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Virginia Journal of Education


10 Minutes with…Alison MacArthur

Special Education English Teacher, James Wood Middle School
Local Assn.: President, Frederick County Education Association 
Years worked in education: 8 years

What is a typical school day like for you?
This year had been a little different for me as I’m teaching English to all three grade levels in my building. I start by being visible in the hallway, greeting my students as they head to their lockers. My first class is a self-contained 7th grade class. It’s small, and students really get the attention that they deserve. Next is my co-taught 8th grade class, which is a ton of fun. They are the “big dogs” of the school, and at times will try to strut their stuff, but that’s all a part of teaching 8th grade. My 6th grade co-taught class is next. I’m not used to the younger ones but I’m looking forward to watching how they grow throughout middle school. Then comes a co-taught 7th grade class. I work hard to keep them focused, as many of them are already counting the minutes until the last bell. I end my days with my self-contained 8th graders. Throughout my day, I’m collecting data for IEPs, monitoring progress of the students on my caseload, and meeting with co-teachers and content members. After the hallways have cleared out, I head back to my classroom to grade papers, tweak lesson plans, attend meetings, and sometimes help out with sporting events in order to see my students in a different light. It’s always fun to talk to them about the different plays on the football field or basketball court, and shows them I’m not only invested them in as a student, but as a person.

What do you like about your job?
I’m one of the rare breed who loves working with middle school students! There are times that the students truly want to act as if they are grown, but give them an activity of coloring and cutting things out and they turn into little kids again. I also love being able to teach with all the different teachers that I do and experience different teaching styles. I love walking down to my 8th graders and having the 6th graders wave to me as they dash from elective to elective. Special education teacher aren’t always known by many kids in the building, so it’s fun to have kids saying “Hi” and talking to me as I travel around to my classes. 

What is hard about your job?
In special education, a copious amount of paperwork needs to be done. Staying organized is a task in itself and I’ve been working on that. I’m getting better with it, and finding that I end up doing less at home. I love doing what I’m doing and I’m here for the students. It means so much to me when they come back years later and hand me a graduation invitation. Those are the moments that make me able to get through the hard times.

What are some of the most fun and unusual things that have happened on the job?
My favorite time of the year is the end—not because the kids are going home for the summer and I get to sleep in. We do some fun activities with our 8th graders and I let them see a different side of me.  Last year at our student-faculty games, the students were able to choose one teacher to throw a pie in their face. I was very excited that I wasn’t picked for this but, as it turned out, the teacher who was had to leave early, so I took one for the team! The kids thought it was great. The goggles and swimmers cap didn’t seem to help.  Neither did all the pictures that seemed to surface after the whole event.

How has being an Association member been helpful to you?
I will admit that when I first joined the Association, it was strictly for the insurance. I started off with emotionally disturbed students and we had some who were very difficult. It wasn’t until a few years of teaching that I became more involved, and eventually became the FCEA president and, recently, a member of the VEA Board of Directors. It’s been so interesting learning how the Association works and networking with all the different people from around the state.  I truly feel like I have become part of something so much bigger than I ever imagined it was.


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