"A Day in the Life" is a series meant to highlight the behind-the-scenes work that makes each role served in our community vital to its success. Each month in this spot, we hope to give an insight into a profession or passion that helps celebrate the often unnoticed and unsung efforts of those who often make the largest difference. To submit story ideas, email Carol Kent Wyatt at: Cwyatt@chipleypaper.com
WASHINGTON AND HOLMES COUNTIES – Exceptional Student Education teachers have a job many are not able to do. Amber Dunn and Chris Williams are two such teachers who possess the unique qualities needed to daily choose life as an ESE teacher.
Williams, a twenty-year ESE veteran teacher, services seventh and eighth grade inclusion students at Vernon Middle School
Instead of segregating students who have developmental and learning disabilities from others, inclusion teachers like Williams focus on their students as they learn alongside students who do not have special needs. In addition to helping prevent students feeling singled out, the concept of inclusion is also designed to help students embrace diversity.
For Williams, teaching History, Language Arts, and Civics begins at 7:30 a.m., but she actually starts her day much earlier with cafeteria duty in the mornings. Then, it is on to a hectic schedule of seven periods.
Williams also teaches English as Second Language (ESOL), as well as a gifted class as her last period of the day.
In between those classes, Williams works on students' Individual Education Programs (IEP) to track benchmarks and makes time to hold meetings with parents and teachers.
During her 20-minute planning time, Williams says she takes a moment to breathe.
"I use that time to sit down and take a breath," she said. "I am constantly going, and it's nice to have a break to collect my thoughts. Then it's back to work."
Williams says if she had to name a downside to her job, it would be "not being able to do more."
"There are times when I want to be able to help, and I cannot," said Williams. "It's the worst not being able to do more to help where it’s needed."
Amber Dunn, a 15-year veteran in the ESE field, teaches grades K-4 at Bonifay's K-8 School.
Dunn teaches in a self-contained classroom currently comprised of five students who have varying exceptionalities - but students don't just stay in the classroom all day, however. They go to recess, physical education, and lunch with the rest of the school in an effort to encourage them to mainstream with their peers. As a result, Dunn says most other K-8 students excel in showing empathy to her students outside the classroom.
Other teachers often ask Dunn to teach empathy training in their classrooms to help children who do not have special needs understand that it is okay to be different. Dunn says that partnership with other teachers is essential to student success.
"I absolutely could not do my job without my ESE team," said Dunn. "The therapists and my classroom aide all work together to meet the individual needs of my students and work toward their education goals."
Dunn says another key to success for her students is structure.
"Although there is no such thing as a typical day, structure is key," she said. "A routine is necessary for all students - not just ESE students."
Dunn says the most challenging aspect of her job is finding the best way learning method for each student.
"The hardest part for me is when a child is having a hard time figuring out a concept," said Dunn. "The challenge is for me to figure out a way to help them get it."
Both Williams and Dunn agree that the best part of their jobs is the moment they see a child "get it."
"The a-ha moment is by far the best part of my job," said Williams. "When you see a kid who has struggled with a concept, and that light bulb goes off, it's worth every moment spent teaching them."
"Watching a child struggle with something is hard to do," added Dunn. "But when you see them finally get it it's like, yes, we got it!"