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Virginia Journal of Education

Ten Minutes With...

Jeffrey Pennington

  Elementary Special Education Teacher
School system: Portsmouth Public Schools
Years worked in education:  Six as a certified teacher, one as a paraprofessional

What is a typical school day like for you?
On a typical day I arrive at work with coffee in hand and meet up with my collaboration teammates.  We go over the plan for the day and try to conceive of the many ways in which we’ll get sidetracked. Much of the day I work with mixed groups of students in general and special education. These groups are highly fluid as we gauge the levels of need of various students on different strands. So there is no one group with which I work every single day. I love the variation. I never seem to get in a rut at work—except on morning hall duty, where the coffee comes in handy.

What do you like about your job?
I love the relationships I’ve built with my co-workers and the many opportunities I’ve had in the school system and community as a result. I have had the opportunity to work with most teachers in my building in various capacities in my tenure as an inclusion teacher, data analyst, school improvement chair and Portsmouth Education Association representative. The people that help me through each task and responsibility are some of the best things about my job.

What is hard about your job?
The hardest part of my job is part of what makes it interesting. Finding solutions to educational mysteries is what special education is all about. Even though we might not be able to get a particular student to be completely successful on all of his or her standardized tests, we celebrate being able to identify new challenges as they arise and find strategies to help kids beat them. Promoting growth in areas where students show deficits is no small task and yet with the help of my colleagues, we accomplish this every day. Sometimes we leave school with headaches and are bothered by challenges but we know that’s part of the job and that we’ll eventually find a solution.

What are some of the most fun and unusual things that have happened on the job?
The most fun I have is when I’m learning something unusual about our students. I’m always surprised when we share information and build stronger relationships. I’m not sure we spend enough time letting our students share their interests with us. One example that comes to mind is the time I played some music during an independent activity. Much of the time students are exposed to classical music or jazz at my school, but this particular playlist included a song by a British rock band. One of my otherwise introverted students became excited and explained that the song was featured on her favorite tween vampire movie franchise. This very trivial connection turned out to be an excellent way to engage a student that I might not otherwise have been able to relate to. These little revelations are often the best parts of my day.

How has being an Association member been helpful to you?
The VEA has given me numerous opportunities to network with professionals across the state to share experiences and learn valuable new strategies from my peers. Professional development like Savvy Pro has given me insights on issues that I encounter daily. Knowing about and being active in the legislative advocacy component of the VEA has made me more knowledgeable about the mechanisms behind public education. Most of all I know that being a member in my professional organization has given me a larger and more powerful voice to advocate for kids and teachers. The free key chains help, too.



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