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Post Falls Idaho Special Education Teacher Wins NWPE New Classroom Grant
posted by: Cindy Omlin | February 28, 2013, 08:00 PM   


katie kirkbride cropped“As a life skills teacher, I feel it is of extreme importance that my students have access to the same technology as their typically developing peers,” said Katie. “Access to technology may be even more important for students with disabilities because learning to manipulate technology can lead to skills necessary for communication, for example, pointing and typing. Increased communication skills are the best way to increase social participation and decrease challenging behaviors in students with special needs.”

While waiting for staff to enter the school library, Ms. Omlin happened to mention to the custodian that she was there to present a grant to Ms. Kirkbride.  The custodian started gushing about what a fantastic teacher Ms. Kirkbride is with her severely disabled students.  She noted that parents who thought they would never hear their children talk have been brought to tears when Katie has been successful in helping their formerly nonverbal children to speak in sentences.

Initially, Katie didn’t intend to become a special education teacher.  But, a life experience tutoring an autistic child changed her life:

“Growing up with a teacher for a mother, I never questioned that educating children would be in my future. However, the population I would teach changed frequently from music to elementary until I finally found my niche in special education.

“As an undergraduate student majoring in elementary education, I selected to minor in special education not desiring a certificate in the subject, but hoping the extra coursework would give me an ‘edge up’ when applying for my first job. In one of my special education classes, a flyer was passed around for becoming a therapist for a young boy with autism. I needed some extra cash and it sounded interesting so I signed up. When I met three year old Griffin, it changed my life. The change wasn't instant; Griffin was slow to warm, completely lacking verbal communication, and willing to let his frustrations be known, evidenced by my ‘war wounds’ of bite marks and scratches.

“When I had reached my limit and intended to give my two-week notice, Griffin apparently decided I had completed my initiation into his inner circle. Over the next three years, I watched Griffin blossom into a boy who could talk, be affectionate with his mom and dad, and make friends. For all I was able to teach Griffin, it will never compare to the lessons I learned from him. He taught me to never give up on students and gave me the confidence that I could teach anyone. Because of Griffin, I pursued a Master’s Degree in special education and cannot imagine I ever considered doing anything else.”

Educating severely challenged students has provided Katie with a number of surprises in addition to great satisfaction as a classroom professional.  “The biggest surprise to me as a teacher is the amount of collaboration necessary to be effective. As a special education teacher I have found that I have to have consistent communication with other teachers, service providers, nurses, paraprofessionals, and administrators in order to oversee all of the services necessary for my students to excel. As a new teacher I thought asking others to help was a sign of weakness. Throughout my time as an educator I have found that students benefit when teachers collaborate. Although it is a challenge to find the time for effective collaboration, I make time for it.”

“My greatest satisfaction as a teacher is to have an annual IEP meeting for a student where my team can share with parents that students met all of their goals. It is very gratifying at the end of the year to look back and know that all of my students progressed and I know then that all of the hard work was worth it!”

Katie understands the value of teachers having a choice in professional organizations such as Northwest Professional Educators.  “In our current educational climate it is essential that teachers have protection when unexpected situations arise. Although teachers’ unions are one of the most prominent professional organizations for this purpose, there are also downfalls to the teachers’ unions. Many argue that the unions further political agendas, protect inadequate teachers, and can have a conflict of interest in negotiating issues. I feel it is important that teachers be able to decide and have a voice in the organizations he/she chooses to join, rather than having only one option for the protection that is necessary. This will not only give teachers options, it will also enable teachers to be free-thinkers just as teachers desire their students to be.”

Northwest Professional Educators is happy to provide New Classroom Start-Up Grants to support remarkable educators like Ms. Kirkbride who work hard to provide the best educational program possible for all their students.

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