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Online degree program broadens career path for South Georgia teacher

  |   Kristen B. Morales   |   Permalink   |   Alumni,   Students and Faculty

While motorcycle maintenance can help some find Zen, students at Americus-Sumter High School in Central Georgia find an inclusive path through car repair.

Specifically, 10th- through 12th-graders encounter challenges, acceptance, and success in automotive classes taught by Frederick Mohl, a teacher in the school's career education program.

His classes are straightforward: Go over a lesson and talk through the basics, then get up and practice what you've learned. This approach, as well as Mohl's laid-back style, creates a classroom environment suitable for a mix of mainstream students and those with disabilities, with each given the opportunity to succeed at their own pace. "I never really saw special needs students as different from other students, so I don't treat them any different," says Mohl, who is pursuing his bachelor of science degree in special education online through the College of Education. "Instead, I try to be aware of how other people treat them."

Mohl has been teaching at Americus-Sumter High School for 11 years, but recently, through collaborations with other teachers, realized his automotive repair classes were a good fit for some students with special needs. Add to that experiences gleaned through his mother, who recently retired after teaching special education for 30 years, and a growing demand for special education teachers across the state—including at his own school. As he considered getting his bachelor's degree, Mohl saw all signs pointing toward a B.S.Ed. in special education.

The College of Education offers a variety of degrees, certificates, and endorsements online, including a new master's in science education. These programs help extend the reach of UGA's main campus to all corners of Georgia and expand the mission of the College to reach professionals both in and out of the classroom.

Mohl has his associate's from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and even transferred to UGA for a time. But he ended up moving back home before completing his bachelor's and, through a series of events, became the first automotive teacher at Americus-Sumter. A decade later, though, he acknowledges times are changing. He sees other school districts collapsing technical education into career academies shared among several counties. And while his district hasn't made moves in that direction, having a bachelor's and a T-4 certification allows more career flexibility.

"I'm already teaching special needs kids; I might as well have the degree to go with it," he says. "And it's a bit of job security too, because there's always a need for special education teachers."

Juggling a full-time teaching job along with leading two after-school clubs makes online classwork tricky—but not impossible, he says, with a strict schedule. Tuesday and Thursday evenings are dedicated to study with some projects done on an occasional weekend.

Since beginning the coursework, he's noticed his thought process has shifted; he now thinks more deeply about each child's diagnosis and how he can be more involved in that process. He's on track to finish classes by the end of the year, and he'll then complete his practicum hours at his school.

No matter which path his new degree leads him, his collaborations with other teachers have already allowed him to build a bridge between automotive repair and special education. For example, as part of a practicum course, he worked with students learning fractions. To help illustrate the problem at hand, he brought wrenches from the workshop.

"You could see the fractions on them—for example, 3/4 versus 5/8—and we could talk about which was bigger," says Mohl. "It was one way to help the kids see what we were talking about."

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