Colleen O’Hollaren, Special Education Speech Language Pathologist at North Plains Elementary in North Plains, Oregon
Nominated by Janessa Couch (parent)
My son has gone to Ms. O’Hollaren for speech for a year now. She's very loving and very patient with the students. My son, Calvin, was going to ride the bus to school for the first time ever. He was really nervous and did not want to go. The bus ride is almost an hour long due to how far away we live. Ms. O’Holleran woke up early and got on the bus, rode it to our pickup, and then rode the bus with my son. This meant that she had to get on at 615am. The next morning he got on, with a smile since he already knew the routine. I wrote to his principal and she had no idea she did this. I later found out she did this for other children also that were scared. “Wow”, is all that I can say. She's amazing!
Colleen is so patient with my son. I've sat in IEPs with her, and other administrators, and she always has my son’s best interest in mind. Together, we made the decision last year my son wasn’t ready for kindergarten, even though he was the right age. He was allowed to be "home-schooled" last year and this year he is a kindergartener. This way he didn't lose his speech services. When he did start speech he had high anxiety about me not being in the room so for half of the year Colleen allowed me to sit and be there, as his comfort, and listen. After half the year we transitioned him where I would sit on a bench right outside the door, then finally he allowed me to not be there at all. She was very patient through it all. She just always has our interests in mind and is very great at communicating with me about how things are going. She's just a wonderful, all around excellent human and educator who truly listens and cares.
Congrats, Colleen, from all of us at K103! Get to know Colleen O’Hollaren:
What inspired you to become an educator?
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. I enrolled at Oregon State University and majored in Education, but when I had to declare a minor I was stumped. I was terrible at foreign languages, and the only minor that didn’t require a foreign language was something called Communication Disorders. I took one class that introduced me to the field of Speech Pathology and I was hooked. After working at the OSU Speech and Hearing Clinic one summer, I discovered that I loved the process of evaluating, diagnosing, and treating adults and children with speech and language disorders. I knew I had found my ideal career.
What do you like most about teaching?
I love working with students! Whether I am teaching a student to speak so others can understand them, or helping students find the words to express what is on their mind or in their heart, I try to make our sessions meaningful and fun. I try and get to know my students by learning about their likes and dislikes, and about their friends and family. I think the relationship I build with students, often over many years, is so important. It makes us partners in the process of building communication skills.
What has changed the most since you began your career in education?
I have worked as a Speech and Language Pathologist for more than 35 years. I started working in elementary schools and then worked in hospitals, clinics, and in private practice. When I returned to the public schools nine years ago, I was surprised to see how the increasing diversity of young learners has added complexity to the classroom. I admire the ability of classroom teachers to meet the individual needs of all their students, including English language learners, talented and gifted students, special education students, as well as those with emotional or behavioral disorders.
What would you like parents to know about your job?
1. I love working at North Plains Elementary School. I feel privileged to be a part of such a dedicated, creative, fun and caring group of educators.
2. Being a Speech Pathologist in the schools is an awesome job. It is so rewarding helping children learn to communicate.
3. Better communication skills can change lives. The ability to communicate effectively is an essential life skill which can make the difference between success and failure in school, social relationships, and careers.
4. Parents need to be advocates for their children. If they are concerned about their child’s communication skills, they should talk to their pediatricians, classroom teachers, or school Speech Pathologists.
Share a favorite story about your years in education.
A quote that I like is “Enjoy the little things in life because one day you will realize they were the big things.” I most enjoy the little joys that students bring to me every day at work. For example, when a student was asked what his favorite subject was at school and he answered - Speech Class! Or, when a little boy ran up and gave me a big hug on the first day of school and told me how much he missed Speech Class over summer break. Another time, a student missed one of his Speech sessions because he went with his class on a field trip. When he returned to school, he went to the office and told the school secretary that he needed to see me right away. When I told him I couldn’t see him that afternoon because I had other groups scheduled, he was upset and asked, “Can’t you work me in?”. Wow, that was a first!
All these experiences are the small threads that make up the fabric of a truly rewarding career.