Struggles in SPED – Dalyn Stram’s journey to teaching special education

Student Dalyn Stram will graduate in June from the University of Oregon with his masters and license in special education. Photo provided/University of Oregon FOCUS

It was through a family friend who worked as a special education teacher that Dalyn Stram found his passion in SPED. He said they always needed assistance, and he worked as an education assistant for three years at Spencer Butte Middle School and Junction City High School.
”After that I had to make a decision about what to do with my life,” he said. ”I liked teaching well enough and thought I’d pursue it. So, that’s been about five years since then.”
In June, it’s expected for Stram to finish his masters and licensing in Special Education from the University of Oregon. He described his undergrad education experience as ”piecemeal” because he studied for a year at Lane Community College (LCC) and a year at a school in California before working for three years. Then he went back to LCC before ending at UO, where he received his bachelor’s degree.
Although he taught at Creswell Middle School last year while working on his program, he said that this year it was too much to balance his own classroom with his program requirements. Instead he’s been doing student teaching, because there is ”such a need for special ed teachers,” he said.
”It’s a hard job and it doesn’t pay super well,” he said. ”It’s a commitment to get a degree in the first place, and it’s hard for people to do if they’re married or have kids. You have to be young and have a passion for it; be willing to take on potential loans. They’re not doing a whole lot to incentivize it and it’s hard enough as it is.”
Although Stram has received multiple scholarships over the years, which has helped him with tuition,there are still mandatory fees in being a UO student, from having the health center and construction for the new building that aren’t covered by the tuition scholarships, which he said has added up to at least $700.
Last year, he said he didn’t receive as many scholarships and had to take over half of his tuition in loans. This year, he received enough to help him pay back some of the debt he was accruing, and he said ”it meant a lot.”
”Grad school is twice as expensive as undergrad and there’s not as much support for it,” he said. ”Not having to graduate with $400,000 in loans and trying to figure out how to approach that when you’re buying a house and maybe want to start a family someday with that hanging over your head.”
The lack of incentives also continues into the actual work. SPED teachers are receiving more caseloads and handling more challenging behaviors.
”You have to know how to deal with a lot: parents are always difficult; depending on the school, administration can be difficult; paperwork,” he said. ”It’s a balancing act in a lot of different things.”
Stram added that mental health has also gotten worse and there are fewer resources being given to the department. Beyond that, the program has become a ”dumping ground” for general education kids when the schools don’t know where to put kids.
”They throw them in special ed when that’s not where they should be served,” he said. ”(SPED) hosts a bunch of different disabilities and behaviors, different ages, kids who should be there and who shouldn’t.”
That adds to the misconception that SPED is for a specific group of children, when in reality SPED encompasses ”everything you can think of,” Stram said.
Children with reading or math disabilities could have pull-out services for part of the day, and there are children who are more severely impacted by disabilities who are in Life Skills.
”People think it’s only certain kids and if my kid gets into SPED it’s a horrible thing,” he said. ”There are negative stigmas there, but it’s really there to help address the specific needs the kids have, which can be anything.”
Stram’s father – and former mayor – Dave Stram said that he’s proud of his son and that he has worked hard for a lot of years.
”We’re very proud of his perseverance and staying with his goal of working with special needs kids,” Dave Stram said. ”He’s a good influence and comfortable with the kids.”
Dalyn Stram said in the future his goal is to stay in Oregon and coach along with teaching, and down the line work in administration. Although a lot of teachers burn out in SPED, he said so far it’s been rewarding to work with the kids and see them make change over time.
”Giving them a better life, and the tools and skills they need,” he said. ”Every kid is different and I learn different things from different kids. I’ve generally learned not to take myself so seriously and to keep your humor; there’s always something positive.”



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