A few months ago I was invited to write a letter of nomination for one of Rachel’s teachers. Our school district’s education foundation, Olathe Public Schools Foundation, presents Excellence in Educator Awards on a monthly basis. There other awards for other positions in the schools and grants are presented to many educators in the district. With great enthusiasm, I wrote about our experience with Ms. Jaqua (now Ms. Hannon) who taught Rachel’s sophomore English class. Yesterday, she won and I was thrilled that Rachel and I were both able to be at the school to see Ms. Hannon surprised.
I believe that Ms. Hannon “gets it.” Posted with her permission, this is an exert from my nomination letter:
“It is with great enthusiasm that I nominate Lauren Jaqua Hannon, Olathe South Sophomore English Teacher, for the Olathe Public School Foundation Educator Excellence Award. My daughter Rachel was in Ms. Hannon’s Sophomore English Class last year. Rachel was enthusiastic about learning and did indeed learn a lot in the class. This stage was set by an enthusiastic teacher who was committed to teaching ALL students.
My daughter Rachel has Down syndrome. While parent-teacher communication is vital for all student, I would say it is of critical importance when the student has communication challenges. Throughout the school year, Ms. Hannon went above and beyond to ensure we had accurate information. She responded to emails “after hours” and even sent a text if needed. She was always willing to listen to ideas of how to best teach a concept to Rachel and was also willing to suggest ideas that would really challenge Rachel. One of the best things Ms. Hannon did was to send us messages (email) from time to time that said “I want to tell you what Rachel did today in class.” She would then go on to explain how Rachel had done a great job with a project or how she had grasped a challenging concept. That meant a lot to us. In fact, we have kept those emails as evidence of Rachel’s work and an amazing teacher. This is one a paragraph from one of her emails:
I just wanted to let you know that during class today students wrote a script based on Mildred and Guy Montag’s relationship—the presentation is a “date night” for the couple and their scripts needed to reflect the student’s understanding of Mildred and Guy’s relationship as depicted in the novel. Rachel’s group was so welcoming and the three of them knocked it out of the park! Rachel was all in with her body language, her tone of voice when reading her lines, and was super supportive to all of the other group performances.
I just wanted to let you know that her performance was awesome to watch =)
Ms. Hannon welcomed us to visit her classroom prior to the school year. She met Rachel and quickly found the common ground of a love for acting and theatre. She used this love of theatre and understanding of Rachel’s comfort in performing to showcase what Rachel learned in the classroom.
She did not rely on the para support in the classroom to teach Rachel. She embraced Rachel as her student and was fully involved in determining best and appropriate learning activities and methods for Rachel. Ms. Hannon came to Rachel’s IEP meetings. She listened. She engaged. She gave input. She followed Rachel’s IEP and provided us with the information we needed to support Rachel at home in a timely manner. I know she met with other teachers to collaborate as well.
As I mentioned, Ms. Hannon did not rely on the para support but she did appropriately utilize para support. She and/or the para frequently reached out to say we have this idea, what do you think? Or we want you to know that we are adjusting Rachel’s assignment in this method and wanted you to know she is working on the same things as the other students. This means so much to our family!
I write a blog and one of my blogs is title “Good Teachers Teach All Children.” I believe that regardless of challenges, giftedness or any other issues good teachers teach all kids. Period. Ms. Hannon is an excellent example of this philosophy. She values all students and wants to see them learn and achieve. This is reflected in the way she teaches. I have told my friend Lanie Fasulo, Director of Special Services for Olathe School District, they should have Ms. Hannon teach workshops to other teachers on how to teach and meaningfully include students with disabilities in the general education classroom. That’s my endorsement and that’s why Ms. Hannon deserves the Olathe Public School Foundation Educator Excellence Award.”
So when I say she gets it, what I mean is she embraces the opportunity to teach all children and finds common ground to do so. She also challenges parents and students. She is one of the teachers who pushed on Rachel learning a Shakespeare monologue. Dad and I were skeptics but Ms. Hannon was right. After Rachel performed her MacBeth piece, we received this message:
“Rachel performed her monologue yesterday and she was amazing!! I loved how she had actions with the specific lines and was extra dramatic. She makes my English teacher heart happy =).”
I don’t think I mentioned it in the nomination but one of the most important qualities she demonstrated was to simply ask for input when trying to determine the best way for Rachel to learn something. Such a simple thing with enormous returns.
Rachel has had some really good teachers along this journey. She’s had some that I had a some serious management issues with, too. Today, I’m going to celebrate this teacher who truly exceeds expectations, who believes all students can learn and invests in all of her students.
I’m going to leave you today with the last email Ms. Hannon sent as Rachel’s teacher. It was the day after her monstrous English final:
“I just wanted to tell you personally that Rachel totally rocked her final and only missed one question. I am so proud of Rachel and how she has academically excelled this year. She has been such a sweet presence to have in class and her ability to be confident and join in discussion is impressive. I have loved getting to know her and her awesome personality and I thank you for allowing me to teach your daughter. I know I have definitely grown from this experience!”
Thank you Ms. Hannon and thank you Olathe Public Schools Foundation. It makes this momma’s heart happy that you invest in Rachel and it makes me happy that other people recognized that your excellence, too!