Sarah Summerlin always wanted to be a teacher. "I used to play school when I was little, and I loved going to school," she says. When she got to college, she majored in family studies, but found a job after graduation as a teacher's assistant in Durham, New Hampshire. She started her career working with students who had learning differences. Summerlin was hooked, and she earned a master's degree in special education.
"When I work with students with learning challenges," says Summerlin, "I am challenged myself. I am forced to explore innovative ways to motivate kids. Teaching is never boring!" Now a special education teacher at Center Woods Elementary School, in Weare, New Hampshire, Summerlin works with third- or fourth-grade students, each of whom has learning differences.
"I make it fun and interesting, and give the kids ownership of what they are learning," says Summerlin. "If they are interested in dinosaurs, I encourage them to brainstorm about a project they might do." Summerlin works hard to make lessons relate to her students' lives. "Kids want to feel a personal connection in school," she says. "When students do word problems, I use the students' names and personal interests when phrasing the problem. The students love the attention. It makes them feel important."
Summerlin believes that special-ed students should be included in the regular school day with their peers. "Just because kids with learning differences learn differently doesn't mean that they can't teach other students something," Summerlin says. "And guess what? They do."
Katy Rollins is founder of the blog 18 Channels.
This article appears in the Winter 2012 issue of ADDitude.
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