Norman Winter, who was recently named Teacher of the Month by USD 410 principal Max Heinrichs, works as a special education teacher, not only for the Hillsboro school district but also for the entire Marion County Special Education Cooperative. He specializes in preparing special needs students for life after school.
“If a student can be in a regular Marion County classroom, then that is where he or she should be. Otherwise, it is my goal to prepare him or her for employment, continued education, and independent living,” Winter said. “Living independently usually means happiness, so I teach students how to be happy.”
Before Winter started working with special education students in 1989 he farmed north of Hillsboro. He now puts to use many of those hands-on skills in his classroom where he teaches students how to construct small buildings, among other projects.
“We’ve made and sold 58 of these buildings since I started here,” Winter said. “The students learn so many skills, like how to follow blueprints, how to use a cordless drill. The neatest thing about it is that all of the scrap from each project fits into a five-gallon buckets. We use a simple design and do not waste anything.”
Winter said most of the small buildings constructed were 8 X 16 feet but some were smaller. The Lumberyard in Hillsboro provides all materials for the projects and each building sells for cost of material only.
“The first building we made sold for $800 in 1994, so supplies have gone up,” Winter said. “This last one was $1500. I am so thankful to The Lumberyard for helping us out the way they do.”
Winter said students usually worked in pairs or teams of four when constructing the small barns.
“We take our time and don’t cut corners,” he said. “They really turn out some nice quality buildings.”
Winter said he had a waiting list of people to buy the buildings and did not advertise, but rather sold them by word of mouth.
“I like to have an on-going list of people interested,” he said. “We’ve never had any trouble moving them out of the shop when they are finished.”
While Winter constructs two buildings per year with his students, he also spends time working with them in four specific areas of instruction: home economics, business skills, manipulatory movement, and industrial arts.
“Every student that comes to me can learn,” he said. “I just never know how much, how fast, and at what level. It’s tough to accept that not all of them are going to be 100 percent successful when they learn this program, but I do my best to prepare them for what comes next.”
Through the course of a school year, Winter might work with from 15 to 45 students in special education. These students might be from each school in the district. Some come to work with him at the Hillsboro facility. Winter travels throughout the county to work with others.
“I currently have 13 students that come in and punch a time-card, and 14 involved in work study jobs away from school with local businesses,” he said. “I get a lot of support from area teachers and business owners who work together with me to make sure that our special needs students are getting the assistance they need to live and work independently.”
Winter said he could not think of a job he might enjoy more than the one he currently has.
“I am very lucky that I have been able to do this so long,” Winter said. “I do not have to sit at a desk or stand in the same classroom every day. I get to work in the shop with students, teaching them about different tools and showing them the steps to leading a productive life. That’s my goal anyway.”