My name is Cathy and I have recently retired (early, I might add!) from a district slightly north of Dallas. I was with the district for 30 years, beginning as an elementary special education classroom teacher, then as the special education team leader on that campus. I taught at the senior high level as well - Biology and English (special education). Previous to obtaining my master's degree, I taught in a regular education classroom (a short while in K, several years in 3rd and 4th grades, and then middle school as well) in Garland ISD, San Antonio, Virginia and South Carolina. I taught two years on a barrier island off the coast of S.C. and it was that experience that made me realize that I needed broader and more specific teaching skills, knowledge of unique strategies and techniques, and a better understanding of students with special learning and behavioral needs. I stopped teaching for two years as I worked full-time on my master's degree at UTD. My plan was to get my M.S. in Reading but a series of fortunate circumstances led me to a graduate degree in special education with a language/learning endorsement and reading endorsement. The reading endorsement reflected a thorough study of phonics and whole language which, upon reflection, was the most arduous but fulfilling coursework I have ever undertaken. I came away with the understanding that I must always be a life-long learner in terms of staying "on top" of my reading credentials and I feel I've kept true to that. I came to understand the complexity of learning to read. It was that insight that led me to focus on all elements of the reading process, but as an elementary school teacher and then later, as a special education teacher, my focus was primarily on the early stages of reading acquisition: phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency. Simply put, phonics is the relationship between letters of our written language and the sounds of our spoken language. There are three general approaches to phonics instruction, all of them worthy of our attention. In synthetic phonics, young readers become skilled in recognizing that letters are converted into sounds which are then blended into words. In analytic phonics, students use their previous knowledge of learned words to analyze letter-sound relationships. Finally, analogy based phonics is the process by which students rely on "word families" to decode similar unknown words. Teachers will typically build a decoding foundation using synthetic phonics and will then weave in analytic and analogy-based phonics for a solid reading foundation. This occurs with young learners - K, first and 2nd grades. Struggling readers will need to continue with phonics instruction after typical readers have the concepts established. Without doubt, a key element in providing the phonetic foundation for a young reader is a systematic and explicit teaching framework, including ample opportunities for practice and review. The struggling reader needs immeasurable opportunities to practice, to read small readers that are at his or her readability level, and the opportunity to use take-home readers as well. With this strong foundation, we, as teachers, then begin to focus our efforts on developing reading fluency - along with vocabulary and comprehension - which are the hallmarks of a life-long reader! It is truly exciting and wonderful work.
After graduation, I began teaching immediately in the district that was to be my home for 30 years. I returned to graduate school for a short time and received a supervisory (administrative) certification. I spent the last 22 years as a special education district level administrator which gave me the gift of being present in all schools and helping principals and teachers problem-solve, learn through professional development presentations, and work one-on-one with parents.
Describing myself and sharing my teaching philosophy is a little difficult within a paragraph, but I am going to do my best to share what I feel are the most important points! Of course, it's important to relate to students of all ages with all sizes and shapes of academic and/or behavioral needs in the same way: with poise, with "listening ears" (that's the elementary teacher coming out in me), always prepared and ready for instruction. My belief system ranks "approachability" at the top in terms of teacher effectiveness. Interacting with students, parents, and peers should have an ease about it in order to cultivate the learning climate I want my classroom to have. My own teaching style includes all of the above as well as having a thorough knowledge of the subject and the ability to handle those curve balls that will inevitably come my way. I believe that an effective teacher is one who not only brings structure to the classroom, but who invites the student(s) to participate in setting up the structure. This extends to the behavioral climate in the classroom as well.
In closing, I must say that I also believe my coursework and experience in special education have given me numerous opportunities for personal and professional growth. I look forward to working closely with you and your student. There's no doubt that we will make a great team!
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