Educator Spotlight – November 2015

Educator Spotlight

educator spotlightAnnouncing the November 2015 Educator Spotlight honorees! Congratulations to our educators.

The Educator Spotlight is a monthly feature on our Catapult Corner Blog. The educators that are highlighted are nominated by their colleagues in recognition of the positive impact they have on children and schools throughout the country. They are our very own shining stars!

  • Debbie Finn – Teacher – Wallingford, CT
  • Jessica Gale – Teacher – Windham, CT
  • Stephanie Patterson – Teacher – Chicago, IL
  • Linda Powers – Literacy First Consultant – Perry, OK
  • Angela Suggs-Maitre – Teacher – Jacksonville, FL

Debbie FinnADebbie Finn – Teacher

“Debbie has shown her true passion for teaching with the amount of hours she spends preparing her lessons for the week. . . . Her students come first and her enthusiasm to help them gain success is apparent the minute you walk into her room.”  —Sue Gilleaudeau, Education Director, High Road Academy

  • Wallingford, Connecticut
  • Special Education with a focus on Learning Disabilities

Why did you become a teacher?
When I was in high school, I joined a group that volunteered time at a residential facility for special needs people of all ages. This experience impacted my life so immensely that I became a co-president of a local ARC group, hosted a small group of special needs youth in my home on a regular basis, trained a group of young athletes for the Special Olympics, and ultimately went to college for Special Education. From those early experiences, my passion for working with special needs students has grown. I love the challenge of trying to figure out what makes each individual unique and what strategies work for them. Watching each student learn and grow in their academic abilities, their social skills, and their confidence is so rewarding. Over the many years that I have been in this profession, I can honestly say that the majority of students have a great desire to be successful and to please others. Sometimes, it may be hard to see that in a student who is acting out. It is my belief that it is our job as educators is to instill in them a confidence and pride in themselves that will enable them to be happy and successful young men and women. I love coming to work and watching that happen.

What do you love most about teaching?
I have been at my current job for 14 years. I believe that students with special needs thrive in our school. It is a safe, well-structured environment in which each individual can learn and grow at his or her own pace, unencumbered by the pressures to fit in to a mold that may not be appropriate for them. I think that the teaching model is set up to promote positive student growth, while giving the teacher flexibility in strategies and approach unique to each student. The behavior model is fair but firm, combining accountability and compassion. It encourages students to begin to internalize strategies for self-control. Although I have worked with many people throughout the years, I have always felt completely supported by all staff.

What is your greatest teaching success story?
I don’t know that I can answer this question with one “greatest” teaching success story. I have watched so many students blossom into unique, creative individuals that I would be remiss to pick one. I also don’t believe that it is “my” success story. We are an entire environment that is responsible for the success of these students and without every one of us, we would not see the results that we see. Some brief anecdotes of successes I have been blessed to be a part of: I have watched an autistic girl with language that was basically gibberish, not only gain intelligible language, but when at one point she lapsed into gibberish, I called her on it and with a smirk on her face and a twinkle in her eye she responded – “Oh Mrs. Finn, I’m not talking gibberish, I’m talking Spanish.” I have watched students with learning disabilities and behavioral issues become so confident in themselves and their abilities that they have successfully made it back into their public schools. I have watched at least one student increase three grade levels in math and two levels in language arts in one year’s time.  I have watched a young student with uncontrollable behavior learn to walk, not only without having to have her hand held, but independently, to deliver a note to another classroom appropriately. All successes—and there have been so many more—are unique and varied but none more important than the other. For some students our environment may have been what changed or saved their lives. I think we should all be really proud to be a part of that.

What have you learned from your students?
Every day I learn something new from my students. I have definitely learned patience and tolerance. I have learned how strong people can be and that most people have an inner strength which they may not even know that they possess which, when tapped, is a very powerful thing. I have learned that special needs students do not need people to “feel sorry” for them. That is a useless emotion. They need people to help them find, and help them use, their abilities that will propel them forward. I have learned that students don’t need you to be their “friend;” they want and crave stability, guidance, and structure. Being fair and firm, and expecting them to be successful, will usually help them to rise to your expectations. I have also learned that a little bit of humor can go a long way. Students need to know that you care about them, will be there for them, and can laugh with them at appropriate times.

Jessica Gale – Teacher

“Jessica is professional in all interactions with students, colleagues, and the community, and is committed to all aspects of her job not because of a job description, but because she is so passionate about teaching and making a difference in the lives of her students.  She possesses a certain spark, an inner drive that sets her apart from the mediocre and drives her to give her best.”  —Deana Gagliardi, Executive Director, High Road Schools of Hartford

  • Windham, Connecticut
  • Special Education w/ a Cross-Endorsement in Elementary Education, University of Saint Joseph

Why did you become a teacher?
I became a teacher because I believe learning is a lifelong process. I learn something new everyday, both academically and environmentally, from my students. While many teachers go into the profession to “change lives” and “make a difference,” my philosophy is a little bit different. I wanted to become a teacher not to change a student’s life, but to enhance it. Every child has so many talents and I want to be the person who shows them how to utilize those talents. I am a firm believer that everyone learns differently. Helping students access their learning style and applying it will not only enhance what they are learning in the classroom, it will be a tool that they can use for the rest of their lives.

What do you love most about teaching for Catapult Learning?
It is hard to pick the thing that I love most about teaching for Catapult Learning, but if I HAVE to pick one reason I would say that it’s the freedom I have to teach. Working for Catapult has allowed me to work with a very diverse range of students. My classroom size is small enough to allow for individualized instruction, which is a crucial piece to figure out what learning styles best suit my students. Based on these learning styles, Catapult has given me the freedom to adapt the curriculum to fit the needs and interests of such a divergent population.

What is your greatest teaching success story?
My greatest Catapult Learning success story is still being written. My director asked me to help open a brand new in-district classroom this year. The transition of starting the school year without books, a curriculum, or materials was tricky to say the least; however, there was no point in the school year so far that my students haven’t been actively engaged in their learning. The biggest success through the beginning of this process is to see how far one of my students has come, in just a matter of months. On the first day of school my eigth grader was unable to identify all of the letters of the alphabet, forget about the sounds they would make. Now, in November, he is reading full word lists—he is even able to read enough to text message his friends when he goes home at night. I am so excited to see how proud he is of himself, and so excited to see how much he will be reading by the end of the school year!

What have you learned from your students?
While I have learned a lot from my students, the biggest lesson I have been taught is to be more optimistic about life. Working in a setting where a high percentage of my students have severe emotional needs can be tough. Working with these students has taught me that even on what may seem like the “worst” day, there is always something positive that happened and that should be recognized. My students have taught me to focus on the positive, both in and out of school.

Stephanie PattersonAStephanie Patterson – Teacher

“Stephanie is very aware of the needs of her students and how to work within the Title I guidelines to meet her students’ needs. She works well with the classroom teachers to help identify student goals and expectations, and she is part of the RtI team at the school working to meet student needs at the various tiers. Overall the program is much improved in the 13 months Stephanie has been a part of it.”  —Katerina Evangelinos, Area Manager, Catapult Learning

  • Chicago, IL
  • B.A Elementary Education, Northeastern Illinois University; M.Ed. Technology in Education, National Louis University

Why did you become a teacher?
For me, teaching is more of a lifestyle than a career choice. As a child teaching was something I always wanted to do. Now that I am a teacher, there is nothing else I would rather do.

What do you love most about teaching?
I love the interaction I have with my students during small-group instruction. In a regular class setting, a student may be shy or cautious about sharing their thoughts and ideas. Whereas in small-group instruction, that student now has the courage to voice their ideas. They are more eager to learn.

What is your greatest teaching success story?
Last year as the new Title I teacher at my school, I took on a role that had been previously held for many years by someone else. There was a great deal of skepticism from the students. I felt like a new student on the first day of school. I was oddly ashamed of this. Looking back, there is no better way to describe my job. I was the student. I had to LEARN the best way to teach a lesson so that all my students were engaged and actively learning. The looks of happiness the students now give me when they finally understand something tells me that I accomplished what I set out to do.

What have you learned from your students?
My students have taught me that each day brings about a new story. They have also reminded me about the importance of self-evaluation.

Linda PowersALinda Powers – Literacy First Consultant

“Linda is a great example of leadership and professionalism. Her passion for helping schools is an example for all of us to follow. Linda is always willing to help her fellow consultants and share her expertise and experience.”  —Lee Anne Housley, Executive Director of Educational Partnerships, Catapult Learning

  • Perry, Oklahoma
  • B.S., Language Arts Education; M.A., English; Ed. D., Curriculum & Instruction, Oklahoma State University

How did you become a Literacy First consultant?
In 1998, Dr. Bill Blokker presented secondary literacy training the district where I was a member of the curriculum team. He had just entered into a contract with the state of Oklahoma to train all elementary teachers in reading. Dr. Blokker invited Dr. John Scoggins, Pat Morris, some other colleagues, and I to lunch.  Ultimately Dr. Blokker suggested we do all levels of the Literacy First training and consider becoming trainers for Literacy First. The rest is history—from working with Bartlesville, OK, to Cedar Bridge Academy in Bermuda, being a Literacy First Consultant has been a wonderful, enlightening, and inspirational 17-year journey of personal and professional growth.

What do you love most about being a consultant for Literacy First?
I love working with fine educators as they strive to improve instruction, instructional leadership, and ultimately student achievement. It is rewarding to celebrate their successes with them.

What is your greatest Literacy First consulting success story?
I had the opportunity to work with a high school here in Oklahoma with a high minority, low socio-economic population. The principal and staff faced challenges in student attendance and student achievement. Not only did I have the opportunity to share best practices with the staff, I did leadership training with the administration. I enjoyed many brainstorming sessions with the principal as he developed his ideas. The students enjoyed success athletically, but had become accustomed to academic failure. The principal and staff adopted a relentless “do whatever it takes” attitude and implemented many strategies that sent a message to the students that failure is NOT an option. Last year, the school’s End of Instruction (EOI) scores were higher than the state average. It took a little over three years to get to this point, but finally, the students who attend this high school KNOW they can be successful and that the principal and staff will accept no less than success! I was proud to be a small part in this transformation.

What have you learned from your experience as a consultant?
I have had a belief reinforced:  that is, that quality instruction in each and every classroom is in indeed the key to increased student achievement. And to produce quality instruction consistently, teachers must constantly reflect on their practice.  They must think about what works, what didn’t work, why it did or didn’t work, and what makes this student tick, how to best inspire students to learn, and they must be able to replicate those practices that make learning happen. I have seen time and time again that a caring, consciously competent teacher makes all the difference!

Photo Angela Suggs MaitreAAngela Suggs-Maitre – Teacher

Angela’s passion for teaching is quite evident daily. She comes in early and rarely leaves before 5:00pm, working with the staff and students. She routinely has one-on-one chats with those students in need of that special touch of motivation, and sometimes the tough love.”  —Seabon Dixon III, Regional Director, Catapult Academy of Duval County

  • Jacksonville, Florida
  • Business Education; MBA, Human Resource Training/Development, Webster University

Why did you become a teacher?
I love connecting the dots in learning environments—watching the light bulb come on when a student realizes what puzzle piece fits!

What do you love most about teaching?
I like the interactive learning environment at Catapult Academy and having the opportunity to work with students individually. In this environment, I am able to talk and motivate students in a one-to-one learning relationship.

What is your greatest teaching success story?
My greatest teaching success story is watching an oppositional student become a peer motivator. As I developed a stronger student-teacher partnership with this student, the student’s leadership skills developed and he helped assist with student motivation among his classmates.

What have you learned from your students?
A positive student-teacher partnership equals not only a calm, productive learning environment; it also equals the goal completion of graduation!


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