Since arriving as an assistant professor of education at Immaculata University in 2019, Karen Miscavage, Ed.D., also serves as the director of the graduate education programs and oversees students in the master’s program and students seeking certification, endorsements and additional credentials offered by the Division of Education. During her time at Immaculata, she aligned both the undergraduate and graduate special education programs to reflect the new Pennsylvania Department of Education requirements for a PK-12 Special Education Program—creating a new graduate and undergraduate PK-12 special education certifications. According to Education Week, slightly over 14% of all U.S. students were enrolled in special education in 2019-20.
As an educator, Miscavage understands the importance of continuing education. Last fall, she and fellow education faculty member, Dr. Kelly Doyle, presented a virtual presentation to the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators’ annual conference. Their topic was “Transitioning to Online Learning: Sharpening the Teacher Preparation Lens by Analyzing Professor and Student Experiences. Miscavage and Doyle then presented to their teaching colleagues at Immaculata with the goal of providing tips for teaching online and tools to use in the virtual classrooms. In addition, she presents on various topics related to special education and online learning.
Miscavage spent the majority of her career teaching special education in the classroom. Beginning her professional teaching career at the Spring-Ford Area School District, she taught a variety of special education classes for 12 years, serving 10 years at the high school. During this time, she formed special bonds with her students. She has been invited to their proms and graduation celebrations, and she even invited her students to her wedding. She proudly displays photos from these happy life milestones in her office.
While serving as a learning support teacher at the Spring-Ford Area Senior High School, Miscavage wrote and implemented secondary life skills curriculum for her classes. The goal of the life skill assignments was academic and community-based learning, which students would be expected to know for most job requirements and to function as citizens of the local community.
“We took them grocery shopping, to the bank, post office and to a restaurant,” Miscavage remembers. However, it was shopping that brought the most joy for the students. When she took the students Christmas shopping at the King of Prussia Mall, they were so thrilled that they could buy gifts for their family on their own…thus making the gift a total surprise.
Miscavage’s special education classes enrolled about 12-15 students who remained in school until age 21. During the summer, Miscavage served as an extended school year homebound special education teacher for the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit. For several years, she provided in-home instruction and re-teaching of the year’s curriculum one-on-one to students at varying grade levels and with different disabilities.
It is this hands-on experience that Miscavage now passes on to her college students, special education majors at Immaculata University. She explains her transition from teaching special education at public schools to sharing her expertise with students planning a teaching career like hers. After a leave for family rearing, she decided she wanted to try something different. She served as an adjunct faculty member at Cabrini University and Rosemont College. Enjoying the experience, she realized that she wanted to earn a doctoral degree and sought a full-time collegiate teaching position. In 2018, Miscavage earned a Doctor of Education in Innovation and Leadership/Higher Education Leadership at Wilmington University. Her dissertation focused on students with disabilities in higher education. She retains memberships in the Council for Exception Children and the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators.
Even though Miscavage always wanted to be a teacher, she found her true calling in special education. She has witnessed students with disabilities struggle to learn, but she notes, “once they get it, the joy they feel is priceless and such a reward as a teacher,” she says. Miscavage is bringing that joy to her Immaculata students who one day will be attending proms and graduations for their own special education students.