Clara Epps, Special Education Teacher July 29, 2020 By wpengine Since working here I’ve been meeting great people, and that’s important to me. It is important for me to be in an environment where I can continue to grow. I feel very comfortable here and I absolutely love working here. I teach special education and I’ve been teaching at Friendship Tech Prep High for over five years. However, teaching is my second career. I originally started out as a retail store manager. For 18 years, I worked as a manager with a variety of companies, ranging from Safeway and Nordstrom to MAC cosmetics. Remembering I held a master’s degree in education management, I decided one day that I’d rather be teaching. My friend Natiia Johnson, the business manager at Friendship Tech Prep High at the time, said to me, “You should come see the principal.” So, I met with the principal at the time, Ms. Tindle, and the rest is history. I started as a long-term substitute. One day, the principal visited my classroom and said, “Wow, you really get them to listen to you.” That’s how I became a permanent teacher here. I enrolled in Teach for America and completed their two-year teacher training program. TFA was going to place me in another location, but Principal Patrick Pope said, “No, we want to keep her here.” What has been the most meaningful about being a special education teacher is learning how to have patience. All students can learn, they just learn differently. I enjoy examining the data, seeing student growth, and knowing if I am doing the right thing – asking, “Do I need to scale something back? Do I need step it up in a different way? Why are students not understanding a specific skill that was being taught?” It’s all about the students. I enjoy having real conversations, and that’s why I especially love teaching in high school. I ask myself, “What is my students’ plan of action to ensure they will be successful in college and then career?” Regardless of a student’s disability, I ask myself how I can ensure they take responsibility for their learning so they will have success. I support them with processing their emotions and adjusting their thinking so that they can make good decisions. It is also important for me to keep my door open, as I enjoy one-on-one time with my students. If there is a misconception either in class or in a conversation, I believe that it is crucial to talk it out. For someone who might be new to teaching special education, are there any other strategies that you would offer? Know your students. Learn about their background. They won’t share a lot unless they trust you. I ask, “Hey, what did you do this weekend?” They’d reply with something like, “I did this and that.” “Did you do anything else?” I’ll start by sharing my own life with them. If students are struggling with deeper challenges in their lives, I want them to feel comfortable coming to me with anything. Sometimes what they share is very sad. I do as much as I can to encourage students and give them what they need – even if it means buying them a pair of shoes or a sweater. I encourage them to stay strong because “this too shall pass.” Nothing lasts forever, and you have to work hard if you want a better situation in life, which you may not be able to see right now, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. I share some of my own struggles with them and talk about things that I think I could have done better and things I did well. This is helpful because students don’t see us as ever having being a high school student. I am very honest with them. We also try to expand our horizons outside of the community so that students can have broader experiences and realize that there is a big world out there. You meet people, taste different types of foods, and hear different music. It makes you a well-rounded person. We go to museums and restaurants. Many of my students need to develop their social skills, I tell them to clearly order their food with the waitress and socialize with different culture of people. Often, my students are used to only interacting with a small circle of friends and family, but rarely new people. We talk about real life skills – finding a job, going to the grocery store, creating a budget, finding an apartment, and even riding the bus. I might ask them: “If you worked in Georgetown and lived here, what bus route would you take?” They might say, “I never thought about that.” What do you like about Friendship? Friendship gave me an opportunity. I did not have a traditional background in teaching when I started. Since working here I’ve been meeting great people, and that’s important to me. It is important for me to be in an environment where I can continue to grow. I feel very comfortable here and I absolutely love working here. What strategies do you use in the classroom? It is important for me to be an advocate for my special education students to ensure they get the support they need. I know what they need and what their reading levels are. If they’re not yet on grade level, I make sure they get the extra help they need, whether it is modified content or an accommodation. I will visit their teachers and say, “May I please see what you’re giving this student in the classroom?” I monitor their grades and we have one-on-one sit downs every two weeks. I’ll ask, “What’s going on? Why do you have this grade in this particular class?” Then I’ll meet with the teacher. Everyone will meet in the middle to ensure every student succeeds. Certain students have difficulty communicating, so I work on teaching these students to speak up for themselves. Is there a fun fact you’d like to share? I’m a licensed makeup artist! I love makeup. Sometimes I do students’ prom makeup and makeup for other school events.