Inspired teacher reshapes math class with an MS in Special Education

February 17, 2020

Kevin Langstaff headshot

Kevin Langstaff, MS '19, asks his fifth and sixth grade math students to constantly improve on what they already know and more importantly, to believe in themselves. He is not shy on taking his own advice. He recently completed Quinnipiac’s online MS in Special Education so that he can better serve every student.

Langstaff grew up in a community where everyone was expected to go to college and “study something important.” When it was his turn to choose a major, he chose finance because it was safe.

He was a junior in college when he “realized that it was getting real.” He remembers thinking, “I am going to do this for the rest of my life.” That weighed heavy with him. Langstaff needed a purpose.

A friend of his was a campus recruiter for Teach for America and invited Langstaff to learn more about the organization. Langstaff attended the meeting, applied and was accepted into the program. Langstaff always had an interest in education, so, the decision to become a teacher was a natural one.

Langstaff’s genuine passion for educating students is evident in his fifth and sixth grade math classroom. According to Langstaff, some students who are underserved, female and LGBTQ decide at this age they don’t like math anymore.

Through his own education, he is finding ways to make math accessible and likeable for all students.

His experience in Quinnipiac’s Special Education program helped him understand why this is happening and gave Langstaff the tools to help overcome their adversities. So, when a student tells Langstaff that math is now his favorite subject because of him, he considers that a big win.

This is the fuel that drives him to consistently do better.

"I really became passionate about becoming the best possible general education teacher I could," remarked Langstaff.

To Langstaff, this degree is about serving all students by understanding how to accommodate their learning. The Master’s in Special Education program gave Langstaff a different perspective on how to educate all students in his classroom.

Now, when he plans a lesson, he implements different strategies up front. He is learning and growing as a teacher and has become a role model for his students. As Langstaff inspires them, they inspire him to find ways to excel at his craft.

The MS in Special Education coursework provides a strong fundamental knowledge of IDEA, Special Education law and ethics. Additionally, the program delves into assessment, planning, instruction and evaluation for children with special needs.

It also teaches the mindset needed to be successful in the classroom. This program opened his eyes to all sides of education: student, teacher, parent, administration and law.

Quinnipiac's MS in Special Education program changed Langstaff as an educator and the profession has changed Langstaff personally.

“You leave it all out on the table every day. I’ve met all different people from different backgrounds and have gained patience and understanding that I could not have gotten anywhere else but the classroom,” stated Langstaff. “I found my purpose.”


Why did you become a teacher?

I was always interested in teaching. I remember being the kid in 4th grade who wrote their future career essay on becoming a teacher. When I was choosing colleges, I was basically deciding between pursuing business or education.

I had family members who were pursuing business and it just seemed like a safe choice since I didn’t really know what I wanted to do.

However, after getting some experience in the business world I was really missing a purpose, I liked the work and working with numbers, but I didn’t love the end goal.

Teaching came back into my vision and I applied to Teach for America. I got placed in New Haven and the rest is history. I think I became a teacher because I really enjoy helping people figure things out and I like interacting with people and learning through diversity.

I have a lot of energy to get out.

Was there a grade school or high school teacher that made a big impact on you?

I have a very vivid memory of my 7th grade math teacher, Mr. Connolly. He was one of those teachers you were desperate to please. He was very serious and slightly scary, but you entered class and tried your absolute best.

Reflecting since becoming a teacher, I have realized we wanted to work so hard because he went out of his way to show how much he cared about us and our education through small and large moments.

I have a specific memory of a small conversation we had after a quiz where he basically congratulated me on an awesome quiz and was not surprised. This was amazing for me because up until this point I had only been told that I was bad at math.

He helped me get on track from that point to be able to take AP Math just 4 years later.

Why did you decide to get your MS in Special Education?

I think Special Education is one of the most glaring holes in education. The goal of Special Education is general education landscape; yet, general education teachers rarely have much training around Special Education.

My favorite students are my students with disabilities or just with math difficulties.

For a while I thought I might want to be a Special Education teacher, but throughout the program I pivoted to staying in the classroom. I really became passionate about becoming the best possible general education teacher I could.

Regarding Special Education, I want to be a beacon for best practices within the general education world. There is a natural tension that can arise between special and general ed.

I want to create the most accommodating classroom possible for all students including students with disabilities and students without them. Who knows, maybe I will become a Special Education teacher eventually, but for now I will remain in the classroom.

Tell me about a favorite professor in the online MS Special Education program. What made them stand out to you?

I think Professor Falaro takes that crown. She was just incredibly communicative and logical with her responses. Her feedback was succinct yet meaningful while also providing you with positive feelings after. She was able to clarify anything in very simple language.

Overall, she modelled good teaching, which is what every education professor should do.

What is your favorite thing about learning online?

The flexibility. I am a BUSY person with both my career and personal life. I try to model a growth mindset for my students and truly believe in it. My career requires an immense amount of time and energy, but I push myself to stay active, healthy and curious outside of the classroom.

Online learning let me pick the times I could work and work it into my routine, plus it allowed me to choose different mediums of learning and production (which is also a great model for my classroom).

What surprised you about the online format?

I was surprised by the collaborative nature of the online environment. I was expecting a more solitary experience, but the group projects and discussions really made me feel a part of a community.

In what ways have you implemented what you have learned in the MS in Special Education degree into your classroom?

I think the major change to my teaching is my lens. I teach math. This subject causes many people anxiety and difficulty. My primary focus is now my students with disabilities and difficulties. Previously, I would accommodate, modify and alter things after the fact.

Now that happens on the front end. This fundamentally changes how my class is run and has yielded great products from the students. I learned a whole lot about specific disabilities, testing, logistics and the laws.

This information was extremely important as well but changing my frame of mind was the most important. That is why I enjoy staying in the general ed classroom - I want to change my students’ narrative about their own math abilities.

Many students build the mindset that they are not a math person. I can help students feel more success than they ever have in math because of the dozens of strategies I learned in the Special Education program.

Would you share a major academic and/or professional achievement? A story of success?

It may seem small, but this year I am looping with kids for the first time; so, I taught this cohort in 5th grade and teach them again in 6th grade. I got one card around the holidays from a student who at the beginning of 5th grade would walk into math and virtually be in tears already prior to seeing a question.

They had felt a deep anxiety and dread around math. The card talked about how much of a role model I have been for them and that math was now their favorite subject.

I can honestly see this child pursuing a career in the STEM world and doing something amazing. It is nice knowing that I had a tiny hand in the impact that they will create.

The note is now hanging next to my desk.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I loved the program and love being an ambassador for the program. I have taken online courses before and they don’t even compare to the organization and quality of instruction I received here.

Explore Quinnipiac's online MS in Special Education with cross endorsement for those who hold a state teaching certificate. Those without a teaching certification are still eligible to pursue their MS in Special Education.

For individuals working in social work, occupational or physical therapy, nursing, psychology, speech or a related field this pathway offers a unique opportunity to deepen your understanding of the impacts of various disabilities on a child's social, emotional and educational life.

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