Teaching special education students isn’t easy, but the difficulties involved make the rewards of students’ achievements that much sweeter for their teachers.
Hillsboro Elementary School has three special education teachers, each assigned to two grade levels. Kathy Koop works with kindergartners and first graders, Gloria Winter works with second and third graders, and Chris Herbel works with fourth and fifth graders.
All three are veteran educators. Herbel has been teaching special education at HES for 15 years and was a substitute teacher before that. Koop is in her 14th year at HES, with a year in the Peabody-Burns school district before that. Winter is in just her seventh year teaching special education, but she taught 34 years as a regular classroom teacher before that.
HES Principal Evan Yoder said having three special education teachers with that much experience is how much they can consult with one another about ideas to help specific students.
Thursday morning, Herbel was working with students in their regular classroom, coaching them on math problems reviewing greatest common factors and least common denominators.
“I love a challenge, and it is very rewarding when somebody has a learning disability and you see them make progress,” she said. “It’s like the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but I absolutely love it.”
Herbel said the trend nationally is to incorporate special education students into more work in their regular classrooms. That aligns well with the ultimate goal of special education: to help students progress to the point where they don’t need special education services anymore.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Winter said. “It’s a thrill to see them succeed.”
More than in regular classroom work, special education students receive a lot of one-on-one teaching, whether from a teacher or a paraeducator. Their teachers work to tailor lessons specifically to meet the needs of those students.
“The kids, they’re all so different,” Koop said. “Each one of them, they’re all so unique.”
Special education is a team effort, with many people contributing. There are the special education teachers, paraeducators they oversee, and classroom teachers, but professional educators aren’t the only ones involved. Parents play a huge role in special education, and the teachers said they all try to keep parents involved and apprised of their children’s progress.
Herbel received her degree in elementary and special education from Tabor College. She and her husband, Delayne Herbel, have three children: college student Landon, sophomore Erich, and seventh-grader Carson.
Koop received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in special education from Tabor College. She and her husband, Kim Koop, have four children: adults Jeremy, Jenesa, and Jessica, and seventh-grader Benjamin.
Winter received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Emporia State University and her master’s degree in special education from Northwest Oklahoma State University. She and her husband, Norman Winter, have two grown children: Scott Winter and Kimberly Kysar.