HER Ca­reer

Agre finds call­ing in spe­cial-ed­u­ca­tion field

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents - In­ter­view con­ducted by Lind­sey Wells, pho­tog­ra­phy by Richard Ras­mussen


fter re­ceiv­ing her bach­e­lor’s de­gree in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion, Ellen Agre dis­cov­ered a ca­reer in busi­ness wasn’t her call­ing and made the de­ci­sion to go back to school to be­come a spe­cial-ed­u­ca­tion teacher. She is be­gin­ning her 20th year this year as a spe­cial re­source teacher at Lake­side In­ter­me­di­ate School and con­sid­ers her ca­reer change to be the “best de­ci­sion she ever made” as far as her ca­reer goes. She will teach fourth grade this year.

Why did you choose a ca­reer in spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion ver­sus gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion?

Ellen Agre: My un­der­grad­u­ate was busi­ness mar­ket­ing and, later on, I found out that busi­ness wasn’t ex­actly what I wanted to do. I’ve al­ways cham­pi­oned the un­der­dog. I have just al­ways felt for the kids that had kind of a harder time get­ting by. A lot of my kids have av­er­age or above av­er­age IQs, but they might have a read­ing dis­abil­ity and I see them for lit­er­acy, and our other lady, Mrs. Stathakis, does their math. But they’re in a reg­u­lar room most of the day ex­cept they’re pulled out for an hour with me and an hour with her. I like the idea of a small group — I usu­ally have eight at a time, no more than eight at a time, and I re­ally get to know them. I think

that was the main thing. It sounds cliché, but I kind of wanted to make a dif­fer­ence in kids’ lives. What mo­ti­vates you to go to work every day?

EA: Just the ex­cite­ment of be­ing around these young peo­ple and, again, not to sound cliché, but just to make a dif­fer­ence and their lives. And self­ishly, the re­ward I get is when we go over some­thing new and they get ex­cited about it, or when we read a book — one that we read this year was ‘Stone Fox,’ I usu­ally start the year out with that book, and the kids love it. They love that book and they talk about it all year. Some­thing will come up and they’ll al­ways re­fer back to that book.

Then, part of my job in work­ing with lit­er­acy is get­ting their read­ing flu­ency, their com­pre­hen­sion, their de­cod­ing skills, to im­prove. Through the read­ing pro­gram that we use in this room and our writ­ing pro­gram, their abil­ity has im­proved so much and to see the smiles on their faces when they write a full para­graph with a topic, de­tail and clos­ing sen­tence that they couldn’t do a year ago and the con­fi­dence that they achieve. I’m just so glad I made the de­ci­sion to go into spe­cial ed al­most 25 years ago. It’s the best de­ci­sion that I ever made as far as my ca­reer, from ev­ery­thing I’ve re­ceived from be­ing in the field.

What are some of the chal­lenges of your job?

EA: The thing that spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion teach­ers know about as a chal­lenge is the pa­per­work. There’s a lot of pa­per­work associated with a stu­dent who re­ceives spe­cial ed ser­vices. We keep a folder on them and there’s a lot of due process pa­per­work that we have to keep up with, be­cause we are mon­i­tored by the state, and we make sure that ev­ery­thing that needs to be in there is in there. The stu­dents have an in­di­vid­ual ed­u­ca­tion plan that the spe­cial ed teacher and the whole com­mit­tee for that stu­dent cre­ates, but the spe­cial ed teacher is the one that pre­pares it and gets it ready.

What qual­i­ties must some­one have to be a spe­cial-ed­u­ca­tion teacher?

EA: There’s quite a few hats that a spe­cial-ed­u­ca­tion teacher wears. I would say the num­ber one char­ac­ter­is­tic is to have a lot of pa­tience. And to be cre­ative and think of new ways to reach a stu­dent who may not have learned. One of the things that I’ve learned, as far as say­ings about ed­u­ca­tion, is if a stu­dent is not learning the way we teach them, maybe we ought to teach them the way they learn. I love that. So many of my stu­dents

do need ex­tra sup­port in read­ing and writ­ing, but they have gifts in so many other ar­eas, like maybe they’re a great math stu­dent, or maybe they’re a fan­tas­tic artist or they’re won­der­ful in mu­sic.

An­other quo­ta­tion that I’ve seen is that all stu­dents are gifted, they just open their pack­ages at dif­fer­ent times. Be­ing able to be a good team player is prob­a­bly right up there in the top three, be­cause we deal with the reg­u­lar ed teach­ers, our spe­cial ed su­per­vi­sor, our ad­min­is­tra­tors and par­ents, so the spe­cial ed teach­ers deal with a lot of out­side de­tails.

What ad­vice would you give to a firstyear spe­cial ed teacher?

EA: I have been a men­tor for a young lady who was in her first year. My ad­vice to some­one just com­ing in for the job would be to seek out pos­i­tive peo­ple, peo­ple that have ex­pe­ri­ence that can help and give sug­ges­tions, bounce ideas off with. Go in will­ing to work hard, get to know the stu­dents. Know ev­ery­thing you can about them and learn the way that child learns best and in­di­vid­u­al­ize the les­son so that child can find suc­cess. Also, just en­joy every minute and be pre­pared for a great time in their life.

How is it de­ter­mined that a stu­dent has spe­cial needs?

EA: The stu­dents who come to my room, first off they are rec­om­mended ei­ther by a par­ent or a teacher be­cause they’re strug­gling in a cer­tain area, maybe math, maybe all sub­jects. Then, our ed­u­ca­tional ex­am­iner will test them and then the com­mit­tee meets to see if that stu­dent is el­i­gi­ble for ser­vices. But even be­fore all that, they have a pro­gram called Re­sponse to In­ter­ven­tion where they try other reme­dies, maybe dif­fer­ent pro­grams, and if all of that is ex­hausted then they meet and de­cide to test the stu­dent. When we meet, if the stu­dent does qual­ify, maybe based on a dis­crep­ancy be­tween their IQ and achieve­ment test, they might be el­i­gi­ble for ser­vices in here for read­ing, de­cod­ing, flu­ency, read­ing com­pre­hen­sion, any­thing in the realm of writ­ten lan­guage.

What is your ed­u­ca­tion in the teach­ing field?

EA: My bach­e­lor’s is in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion, and like I said, sev­eral years I was in that field and de­cided that I needed to do some­thing else and that’s when I went back and did the mas­ter’s in spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion. For that, I did have to make up some un­der­grad­u­ate cour­ses that with the busi­ness de­gree I didn’t have to have. It took me two years to do that, tak­ing spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion classes such as Foun­da­tions into Read­ing and Psy­chol­ogy of the Ex­cep­tional Child.

How long have you and your hus­band (Rick) been mar­ried?

EA: Thirty-five years in Oc­to­ber. Thirty-five years mar­ried to the same dar­ling hus­band. There have been hard times and he’s stood by me in sick­ness and in health, for richer and for poorer. We have a dar­ling daugh­ter, Kelsey, who is a nurse prac­ti­tioner, just fin­ished that over at UAMS, and she works there.

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