Why I'm A Teacher

To understand why I am a teacher, all you have to do is meet Nikki. She is that one special person in my life who inspired me to become a special education teacher.

Many of us in this field have a similar story: one person or volunteer experience that changed our lives and lead us down the path to work with children with disabilities.

I grew up with Nikki in Charlotte, North Carolina. As she grew as a young child, unexplained causes resulted in significant developmental delays, a seizure disorder, and extreme behavioral challenges. Through early intervention and an exceptional public school experience, Nikki started to speak. She started using sign language, and following directions. After these milestones, she moved through the school learning to read, write, and add. Nikki became a student; an academic student who graduated from a public separate high school. Her classmates chose her as the student speaker at their commencement ceremony. She composed her own speech and performed it in front of hundreds of people. 

My own path included attending Providence Day School, which gave me an exceptional academic background, and Salem College for my undergraduate degree in Psychology and my teaching license in Learning Disabilities. I live now in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with my husband Dave and our three children.

I taught middle school for two years, and though most people groan when I tell them that, I really did love it. I loved my students and the middle school environment. When I found The Children’s Center however, there was no way I could resist the call to work with the population I have always had the greatest love for. I returned to Salem College to complete my Master’s in Birth through Kindergarten Education, which is a dual regular education and special education degree. I have since added an adapted curriculum license to my certifications.

My classroom is for children in grades kindergarten through 5th grade with significant disabilities. The advances in medical technologies over the years have allowed children born with severe disabilities, rare syndromes, very early pre-term births and incredibly low birth rates to survive at a rising rate. These children are all deserving of a high quality, rigorous, stimulating education.

My classroom looks different from most elementary school classrooms. Gone are the traditional desks to make room for several pieces of adapted equipment for each child. There are standers, gait trainers, scooter boards, and various other tools to help our students build muscles to step up steps, pull up to stand from a bench, walk through parallel bars, and other gross motor feats that came to the rest of us without much work at all.

The most fascinating part of watching my students during the school day is how much effort they put into participating in therapies and academic activities. Some walk with heavy prosthetic legs. Others push their wheelchairs or have to wait for others to push the chairs for them. They pull oxygen tanks behind them, and as teachers we do whatever it takes to help them access their educational curriculum.

Our days are filled with literacy and numeracy, science and social studies, but the teachers at The Children’s Center are also adept at dealing with feedings through gastrostomy tubes, IEP meetings, seizures and other medical emergencies.

The students in my classroom are some of the happiest in the entire school system. They are not only surviving their sometimes-difficult challenges, they are thriving. Yes, some may be medical miracles, but they are also are scholars, athletes and friends. They deserve to be heard and valued despite being such a small percentage of our nation’s student population.

The biggest improvement I can make in the teaching profession is to be a vocal advocate for students with special needs and their families. I have taught a range of children, from typically developing students in regular education, to those with moderate learning disabilities to students with multiple and severe disabilities. They all need strong advocates, in different ways and for different reasons, because they are all individuals worthy of the finest education we can provide. 

I have always had a professional respect for Helen Keller and Maria Montessori. They are such notable trailblazers and advocates for people of all ages with special needs. I have no doubt that if we had been documenting groundbreaking women in such a celebratory way all along, these educators and humanitarians would be at the top of the list.

I am so proud to be named the winner of MAKERS for the Excellence in Education Award. Such an achievement only improves my teaching by reinforcing that I am on the right track as a teacher and that my educational philosophy is sound.

And yet, among my professional accomplishments, it all still comes back to Nikki. At Nikki’s high school graduation, shortly after her remarkable speech, her father gave a speech as the PTA representative. He remarked on the differences that Nikki and her classmates would make in ‘the real world.’ He shook his head at those who doubted that Nikki and her peers would make a contribution to society. And then he told everyone that Nikki’s contribution to society was me, Katherine Campbell. That because of her, the Forsyth County school system had an excellent teacher, and that Nikki’s impact on the world of education was quite significant, thanks to my career choice.

I will always teach because I am Nikki’s contribution to society, and the difference that I make in the world is twice the size of most, because I’m doing it for the two of us.

// Katherine Campbell of The Children's Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina is the winner of MAKERS Excellence in Education Award. She was one of four finalists for the Forsyth County Teacher of the Year in 2006, and is currently a finalist for the 2013 Forsyth County Teacher of the Year. //