able to put theory into practice as I am learning has allowed me a lot of freedom with my classroom, and I could not be more thrilled with seeing how much my students have grown from the beginning of the year. I have received so much support from so many amazing educators, and in addition to being able to work with my own students, I feel prepared for my own classroom.
"Being able to put theory into practice as I am learning has allowed me a lot of freedom with my classroom, and I could not be more thrilled with seeing how much my students have grown from the beginning of the year."
What class or professor had the greatest impact on you, and why?
The class that has had the greatest impact on me has been Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education 465: Language and Reading Instruction for Students with Disabilities, with Beverly Trezek. Dr. Trezek provides such clear instruction for her students, and this class has greatly improved my ability to teach language and reading to my students. Without this class, I would not be as effective of an educator as I have become. Along with the teaching assistants, Shweta and Perpetua, and the teaching intern, Lauren Zepp, the instructional team has done an amazing job providing meaningful feedback to every student. This course has absolutely been my favorite class so far, and has helped to deeply improve my educational ability.
What advice would you give to incoming students?
It is OK to fail sometimes. I have given lessons this year that haven’t gone the way I wanted them to, supports I provided haven’t always been helpful, and goals I’ve set that my students didn’t quite reach. Without those “failures,” I wouldn’t be as prepared as I am. As an educator, it is so important to see what doesn’t work so you can change instruction, improve student outcomes, and provide better education in the future. Analyze the things that didn’t work, determine why they didn’t work, and improve it for next time. We don’t expect our students to be perfect at everything, so we shouldn’t expect that from ourselves either.
What’s next for you? What are your plans for the future?
I have accepted a position within the Black Hawk School District as the high school special education teacher. I am in the process of forming an esports (competitive video gaming) team for the district to provide more opportunities for all students, especially those who do not participate in traditional sports. I am so excited to start my career at such an open school district and hope to develop my skills with this new team!
What will you miss most about UW?
I will miss all of the support and resources there are at UW, and the immediacy of receiving these supports. Special education is such a vast world and changes frequently, and it is so important to have up-to-date resources. The access I have now to these resources is something I will absolutely miss, but I know I will be able to reach out to any of my former professors or anyone from the UW-SET team and they will provide me with the support I need going forward.