Andrea Magness, Tech Ed teacher at Shattuck High School, was inspired during Covid to start a project in her class called Yard Cards to deliver messages to the community. Four senior girls in her yearbook class took on the project and it has been wildly successful. Signs have been requested for team sports, welcome back to school and holidays. “It’s so rewarding to see the students work in class and have fun while working,” she said. Watch more of Mrs. Magness’ story.
By Aleisa Rhoades, Chandler Special Education Teacher
When my older daughters were growing up, it was difficult to find good options for public education in Oklahoma City. Education was suffering at that time. When I was growing up there, we attended Putnam City Public Schools, which was considered the best available during that time. My older daughter attended the same schools I did, while my younger daughter attended a private Catholic school. I am not sure why I had bias toward public education at that time, other than the facts of under-funding, constant need for good teachers and lack of communication between teachers, students and parents. My oldest had many of the same teachers I had and even a principal, who was my coach in junior high. What I began to find, was my younger needed additional assistance in school due to ADHD and private school did not offer this. I feel this is what prompted me to become a special education teacher.
I can remember all of my teachers through grade school, most through middle school and two throughout high school. Those two and many others made a profound impact on my life, school was an escape from my (less than perfect) home life and I excelled in school. However, I chose to marry and have children rather than seek the traditional path of attending college directly after graduating. Once I decided I wanted to become a teacher (My first career was food and beverage), I plugged away at two jobs and college for seven years part time. I knew I loved children and “Children need help everywhere”. This I learned from a fellow educator, as I took my first teaching job in the inner city.
I have been a high school special education teacher now for 21 years and now teach in a smaller town outside of Oklahoma City. I enjoy high school students, because, if allowed, they have many good ideas and questions about our world, the world they will soon inherit. I have a resource room and teach math and English for students with all disabilities. These students also come in for tutoring, testing and many times food. I run a small food pantry for any kid who is hungry and they are all chronically hungry. I also work with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DRS) to run a School Work Study Program for those kids who qualify. They learn many skills and earn money through their elective classes.
I teach with my husband, Ty, as he also became a “second career” Special Education teacher. We have all of the special students in our high school. He takes the younger high school students, while I have the older grades. We consider our program very successful. One of my professors told our class once, “Special Education isn’t a class, it’s a program.” This is true. You must work with all administrators, teachers, parents and students in order to holistically educate these children, successfully. There are many odds against this group of kids and school and peers haven’t been kind to them. They do not love it. This, in addition to learning differences makes for a difficult bill to sell them. I encourage them to attend Vo-tech for a trade or skill, as we do not have enough of these workers in our society, and it is much more geared for them, or vice versa.
During this time, I am missing my “kiddos”, as we are in Distance Learning. I pray for them and their families. I worry about the learning curve we will experience dropping in the future and the need to keep kids engaged and working. I feel our students will buy into education, if we do and hope during this time, they miss school, their friends (even me), for whatever reasons. When we return, we may see a paradigm shift on how education should be run. Many may opt for online; many will continue to need additional help and many will excel. However, this doesn’t change my role to facilitate their learning, listen to their ideas and watch them grow up to change our world for the better. I encourage anyone who loves children and learning to become a teacher. I feel it is the most gratifying profession of all, as it is the most important to shape young minds.
One of the most satisfying for me is the conversations we have in class. The kids pride themselves on getting teachers distracted. What they don’t know, is many teachers value the honest conversations and questions kids have about real life. I feel it is of utmost importance to have these conversations, and now more than ever, we need to have them and attempt to honestly and objectively answer questions or prompt further ones. This is the path to solving deep rooted problems of our world, their world. To me, this is invaluable and is the difference-maker in education. I feel like the two teachers I remember the most in high school did those things.
Many students tell me they hate school or many of their teachers don’t care. What I find, is their parents didn’t love school either. This is not something easily remedied, but can be. Many times, I make it my mission to “win the parent over” first. Therefore, I now not only educate the student… I also like to tell my students “The day I quit caring, is the day I quit!” If kids know you are honest, and genuinely care, they tend to perform better and behave better. Most students would rather look obstinate then stupid. Many have low self-esteem coupled with all the other issues they face. Therefore, school isn’t just Math, English, Science and History.
When we do return to school, there will be a need to become more tech savvy. For this, I will rely on my students. Aah, the teacher has now become the student! But this is also an invaluable tool. Allowing students to help me and teach me things they know raises their self-esteem, engages them in a two-way channel of communication and gives them power. We all know that when you teach, you learn. Finally, I am pleased at the opportunity to share my experience. I feel my community of school, parents and children have been a gift for me and my husband. We find our best defense is to be in touch with parents, be very open and honest with our kids and do the best we can every day, modeling hard work, understanding and exploring our world through history, unity and kindness. This eliminates much of the discipline problems and makes our job much more enjoyable. We all should enjoy what we do.
By Pam Devers, Pryor High School Chemistry and Physics Teacher, as well Teach Oklahoma Educator
I felt drawn to teaching in the eighth grade. My best friend’s mom worked at the front office of the junior high and would take me home after school. While waiting, I watched the teachers having so much fun. I have always like science, but that year I had a teacher who really inspired me. He later became my intern mentor, a peer and a friend. I took all the science and math in high school and never strayed from my goal. It did take a couple of years working in an industrial park lab before a non-coaching job opened in my area. In retrospect I am thankful for the two lab years of experience and growing time before teaching high school. It made me appreciate the teaching jobs I would have later.
There are so many highlights that have evolved during the past 30 years in my classroom, most come as little moments. The warm, fuzzy times have been a comment that warmed my heart, a sweet note, a fun joke between a student and myself, laughs during a lab or messed up demonstration, or even intense learning on marker boards. They just all add up and are distributed at just the right moments.
Teaching is not for everyone. We have all had teachers who just ticked off the minutes until the ring of that last bell. Going into teaching is a calling. You have to learn to be a flexible multi-tasking person who always has a “Plan B” up your sleeve. The main thing is to have a love for young people embracing their unique qualities.
In my experience, teaching has been the best career. I get to decide my day and hang out with kids whom I enjoy that keep me young or some days remind me I am not. You have weekends, holidays, snow days, and summer off which is more than most jobs. I have learned to ask for grants for my classroom. I have also traveled to conferences all around the U.S., Canada, and Japan. My husband, Cash, is a retired teacher and with our combined teaching salaries we have never been in need, which is a true blessing.
I have one classroom rule and my kids all know it because I say it all throughout the year- Be kind to one another. I use this to explain how problems happen when we are not kind, which we see daily in the news. For me showing kindness and teaching it with a little sass along with holding kids accountable is how I make a difference. Another teacher might have a separate aim, but that is wonderful how together teachers can bring many variables to a student while they mold themselves into the person they are to become…just like the eighth grader who watched and wanted to have fun and has done that for the past 30 years.
David Bounds, Little Axe High School History Teacher.
David Bounds couldn’t imagine his life without teaching. He longed to serve his country through the Marine Corps but wasn’t able to due to a medical disqualification. So he sought to find another way to serve my country in another fashion and landed on a teaching career. By never losing sight of focusing on students, David has loved his job for the entirely of his 30-year teaching career. He was named the 2019 Veterans of Foreign Wars (FWV) Teacher of the Year in Oklahoma.