Student Profile - Sang Lee
GSE program: Secondary Special Educator
Undergraduate program: BS, Psychology and Economics (dual-major), Northwestern University
Sang Lee has long been drawn to service-driven work. Compassionate work as a school social worker and pastor eventually led him to the field of Special Education. Coursework in SPED opened his eyes to the concerns of students with special needs and experience has taught him that knowledge is power. In the future, Sang plans to relocate to another country in the developing world. He hopes to teach special education in a community where schooling may not currently be an option for students with special needs. Reaching out to the underserviced to help them fulfill their potential through learning is at the center of his work, and he finds that investing in these relationships makes social change possible. Working in special education has become his advocacy.
Hear what Sang has to say after two terms in the program
Hear Sang prior to starting the program
1. Why did you choose the Special Education (SPED) program at Portland State University?
1) In asking former students, and now confirming through experience, I found that PSU has an excellent staff that is easily accessible and approachable. 2) It has rigorous academic standards with a high emphasis on research-proven instructional methods. 3) Located in the heart of Portland, PSU consistently engages real issues of special education in the context of a major city. 4) The program is intensive, but designed to be completed in one year for a license and Master’s degree, whereas the other programs in the area required longer periods for completion.
2. Why education? How did you know that you wanted to be an educator?
Helen Keller was deaf and blind, but she was an author, teacher, and activist who changed the world because Anne Sullivan was invested in teaching her. I was formerly a school social worker and pastor, and I love serving professions. As I gained work experience, I learned that for underserved student populations, especially those in special education, knowledge is power. It is the great leveler that can raise up the marginalized, and I love seeing potential fulfilled through learning. Cornel West said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” I believe education is a means to that public love, that justice, waiting at the doorstep for all students.
3. What have you learned about yourself since you started the Special Education (SPED) program at Portland State University?
Most of what I have learned so far has been novel, which showed me that I knew very little about teaching and special education. However, because of a growing hunger to learn more and reach the standard of excellence as a teacher, I realize that teaching in the special needs community is my absolute passion. I am also finding that we learn as a community – classmates in my cohort have been true partners in the process of being equipped as educators.
4. Where do you see yourself in the next five to ten years? What are your personal and professional goals?
After gaining experience in the US, my family will move in a few years to a developing country, where I hope to teach special education in a community where schooling may not currently be an option for students with special needs. In my special education law/ethics course, I discovered that in the 1950’s students with disabilities were institutionalized and not given the maximum chance to learn. It is shocking to hear that, but the reality is that much of the world still treats special education students that way. I hope to teach students with moderate to severe disabilities in a school abroad or start a school if there are none available.
5. What lessons have you learned within the program that have helped you outside school?
By learning the history of special education, where it came from and where it is now, I have gained perspective on how social change can happen through collective advocacy. I have also gained practical, research-based tools in teaching (e.g., Direct Instruction, Positive Behavioral Interventions/Supports) that I will use in the classroom every day. Finally, I have found that there are many who love the special needs community and will use their intelligence and talent to serve these precious students. It has been an inspiration to me, and I will seek that camaraderie for support when I am teaching.