After Being Laid Off, This Student Taking Advantage of Program That Pays Her a Salary While Training to Be a Special Ed Teacher

Alicia Lopez enrolled in CNM’s Special Education Teacher Training program and is well on her way to leading her own classroom
March 02, 2021

Alicia Lopez worked at a local brewery before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She was laid off once the virus forced local businesses to shut. She was then re-hired when the brewery reopened, and laid off again when a spike forced another closure.

Tired of the rollercoaster, Alicia decided it was time to pursue a new career. As the parent of a child who’s in special education, she’d seen the importance of this program and wanted to become a special education teacher herself. Luckily, a friend told her about CNM’s Special Education Teacher Training (SETT) program so she enrolled and is set to graduate in December.

“My son has dyslexia and has received special education services through APS. Seeing how interventions have helped him improve academically convinced me that this is what I want to do,” Alicia says. “Now he reads above grade-level and is an honor roll student."

The SETT program is a collaboration between Albuquerque Public Schools (APS), CNM, and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation (ATF), and is designed to prepare teachers like Alicia with on-the-ground training from day one. Students must have a Bachelor’s degree already, and during their first term they get to teach four days a week in an APS classroom alongside a lead teacher. They also attend CNM classes one day a week, all while receiving a teacher’s entry-level salary. 

During the second term, students like Alicia continue to take CNM classes and are usually given their own classroom while being supported by their lead teacher and staff from CNM. But because SETT is now fully online, Alicia says she’s had two terms of co-teaching and will get her own classroom in the fall. Right now she’s co-teaching English Language Arts for special education students at Albuquerque High School.   

“I’d be lying if I said that it was not challenging to teach online,” Alicia says. “The hardest part is not interacting with the students. There is a lot of community building that can’t happen virtually and some behaviors that we can’t see. That said, I’ve had tremendous support from everyone including the instructors at CNM, APS, and the other students in my cohort.”

Kelley Peters, who runs the SETT program at CNM, says the program’s structure has a very intentional design. At any one time, APS usually has over 100 vacancies for special education teachers because the burnout rate is high. She says SETT aims to not only help fill those vacancies but also slow the burnout rate by better preparing new teachers while simultaneously providing the financial support they need to enter the field. 

“We’re trying to facilitate their entry into the profession so they have the support and network they need to get through the tough times and so that they have their feet firmly underneath them,” Kelley says.  

Once she graduates, Alicia hopes to get a full-time special education job with APS. She also plans to pursue her Master’s in Special Education. Her Bachelor’s degree is in Visual Arts and she ultimately wants to find innovative ways to use art while working with special education students. 

"I’ve seen many times how art can help all students with various exceptionalities, from an intellectual disability to an emotional disturbance to dyslexia,” she says. “Providing multisensory content and resources through art makes the information more accessible to everyone.”

CNM is currently accepting applications for the 2021-22 cohort through April 1. Learn more about the SETT program here.