Spotlight: Therese Shain (MO '18)March 11, 2019
Special education teacher Therese Shain (MO ’18) loves working with elementary students because their skills grow in leaps and bounds: “With the right encouragement and support, they get so excited about their learning.” She won Missouri’s Milken Educator Award at Bayless Elementary in St. Louis on February 13, 2019.
Milken Family Foundation: Your students take ownership of their own learning and progress toward their goals. Why are self-assessment and data-driven instruction important in a special education classroom?
Therese Shain: Self-assessment and data-driven instruction are crucial in developing a learning environment focused on acquiring new skills. As students reflect on their learning and observe their growth, they are more motivated to attend to lessons and work hard. Often, the data-driven classroom provides a structured environment with less behavior issues. The students are aware of their goals and are more motivated to be active learners, making them more successful.
MFF: How did you land in education?
Therese: I always knew I wanted to have a job that made a lasting impact and helped people. I did not realize that I would go into education until late high school, when I was considering colleges and possible degrees. My late grandmother had learning problems and was not able to attend school. She was the primary reason for my interest in special education.
MFF: What do you like about teaching elementary students?
Therese: Elementary is a phenomenal time to observe growth in students. I love encouraging struggling students in gaining new skills at the primary level. With the right encouragement and support, they get so excited about their learning.
MFF: How do you keep parents involved in their children’s education?
Therese: Overall, I work hard to have positive relationships with the parents. For my reading groups, I send home reading passages, sound cards or word lists daily. This helps the parents stay up to date on the skills their children are working on and provides opportunities for the parents to reinforce that work at home. Students are excited to take home a copy of their progress monitoring graphs and their masterpieces at the end of each week. For some students, I keep parents updated daily regarding behaviors.
MFF: Who are your role models as an educator?
Therese: Several years ago I shared a room with a speech and language pathologist. We grew and learned from each other. We shared students and pushed ourselves to try new methods and develop our techniques. She inspired me to see each student as an individual by implementing a variety of interventions to help students in a variety of areas. She is one of my role models and always reminds me to try new creative ideas with students.
MFF: Tell us about your first year of teaching.
Therese: My first year was extremely overwhelming. I remember drowning in paperwork and new programs. I was lucky to work for a district that provided many layers of support. I had a mentor who was a veteran teacher and a fellow special education teacher next door. We also had a group of new teachers in the building that met throughout the year. All of these supports and caring coworkers helped me make it through.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Therese: When Lowell Milken said my name, I was in complete shock. For a split second, I felt as if I might faint. I remember thinking that this couldn’t really be happening. My good friend was standing next to me, and she had to nudge me to go accept the Award. I couldn’t believe that the entire gathering was set up for me. I am a very humble person so the spotlight was a bit overwhelming. I am honored that I was selected and will never forget the surprise of my life.
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Therese: My current and former students have been so excited about it. They frequently talk about the assembly and the money. I feel like a celebrity every time I walk down the hall. All students, even the ones I don’t teach, seem thrilled about the Award. Students have given me many ideas of what I can purchase with my money: a roller coaster, a Lamborghini, a mansion …
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Therese: For me, success is defined by the progress and growth of my students in any area including reading, writing, math or social skills. As we work together, student success is defined by data results and motivation to do well. In our classroom, students’ success is evident in group and individual learning graphs displayed throughout the room. It’s also students’ ability to reflect on their learning and decide on changes needed to make more growth in the future.
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