Supporting Elementary School Special Education Students

MacKenzie Farley Mercer headshot
Mackenzie Farley-Mercer
Emphasis Area
Business Administration

Mackenzie Farley-Mercer worked in a 1st grade classroom as a paraprofessional supporting students with special needs and demonstrated adaptability, patience, and creativity.

What kind of work did you do throughout your internship experience and what skills did you develop through that work?

I worked with children with special needs as a paraprofessional. Special education is a huge responsibility and challenge at times which I find to be unique because of the different student personalities. I work one-on-one with 1st grade students with Autism, ADHD, or non-verbal actions. I got to know their behaviors, patterns, routines, and personalities so that I could individualize the support that I provide to them.

I gained patience, communication, and social skills through working with these students. You have to have a lot of patience when working with students with special needs. Especially being in the 1st grade environment as well! I have also learned to communicate better with my coworkers which is important in any setting because coworkers are a huge part of your work life so it is important to gain those skills.

What was your favorite part of your internship?

My favorite part of the internship is being with the kids. I enjoy being surrounded by younger kids and helping them learn through life. The most satisfying part was seeing how much they grew over the course of the semester and overcame their challenges. The little student successes are what motivates me the most in this field. For example, one of my more non-verbal students spoke a full sentence without me prompting her, and another mastered five more sight words (e.g, jump, yes, they, his, she) that had previously been difficult for them to learn. Seeing any type of growth in them was incredibly impactful and motivating to me.

What did you find challenging about your internship?

Everyday brought a new challenge, so it is hard to know what you would deal with that day. There have been many emotional moments: from the students and even myself! I learned that it is okay to feel these feelings, as long as you learn from it and try to do better. Also, on occasion, I had to remind myself to breathe. Sometimes I felt overwhelmed or frustrated with the students if they seemed unfocused or zoned out or in their own world when I was trying to help them. They could become fixated on one little thing and it could be difficult to move their attention elsewhere. In times like this, I tried to remain calm and realize it was time for a “brain break” activity or video to help their minds refresh. 

How did your internship experience impact your plans for the future?

This experience greatly influenced my plans for the future. I originally enrolled in school with the goal of becoming a teacher. I realized how difficult the work is, especially in special education, and the amount of work you do to give these students everything they need to grow. Within this realization, I also noticed how little recognition and pay teachers receive for what they do. I know a job is not all about how much you get paid, but knowing the amount of effort to be put in and what is received is something that I have to consider for my future. Nevertheless, I still feel like the moments and experiences with the kids are what matters most and what makes it all worth it! After switching my major, I still want to have a career where I can support children.