Bachelor of Science in Education: Special education

Reggie Hairston has come home to teaching.

One might say that teaching is in Hairston’s blood, since both of his parents are special education teachers, and many uncles, aunts and other relatives also teach. However, he didn’t follow the same career path – at first.

A native of White Plains, New York, Hairston attended More­house College in Atlanta for three years. After leaving school, he worked in the field of accounting for organizations like UPS, NAPA Auto Parts and Georgia-Pacific. While successful, he did not feel fulfilled.

“I really wanted to finish college and set an example for my kids,” said Hairston, father to a 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. “And I wanted to do something I could be passionate about.”

As the years passed by, he took college courses at other local institutions. He also served his community’s youth through church and camps and by coaching basketball.

“I thought to myself, ‘I really enjoy working with kids … so why am I not doing this?’”

In 2013, Hairston enrolled as a special education major at Georgia Gwinnett. He attended as a daytime student for his first semester in the School of Education. An added complication was that many of his previous, business-focused college courses would not count toward his education degree, so he would be in school for some time.

“As a nontraditional student needing to work, this was challenging,” he said. “But I knew the paraprofessional program was coming.”

GGC’s School of Education worked with Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) to develop a special program through which GCPS paraprofessionals are able to complete their bachelor’s degrees while working for the school system full time. They also are able to apply their work experience toward degree requirements for either early childhood education or special education.

“The paraprofessional program is great for nontraditional students like me, who are already in the workforce and can’t quit their day jobs but want to switch careers,” Hairston said. “The relationship between GGC and GCPS allowed me this opportunity.”

Reggie Hairston assists a student in his classroom.

Hairston obtained a paraprofessional job with GCPS for his second semester in the School of Education. He first worked at Summerour Middle School in Norcross, then transferred to Grayson High School in Loganville, which was closer to his Lawrenceville home. He worked with special education students during the day while taking college classes at GGC in the evenings.

“You could take what you learned the night before and immediately use it in the classroom the next day – a textbook to real-life application,” he said.

One of several paraprofessionals in the program, Hairston observed how work and classroom experiences intersected.

“We saw things at work firsthand so our classroom conversations were different,” he said. “Our professors were able to help us with situations on our job.”

He also cited GGC’s faculty for their student engagement.

“They are always willing to help,” he said. “They get to know you as a person, not a number.”

This past May, Hairston and three other students were the first to graduate from GGC’s paraprofessional program. While some of his friends might question why he would leave an accounting career for teaching, his family members understand and are both delighted and proud.

Now 39, Hairston is an interrelated resource teacher at Grayson High School. He co-teaches Algebra I courses for both general and special education students. In addition, he is head coach for the ninth-grade basketball team and an assistant coach for the varsity basketball team.

More importantly, he is where he belongs.

“I have great, supportive administrators and my fellow teachers are phenomenal,” he said. “Education is rewarding, with small victories every day. We know we make a difference for our students. I am loving my job every day.”

Read more about the college, its student and alumni in GGC's Engage Magazine.