As a classroom teacher at the Cotting School, Robert Mitropoulos ’15 ’17 says his days are filled with “small celebrations.” In his work with 14-to 18-year-old students with moderate to severe special needs, often these celebrations mark the attainment of an academic task, physical achievement in therapy, or a new social skill.
“I see any teacher’s goals as a personalized plan for students, each with their own challenges and successes,” says Robert, who earned his bachelor’s degree in special education and master’s degree in literacy from Lesley University.
The Cotting School, located in Lexington, Massachusetts, serves students ages 3–22 years old “with a broad spectrum of learning and communication disabilities, physical challenges, and complex medical conditions.” There, Robert teaches math, English, and social studies to 8 students in the Upper School Program.
For Robert, one of the most rewarding aspects of the job is seeing the impact he makes. On a weekly basis, he helps students apply the skills they’re learning in the classroom in the real world. Students practice meal planning and budgeting during trips to the grocery store. They discover ways to navigate their surroundings with confidence. And they learn how to access services within the community.
As students get older, they gain off-campus work opportunities in retail, food service, technology, and more. They attend these opportunities alongside a personal job coach, who supports them on-the-job and helps them to reflect on their experiences. Students also receive the guidance necessary to transition from school into the working world or further education.
“Lesley prepared me for my future in two major ways,” observes Robert. The first way was through his practicum experience. Being able to get into the trenches as an undergrad helped Robert become the teacher he is today. He was able to watch incredible professionals in action, and gained opportunities to try and fail in a safe setting.
“In the practicum experience, I had opportunities to try different teaching skills and interpersonal strategies with coworkers,” reflects Robert. “I also had chances to get direct feedback from professors and colleagues on what my teaching might look like some day.”
He also credits extracurricular leadership opportunities with preparing him for the classroom. As president of the Undergraduate Student Government, he built bridges between Lesley leadership and students by bringing student concerns to administrators, and teaching students about community-wide changes and opportunities. He was also a leader for an Alternative Spring Break community service trip. This experience taught Robert to look at the world through different lenses, and helped him to understand his privilege based on race, socioeconomic status, and opportunities he had been given.
Robert believes these experiences challenged him to develop the skills and perspectives that he brings to his classroom at the Cotting School.
“My experience at Lesley helped shape me into the leader, lifelong learner, person I want to be in the world,” says Robert.