This week’s Teacher Feature is Lisa Halter. Lisa is president-elect for the SC Council for Exceptional Children. This year she was in charge of putting on the state conference which was a success! I hope you will be as impressed with this interview as I was!
1. What is your official title(s) and what services do you provide?
Special Education Teacher at Wil Lou Gray Opportunity School-Inclusion English and Math
The name plate on my door says Academic Coach. We are such a small school, serving 100-150 total students per trimester, that I use that title to lessen the negative stigma that sometimes comes when adolescents hear the words “special education”.
2. Would you describe your school setting?
We are a very unique school. Wil Lou Gray is a state-supported school for at-risk youth ages 16-19 from all over South Carolina. It is a quasi-military residential program for students who struggle in the traditional school setting. Our students are working towards earning a GED.
3. How long have you been teaching?
This is my 21st year of teaching. How did that happen???
4. What ages/grades/subject did you teach prior to this current assignment?
I started my career at the middle school level in a self-contained classroom. After doing that for three years, I moved to the high school level where I taught students working towards an Occupational Diploma. I immediately realized that high school-aged students were the perfect match for my personality (sarcasm, laughter, keeping it real and some love). I left the classroom to become the Transition Specialist and Career and Technology Education Director (don’t ask how I got chosen for that….I still don’t have a clue!). I am very passionate about transition and enjoyed being able to work one-on-one with students at school and in the community. During this time I also taught Teacher Cadets and a Yearbook class. My current principal reached out to me about the Special Education position opening at Wil Lou Gray. While some would view going back into the classroom as stepping backwards professionally, I KNEW I was being called back into teaching. That was the best decision I have ever made. I will be retiring in this job. I love my students, my co-workers and the positive impact that this school has on the lives of students.
5. What inspired you to become a teacher?
When I was 17, I started working at Camp Burnt Gin, a camp for children with physical disabilities and chronic illnesses. I worked there for 8 summers, and my experience was life changing. CBG ignited a passion for working with people with a wide variety of disabilities.
6. What is the best thing that a student has ever said to you?
At the end of the school year, I had a parent and student come to my room to bring me a gift. It was a beautiful wax warmer with an intricate design. The parent said that they picked it out specifically for me because it looked like veins with blood circulating I was a bit perplexed, until the parent said it represented me being Wesley’s life line that school year. The student chimed in that I was the one who hadn’t given up on him…allowing him not to give up on himself. It was awesome to see that child graduate with his diploma!
A close second answer to that question is when a student gave me the title "The Mayor of Awesome". She made a plaque for me in her building construction class that I proudly display in my classroom.
7. What do you feel is the most difficult thing about teaching?
I personally find the paperwork to be the most difficult thing about teaching. I love face-to-face interactions with my students. I feel sometimes paperwork takes away from that time. However, it’s part of the job, and I do it without complaint. (Please don’t research the validity of that statement with my co-workers or principal.)
8. What do you feel is the best thing about teaching?
My students and co-workers are the BEST things about teaching! I totally/completely/absolutely (can you help me with some more synonyms?) LOVE what I do. Wil Lou Gray allows me to use my gifts and talents on a daily basis.
9. What is the biggest issue in education that you wish the state or federal government would address and why?
Equitable funding is an issue that has to be addressed. I feel strongly that ALL students should have equal opportunities and access to a high quality education. Without equality in funding, student disadvantage is compounded for those in impoverished communities.
10. What piece of advice would you give to a new teacher just starting out in their career?
“It’s worth it!” Teaching can be overwhelming. I think new teachers have to be encouraged that the DIRECT IMPACT you can have in the lives of children is sooooo worth the amount of work that is required. I would also advise new teachers to join a professional organization (here’s my shameless plug for South Carolina Council for Exceptional Children!!) and find time to socialize and network with others in the profession. It is invigorating to talk with others, share ideas, and collaborate with people who “get it”!
11. If money was no object, what would you want for your school to help the students you serve be more successful?
If money was not an issue, more post-secondary transition services/support (transportation, job training and support, job placement, funds for post-secondary education, accountability, etc.) is what I would want for my students to be more more successful. Earning a GED is just the beginning for my students. Beefing up state-wide funding for transition would help to counteract some of the barriers to life-long success. We have a lot of great agencies and programs currently in place, I just want more!
12. If you could have anybody in the world visit your school (alive or dead), who would it be?
Dr. Wil Lou Gray founded our school in 1921. She was a pioneer for education in South Carolina, specifically in the area of adult literacy and with those considered undereducated. She adopted the motto “Why Stop Learning”, which we still use today. She would be the person I would invite to our school, so she could see how her vision continues to impact the lives of young adults throughout the state.
If you know of any teacher that deserves to have the spotlight shine on them, please let me know! Just email me their contact information and I will get in touch with them! Thanks!