Adaptive PE teacher works with students with special needs


Jill Spohn /Jill SpohnPROVIDENCE – Jill Spohn works as an adaptive physical education teacher in Middletown.

An adaptive PE teacher is a physical educator for students with special needs, whether they have physical, emotional or cognitive challenges. Federal law requires all students to have access to the educational curricula, including physical education; in some cases, students require modifications, accommodations or a separate plan. To be an adaptive physical educator, one must study both special needs and the general physical education and health curricula.

Q: What is your educational background?

A: I have a bachelor’s degree from Russell Sage College in Troy, N.Y., a master’s degree from SUNY at Stony Brook in Stony Brook, N.Y., a certificate of graduate studies in autism studies from Rhode Island College and national certification,  Certified Adapted Physical Educator.

Q: If you were not doing this work, what would you be doing?

A: Probably something in education – teaching at the college level, working on policy or somehow teaching teachers.

Q: What drew you to this job?

A: It was the opportunity! When I graduated from college, PE jobs were limited. At an interview, I happily said, ‘I would love to teach a variety of students.’

Q: What’s a perfect day at work?

A: When my students are successful with the activities I have planned for them … when and if I have IEP (Individual Educational Plan)  and parents are pleased with the progress their children are making in our program.

Q: What was your biggest professional challenge?

A: The challenges of the economic changes that have limited space, time and support for individuals in the special needs population. Students change constantly; while that is challenging in itself, it … keeps my mind active and ready to learn.

Q: How do your Jewish values influence your work?

A: Judaism embraces tzedakah or charity – the giving of yourself. That is my mantra in my teaching. This is all about the students and their needs.

Q: What’s the biggest mistake you have made? And what did you learn from it?

A: I had trusted an instructional aide to escort a student to an outdoor activity. He let the student transition on his own, but the student got lost. It was my responsibility; now, either I escort every student or review my clear expectations – even with adults!

Jill Spohn ( lives in Providence.