By Peter Rice
Here at Dowling College, Dr. Swanby, Associate Professor of Special Education, works tirelessly each day of the year to make his mark as a professor. Changing the lives of pre-service special education teachers, he teaches his students about technology and offers advice at anytime. There in his office, classroom, or in the cafeteria, he is always very approachable and willing to offer students council on any concerns or questions that they might have. It almost seems as though Dr. Richard Swanby can be found here, there, and everywhere around Dowling College.
Currently, Dr. Swanby is teaching two courses: Teaching with Technology with Diverse Learners (EDS 2101) and Field Experience II: Special Education (EDU 110). Teaching with Technology is intended to teach technology at the introductory level. Pre-service teachers are introduced to principles of information management, word processing, desktop publishing, instructional technology, Internet research, and educational software evaluation. In this way, they are fully prepared to take on their future classrooms with the benefits of using technology. In Field Experience II, students are offered an opportunity to observe and participate in fieldwork experience where they are offered the opportunity to actively put theory into practice in real life situations. After which, these childhood, middle childhood and adolescence teacher candidates gather together as a class to discuss their experiences and actively seek guidance. In this way, the students learn what it means to be a teacher.
Dr. Swanby is by nature a giving individual. If he is able to, Dr. Swanby is always more than willing to offer advice or assistance on anything. All he asks in return from his students is that they attend class, complete their assignments, and enjoy everything they are doing. Under this philosophy, Dr. Swanby allows his students the freedom to express themselves as educators by letting them decide the amount of effort and detail they want to put into their assignments. This better prepares them for being teachers in the field, because ultimately it will be up to them to find their inspiration, voice, and determination to see to it that they are being the best that they can be. To assess their performance, however, he uses embedded assessments throughout the semester. In this way, students are graded on the whole of their work rather than by snap shots of their performance on individual assessments.
Beyond the classroom, Dr. Swanby is working on getting Dowling College’s special education program recognized through the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). The SPA Report is a national report that acknowledges education programs around the country, and will be useful in accomplishing this goal. He passionately feels that the Special Education program at Dowling College is more than deserving of such recognition. He is also working on establishing alternative field placement opportunities for pre-service teachers. The goal is to find clinically or culturally rich classrooms for student teachers to work in. Working alongside Dr. Linda Catelli, he has put an emphasis into expanding the current Professional Development School (PDS) program that is running out of schools in North Babylon to other locations. In this way, student teachers of tomorrow at Dowling College will have the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of the teaching and learning process by applying research-based pedagogical practices to positively impact student learning, while also becoming aware of state and national standards as they work in culturally rich classrooms.
It is, therefore, clear that Dr. Swanby is not only an approachable professor who genuinely cares about the success of his students, but one that also cares about establishing a framework for the future. Yet, his story does not begin as a professor. In 1969, Dr. Swanby started his career as a special education teacher in a high school. Here, he would learn what teaching was all about. Thinking back on this experience as a high school teacher, Dr. Swanby recalled an accomplishment that has always held a special place in his heart. Working with twenty-nine special education students, he was able to provide them the supports and incentives to do their best. All of this hard work would paid off when each of his students were eventually declassified and incorporated into general education classrooms in some facet. Through this experience, Dr. Swanby learned that teaching content is important but that developing skills to focus and sustain attention, increase motivation, maintain self-awareness and understand other people’s experiences are also essential for a good education.
Another highlight in Dr. Swanby’s career was his involvement in Project RETOOL. Project RETOOL was dedicated to the integration of technology into special education and higher education curriculum. Through training materials, workshops and committees held around the nation, Dr. Swanby examined which technology would be most effective in the areas of Math, Science, English, and Social Studies. In this way, educators were introduced to the latest technological developments of the 1980s and were shown the overall utility that they could have in the classroom. The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), in collaboration with its Teacher Education Division (TED), had played a significant role in seeing to the success of this project. In this way, Dr. Swanby was empowered to focus his work on discovering creative and effective uses of technology for teaching specific content. He was also pleased that this experience had led him closer to the CEC and the University of Maryland, where he would continue and finish his formal education.
As a student, Dr. Swanby believes that his success came through his ability to focus and persevere over all difficulties that stood in his way. With these characteristics on his side, he managed to overcome each step to his doctoral degree, and even though it took longer than he would have liked, he is glad to have taken on the challenge. “It just goes to show,” said Dr. Swanby, “anything that is strongly desired is possible to achieve.” As a first generation college graduate in his family, Dr. Swanby always considered himself an average student who was able to take his education to new heights, because it was something that he wanted. Therefore, he believes that it was primarily through his willingness to work extremely hard that his dream to obtain a doctorate degree was achieved. And that in itself is something to be proud of.
Over the course of his lucrative career, the academic accomplishment that is held most dear to Dr. Swanby would have to be his dissertation. His research into educational integration, which was a new term at the time, focused on how students could be integrated into the general education curriculum nationally. Beyond this, Dr. Swanby also enjoyed his research into assistive technology in the classroom and his role in preparing future educators living in an age of computers.
To develop as professionally, Dr. Swanby currently believes that his role is to be the best advisor that he can be for his students. Over the course his career, which spans twenty-one years, he has worked tirelessly on attending and hosting educational conferences, writing and publishing research, and being a part of committees and review boards to improve the field of special education. All of this work shows through the high quality of his advice and knowledge of teaching students with disabilities. Over the course of his career, he has gained knowledge and skills that he has successfully used to better assist his students in learning at higher levels.
Yet in becoming the professional that he is today, Dr. Swanby did not traverse down a straight forward path. In high school, he was a competitive swimmer who went on to work at a local swimming pool cleaning bathrooms. He admits that it was hard work, but through perseverance and focus he overcame its many challenges. No matter the work, however, he always found rewarding qualities from the experience, because Dr. Swanby believes that each one had something to teach; except of course, he jokingly added, “for my work at Borders Books as a salesman.” Yet through it all, Dr. Swanby was able to balance work and school by focusing and being willing to work long hours. “No matter how hard something becomes,” said Dr. Swanby, “being willing to push through to meet your goal is the key to success.”
Now that Dr. Swanby is preparing to retire soon, he wants to continue getting the word out about Dowling College’s accomplishments with its Special Education program. Boosting more hired special education teacher candidates than any other college in the region; he believes that the faculty and students should give themselves more credit for a job well done. Looking into the future, he is certain that with efforts from such highly qualified professors currently working in the Special Education Department – such as Dr. Wendy Ehrensberger and Dr. Eric Shyman – that Dowling’s program will only grow stronger. He also wants to continue seeing the growth of Dowling’s Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), a chapter that he founded in 1991, and is extremely proud of all the work that they are currently performing.
Dr. Swanby is a kind hearted professor who will work hard to make you smile and understand your role as an educator. In his time spent at Dowling College, he has also worked diligently in ensure that all students are offered the opportunity to obtain their dreams. He only expects them to work hard and focus in order to persevere. Yet no matter where he is, Dr. Swanby will always be there for his students; except of course when he is on the golf course trying to obtain his goal of consistently remaining under bogey with a par of 89.