Tracy James has come full circle. The former special ed teacher’s assistant who was encouraged to get her teaching degree was named Prairie View Elementary’s Teacher of the Year for 2017-2018. James teaches mild/moderate special needs students in kindergarten and second grade, providing extra help in reading and math.
When James was announced as Teacher
of the Year, she was shocked.
“I had no idea,” she said. “I was very humbled because it is my second year here and any teacher here could have been named Teacher of the Year. We have such an outstanding staff.”
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After getting married, James went to
college for one year to get some basics out of the way with no clear idea of
what degree she wanted. Her husband, Kevin, is a coach and the couple moved
with their two daughters to Ardmore. Thoughts of college were put aside and she
stayed home with her kids.
In 1998, the school called and offered her a position as a teacher’s assistant in the special education department, working with two special ed teachers.
“Those two ladies were inspiring,” James said. “And I noticed through being a TA that those kids were amazing. I fell in love with it; they stole my heart.”
There was one regular ed teacher at the school who wouldn’t let the special needs children participate in mainstream activities. The special ed teachers and James took care to make sure the kids had the same opportunities as everyone else, from curriculum to class parties.
“They needed extra help, but I found out that they needed a voice for them at school,” she said. “They needed someone to always be on their side and to speak for them if needed.”
Her coworkers encouraged her to go back to school for a bachelor’s in education. It was still a difficult decision.
“I wanted to help those kids who were struggling. I wanted them to have every right they deserved in school as well,” she said of her decision to return to college. “I never had a lot of confidence in myself, so I took school pretty serious.”
She was happy as a teacher’s assistant, but saw the benefit not only for herself if she earned a bachelor’s, but for her own children as well.
“By setting that goal, my girls also realized how important it was,” she said. “When I did homework, my girls were at the table doing homework.”
James taught for three years in
Chickasha before moving to Mustang Elementary. At ME she was also named Teacher
of the Year in 2012. This is her second year at Prairie View Elementary and her
13th year of teaching overall. All of her students are mainstreamed and spend
time in the regular education classroom.
“We do the same work as everyone else, but I modify. I break it down to a level they understand, but I feel it is so important that they’re learning and their knowledge is expanding just like everyone else.”
James’ first years as a teacher’s assistant defined her teaching philosophy. She’s there to stand up for her kids and work closely with the regular education teachers.
“If a regular ed teacher is happy then we are all happy,” she said. “The communication and collaboration are so important.”
For James, working with students takes a village. One student last year had high anxiety and was in a classroom that wasn’t the right fit. He was moved to James’ class. He wouldn’t go to the lunchroom, art, or PE. Her room was a safe place with a rocking chair and a blanket where he learned to calm himself down. Eventually, he went willingly to PE.
“This year he goes to all of his essentials. He doesn’t come see me unless he needs a break, which is few and far between,” she said. “”Every day we are just wowed. He’s a great kid and he wants to learn. Everybody works with him. He came out of his shell. It takes a team to make this work. I work with my teachers every day. We all know what’s going on all the time. There’s never a question of what should be happening.”
James also gives credit to special education teacher’s assistants.
“I couldn’t do my job without them,” she said. “I have worked with the finest ladies who come in and they love our kids. They’ll do anything for anybody.”
James is one of 14 site Teachers of
the Year for Mustang Public Schools.