Episode #92: Creating Student Agency, Ownership, and Empowerment with Andelee Espinosa

By Barbara Bray

Join Barbara Bray in conversations with awesome educators, leaders, and influencers as they talk about their passion and purpose for planting seeds for change. Each podcast has a link to a related blog post with more information and resources.

Andelee Espinosa is a special education teacher and has been supporting students in high school regular education classrooms for 20 years. She has a passion for personalized learning and teaching students to use their voice. She currently supports in Physics and Biology classrooms at Brookfield Central High School in Brookfield, WI.
Your background 
I have lived in Wisconsin my entire life. We can have extreme weather with 100-degree weather in the summer and 50 below in the winter. My family is mostly here in Wisconsin. I grew up in Menomonee Falls outside of Milwaukee and now live in Wauwatosa that is close to where I teach in Brookfield.
Your family
Both my parents were teachers. My dad was a Science teacher and my mom was an English teacher. They started in middle school but finished their careers teaching at the high school level. I would see my mom sitting at the kitchen table before any of us got up in the morning grading English papers, and my dad spending weekends reviewing lab reports. They were both active in different aspects at their school either the theater program, yearbook, or my dad was involved in the teacher’s union. From my perspective, being a teacher means you are doing a lot of service for others.

My husband, Brian, and I have two sons, Ethan and Logan, who are freshmen in high school, the same age as the students I teach in my school. Logan is on the left in this picture – fun fact, he’s always on the left in any posed picture. That’s how we’ve kept them straight throughout the years. My dog’s name is Arthur, a rescue from Alabama, so we don’t really know much about his make-up.

What it was like for you as a student
I was pretty good at playing school. I played it safe and knew what the teachers wanted. I was far more passionate about everything that I was involved with outside of school especially the kids I was learning about on the weekends and nights. I was really active in 4H for eleven years doing a lot of service work. The part of 4H that I loved was the service aspect. I was planning community service in 4H and what that looks like for a teenager or an elementary student. Then I was involved in student council in high school through my passion for a community service component. Going into education was a natural progression for me regarding the things I really enjoyed, learning about myself and learning about different disabilities along with the challenges they faced in school and combining those with community service.
Did you always want to be a Special Ed teacher?
I always wanted to be a Special Ed teacher. I got involved in this field at a pretty young age. I was eleven and was the babysitter for a family down the street from me that had twins where one of them had cerebral palsy. Throughout middle and high school, I understood what a family who has a child with significant needs goes through. I think that some of those fears and apprehensions that people have — that was my babysitting gig. I was their go-to person. The mother had started some support groups for families in the community with children with special needs. The word got out about me as a babysitter so I had a little monopoly going on.
Your journey to become a Special Ed teacher
When I was in my freshman year in college, I had an inspiring Biology professor. I was really considering switching majors and going into regular ed focusing on life or earth science. Then I went back to my roots and thought that this wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be involved in the curriculum but science wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. So I became a Special Ed major with a Biology minor. That can be helpful because I wanted to work in a regular classroom beside the teacher supporting the students and working on curriculum figuring out ways that all students can be successful.