After graduating from Utah State University in 1986 with a degree in special education (with one emphasis in helping emotionally/behaviorally disturbed (EBD) students and another emphasis in teaching resource), I started teaching in a small, rural, and remote area of Northeastern Utah. I was hired to start the elementary program at Thompsen School, a self-contained school for seriously EBD youth in grades K-12. For my first two years there, I split my day between Thompsen School and a regular elementary school where I taught in the resource classroom. As my program grew at Thompsen School, I eventually moved there full-time. I was the kindergarten through sixth grade teacher all at the same time: talk about differential instruction (long before we even had a name for it!) My principal, Jane Thompsen, for whom the school is named, became my most beloved and important mentor. There are still many days when I wonder what Jane would do in certain situations. I am blessed to be able to continue our friendship and to ask her for advice. As of this writing, Jane is 88 years old and is still involved in helping troubled people each week. I owe much of my success to the training I received at Utah State and from Jane Thompsen’s expertise.
A year after Jane retired, I decided it was time for me to move on as well, so I accepted a position in the nearby district teaching resource at an elementary school. I was blessed to have many children with the EBD disability placed in my classroom to get the specialized help they needed. Working on a comprehensive campus was full of dynamic experiences: from being the advisor for student council and space club, to working with angry children who threw anything they could get their hands on, to witnessing those same children learning to control their anger. After a divorce, I moved to a less remote, but still rural, area in Northern Utah to teach EBD middle school aged youth for the first time. While there, I enjoyed many of the challenges that only this unique age and population can bring. There were 3 AM phone calls from parents, a trip to an amusement park my aide and I will never forget, and bonds made with children I’ll always remember. There were so many learning opportunities for me and I loved it.
I changed pace drastically when I moved from rural Utah to the Los Angeles area where I continued teaching EBD middle school youth. However, my most painful lessons were to be taught to me in this school district. My class started out in a new, large portable classroom where the campus was nice and my colleagues were very accepting of my students. After about a month, we were told the room was needed for a general education class so we would need to move to another campus. Our “new” classroom was far from it. It was a shed for the large machine equipment that had been quickly converted into our classroom. The paint was peeling in large pieces; the windows were deeply scratched and hard to see out of and there was always the strong smell of mold, gasoline, and oil in the air. We were located away from everyone else on campus. Although my colleagues were great to work with, the administration was less than happy to have us on campus and let me know I needed to deal with my students on my own and try to not bother other classes or the main office. It was difficult to know that my students were not being treated with the same dignity and respect afforded to other students. After this sad realization and several of my own health issues I made the painful decision to leave public education for the private sector-giving my health and heart time to heal.
For the next several years, I worked for corporate America where I was blessed to be selected as a trainer for a company traveling all over the country teaching employees how to sell. I also had the opportunity to teach children and adults how to sew. Whether I was training employees to sell or teaching students to sew, I always went back to the basics of teaching: treat others with dignity and respect, teach explicitly with a plan in mind, and set high expectations for all. I have many wonderful memories of my time with this company. My specialized training of dealing with difficult children transferred well when dealing with difficult customers (of which I had very few).
After nearly a decade in the corporate world and with the encouragement of many people including my sweetheart, Ron, I decided to fulfill a lifelong dream to start my own design company. Still needing to pay the mortgage, I dusted off my teaching certificate (thank you, John and Holly, for your push) and applied to the local school district.
Since that time, I have taught in both high schools and middle schools. I continue to work with EBD youth in self-contained programs. I truly love this population of people. I’ve participated in and collaborated with the Office of Compliance and Monitoring on a high profile case. I have been able to provide general and specific know-how training, one-on-one mentorship, and guidance to many of the district’s teachers, aides, facilitator’s and administrators. While I hope to help and teach many in our profession, my greatest teachers have been my students themselves. I am deeply grateful for them being a part of my life.
Through the years, it seems that no matter where I’ve taught or who I’ve taught I’m always able to say I love working with difficult youth. There have been many changes in education and sometimes what is old is new again. However, one thing hasn’t changed: whether I’m teaching in the middle of nowhere or the middle of everywhere a disturbed and fragile child is still a disturbed and fragile child and he needs help and deserves a chance in life. I am committed to helping my students become empowered and take control of their own lives. I have been blessed to have received several recognitions for my efforts. Some of these awards are: Teacher of the Year, Teacher of the Month (both from school and the city newspaper), Huntsman Award nominee, Peacekeeper Award Nominee, Super Hero Award, and recognized by Safe and Civil Schools as a teacher “every teacher of a seriously emotionally challenged student needs to watch”.