A Teacher's Biggest Lesson from Her Students
My name is Katie Clark and I got into teaching through the Teach For America program, an Americorps program that places high performing college students in high-need school districts. I taught for three years in San Antonio ISD. I was the first teacher of a pilot program, called SOLE (Safe Optimal Learning Environment). This program was meant to serve students with multiple impairments who were not able to receive the level of support they required in a traditional life skills classroom. I had five students each year and three teaching assistants. All of my students utilized wheelchairs and needed assistance with all of their personal care needs. This classroom changed my life forever.
I was planning on teaching for my two year Teach For America commitment and then going to graduate school, but I fell in love with my students. I had two of my students for three years, and it was an honor to get to know them and their families so well. When those two students left for middle school, we were getting a new principal, and I decided to take a year off from teaching and explore graduate school. I taught yoga for a year, and my husband got into law school at the University of Texas in Austin. I applied to the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and was lucky enough to be hired on as a teacher. My first year I taught students who were 18-21 with cognitive impairments until January, and then was moved to another classroom where I have remained for the past year and a half. I teach 3 students at a time with the help of support staff and one full time teaching assistant. I teach students with multiple impairments who are able to walk independently. All of my students have a visual impairment as well as a cognitive impairment and other health impairments. Some of my students have a hearing impairment as well. TSBVI is a residential school and we host students from all over the state of Texas when their school districts request assistance in developing appropriate programming for students. We have students in our care, during the school year for approximately 1-3 years, then assist the school district in implementing the program we have developed for individual students.
A lot of folks do not understand how to interact with my students, are intimidated by them, and are even sometimes scared of them, but I have to believe it is because they do not know my students. My students are kind, resilient, and hard-working in a world that is often very confusing and different for them.
I teach because my students deserve an excellent education. Students who need the most support deserve the best teachers. I work very hard to learn as much as I can to be the best teacher I can for my students. I will obtain my teacher of the Visually Impaired certification and a masters degree in Special Education in August of this year.
I am so grateful to all of the students and families with whom I have worked. They have taught me more than I could ever hope to teach them. They teach me relationships are based on more than conversations, abilities, or reciprocity, that love and care are far greater motivators than fear or negative consequences, and that we matter because we exist, and there is nothing we can do or not do to make us matter less.
My students teach me that sometimes skills are learned quickly, and sometimes skills take a really long time to learn, sometimes years, but the amount of time does not really matter as long as the skill is learned. We are all capable of learning when we are allowed the time, space, and independence to do so.
My students continue to shape me and how I show up in the world. They help make me the friend, teacher, and advocate I am today. I am proud, honored, and grateful to have the privilege of being their teacher.
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