Tammy Smith, Kalama Life Skills Teacher, Kalama Elementary, Kalama, Washington
Nominated by: Kristy Delashaw (fellow educator & parent)
Tammy has a gift! She works tirelessly with students to make sure that their needs are getting met. She works hours after the last teacher has left the building. She is consistently loving, attentive and encouraging. I am lucky enough to not only have a child in her classroom, but to also work alongside her on a daily basis. She is an inspiration!
Tammy is a stand-out educator partly because she is willing to admit when she doesn't have all of the right answers. She will dig for information and apply it, if she is not happy with the outcome, she will dig some more. Tammy is a resource for others and is always available to support not only the students in her program, but other students as well.
My son, recently adopted from the foster care program, is hard! His behaviors are significant and his disabilities impact all areas of his life, but Tammy loves him! She has helped our family by directing us to outside resources, providing a same place for him to learn, finding unique ways to connect with him, and most importantly, seeing his strengths. Tammy sends home a daily note about how our son's day has gone and it has become a highlight of our son's life. He waits patiently each day for us to read the note out loud, and when she calls him a rock star and he beams with pride. When things are left at school, she drops them by our house. In many ways she stands in the gap for him. We can't be everywhere and provide all of his needs, and she helps to cover the areas we miss. Her care and connection to our son reaches far beyond the classroom. During the summer she would check in to make sure that all was well with our son and he would respond with a video message. He adores Tammy!
My son's IEP is in constantly being evaluated. If a new need arrives, she makes changes necessary to the IEP. If he meets a goal, she adjusts and adds more goals. If his behaviors result in needing more support, she brings in the external support he needs.
Tammy's work is never done. She has more to learn, more to apply and more to share. During the academic day her focus is completely on the students, but after school things change; this is the time she meets with parents, meets with colleagues, supports families, creates plans and assess data. School is out at 3:00, but her "big tuck" (as my son calls her truck) remains in the parking lot well after 6:00 on most days. She responds to parent and staff emails well after most of us are in bed. Her job is never done!
Tammy continues to impact the lives of others!
Congrats Tammy, from all of us at K103!
What inspired you to become an educator?
My Elementary Physical Education teacher, Mr. Grubb from Lynch Wood, told me I could be anything I wanted to be. He also encouraged me to be an athlete. I also had an experience in 8th grade as a PE Teacher's Assistant, where I was asked to teach a girl with special needs to catch a ball. It took me a week to get her to catch that playground ball one time. But when she caught the ball she jumped and screamed with excitement and I cried. I knew from that point, I wanted to be a teacher, and to work with people with special needs.
What do you like most about teaching?
The kids and how excited they get. I like the challenge of finding that one thing that will excite a student, or when I can get a student to trust me. Once a student trusts you, it just opens the door to what they can do.
What has changed the most since you began your career in education?
The amount of paperwork that is required to do the job has changed the most since I started teaching.
What would you like parents to know about your job?
That special education teachers spend a lot of time developing activities, and developing curriculum to meet the students' individual goals. That when we go home we don't just put our bags by the door, but that we spend our night thinking about how we can connect with kids, or how can we make an activity better, or how do we get that one student to connect with something.
Share a favorite story about your years in education.
I have had many great experiences as an adapted PE teacher and a classroom special education teacher. Some of my favorite memories are of teaching students to learn life skills so that they can interact better in their community. Or when we had a track meet and parent stood at a finish line with tears in their eyes because it was the first time they saw their child ride a bike in a straight line or in the right direction. But mostly it is about the connection I have with students. It is very important to me to connect. I have one little boy who tells me how much he likes me every day, and when he is reassured that I feel the same way, he smiles and goes about his day, each time. It is amazing the success I have seen because of compassion for others.