Chris Dewitt, Camp Lejeune Globe
Camp Lejeune, NC | May 17, 2018
This week our featured teacher is Jean Benson, who is a special education teacher at Heroes Elementary School.
Benson has been teaching at Heroes Elementary for one year, but she has a total of 30 years of experience in the educational field.
Benson graduated with an Associates in Applied Science from Lenoir Community College, a Bachelor of Arts degree from North Carolina Wesleyan University and a Master of Arts in education degree with a concentration in Special Education from East Carolina University and is National Board of Professional Teaching Standards Certified.
Q. What encouraged you to pursue your job as an educator?
A. My inspiration for teaching special education came from my niece who has Down syndrome. During her school years, she had some very good teachers who had a positive impact on her life. She expressed a great love for her teachers through her words and actions. This positivity inspired me to pursue a career working with individuals with disabilities. My first job was at Caswell Developmental Center in Kinston.
I worked directly with individuals with developmental disabilities, providing them with personal care and specific training for skill development.
This job opened my eyes to the potential of those with developmental disabilities to learn and have a fulfilling and purposeful life. While I was helping them, they were helping me. For example, they taught me to tie a necktie, play dominoes and throw a Frisbee. More importantly, they set me on my educational path of dedicating my career to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities.
Q. What encouraged you to pursue education
within your specific age level/curriculum?
A. I have always worked in special education. I began at a high school and changed to an elementary school after moving right beside one. I enjoy working with elementary school students because I feel I have a great impact on their foundational skills.
Q. What is your main classroom philosophy?
A. My first goal is to love my students and for them to know they are loved. In special education, we keep students for several years and therefore we are able to establish a caring relationship with them. My educational philosophy is that all children can learn and all children deserve to be educated to their full potential. Students should be challenged to meet their potential.
Q. What is a lesson you have learned from your students?
A. The major lesson I have learned from my students is to be patient and persistent. In special education, we have to present materials the same way many times in a row. We try strategies and if they work, it is great.
If they don’t, we move on to something else. I have learned to be flexible. I have also learned adaptability, as I am always searching for a way for my students to be included in the school activities.
Q. What is your favorite part of being an educator?
A. My favorite part of being an educator is seeing successes and celebrating successes, no matter how large or small, with my students and families. My students work very hard for their achievements and I enjoy acknowledging their great work.
When they are successful despite the obstacles they face, that is cause for celebration. I love to see excitement in their eyes as they try something hard and accomplish it or part of it. Teaching special education has its own built in reward system.
Q. What advice would you give to upcoming/new educators?
A. My advice for new educators is never to underestimate the knowledge and abilities of students with disabilities. Special education teachers should use all resources available to ensure children are learning to their potential. My advice for all educators: you will receive many coffee cups and other teacher gifts from children over your career. They are so happy when they give them to you. Put their names on them and the year you taught them because you will forget some of them. I have cups I use and I have good memories of the kids who gave them to me. The memories will have to last after the teaching is over. When you see these kids as your doctor or nurse, a policeman or plumber, you can say, “I have the cup or gift that you gave me when you were in first grade.”
Q. What are three words that would describe your life outside of the classroom? (hobbies, interests, etc.)
A. Family, church and grandkids (they have their own category).
Q. What is a favorite memory from your teaching career?
A. I have many fond memories, but one of my favorites is of a child with autism who I had from kindergarten to third grade. When he returned to school from summer vacation, I greeted him with, “Hello Romeo, look how tall you are.”
He turned around and around, looking all around the room, and replied, “Where is it? Where is my tall?” Another favorite memory is taking a group of high school students to the prom and having them fully participate in the night with their peers. We practiced prom etiquette and social behavior prior to the prom, including line dancing. It was a great night of inclusiveness, and everyone had a great time.
Q. What advice would you give to a parent of a student with disabilities?
A. Get all needed information to educate yourself on the services available for students and the requirements for inclusion in special services. The resources and laws are put in place to help your child have an even playing field, but you are your child’s first-line advocate. Celebrate your child’s accomplishments and uniqueness. Advocate for their needs. Be a partner with the school on your child’s behalf.
Q. What changes would you like to see implemented in the school system within the next five years?
A. In general, I believe that schools need to focus more on communication skills. Technology is important, but there is still a place for written and oral communication skills. I have never had a young child or teenager ask me how to work an iPad or iPhone. All students, however, need instruction in communication skills, including composition and grammar.
Q. What are the biggest challenges you face as an educator in a military town?
A. I am not from a military background, so one challenge has been military acronyms. They are countless and everyone seems to know them but me. The biggest challenge is students moving from school to school.
In special education, consistency is important and for this reason, I try to make materials that can travel with students to get them off to a good start in a new school.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share about being an educator?
A. Special educators serve in many roles. We try to make sure “our kids” are included in all activities of the school and we strive to provide all the tools they need to be included. We build the kids’ self-esteem and we give them permission to learn and the expectation to learn.
We teach all different grade levels and individual content levels. I have taught students with Asperger’s syndrome who absolutely knew more about some things than I did. When I asked one such student to provide a written answer to a question on the reading assessment, he would simply say, “You know I know the answer. Why do I need to write it?” His oral answer would go much further than the text, but his score would be a 0 because of his insufficient writing. (Maybe a test design flaw?)
Special education teachers constantly advocate for their students and how school life affects them. Any changes, no matter how small, have an impact on students with disabilities. We love our students and let them know they are loved.
After all of that, we teach all kids to want the same thing - they just want to be kids. To sum it all up, that is what is special about special education.