For 19 years, Tara Chapman taught English in Dallas ISD – at Hillcrest and Booker T. Washington high schools. But as the mother of children with disabilities, including an adult son with autism, she saw up close what a difference special education teachers can make in students’ lives. And she wanted to be a part of making that difference.
Now, after getting certified in special education three years ago and enrolling in rehabilitation studies at the University of North Texas (with graduation set for 2022), Chapman this school year became the special education teacher and case manager at Booker T. It is a move she finds rewarding.
“I did love [teaching]English and sharing it with students,” she says, “but what I love most about special education is the connection. I have a chance to connect more individually with my students and their families. Special education is all about meeting students’ individual needs, and I find that so meaningful and worthwhile.”
In her new role, Chapman provides special education services to students in grades nine through 12. “I provide in-class support, along with my fabulous teaching assistant, in any subject a student needs,” she says. “A lot of the support is in English and math, but it could be in any subject.”
When an opportunity arises, she likes to “normalize not knowing the answer,” to let students know that it’s okay to ask a teacher or someone with experience. “Some kids in special ed are afraid they will look less intelligent if they have questions,” she says, “and I want to [make it okay]to say, ‘I don’t know.’ If I’m in a math class, like Algebra II, I’ll say to the teacher, ‘I’m a little lost, too. Can you explain it to me again so I can help?’ I had a student say to me, ‘I thought I was the only one who didn’t get it.’ Now the students are asking more questions, and I think if they can see that other people don’t know, then they’ll see it’s okay to ask.”
Chapman credits her principal, Dr. Scott Rudes, for entrusting her with her role, and school district staff for supporting her. “We [teachers]have great support. Every time I have a question, I get really quick answers. People from Central Office come out to help me with things, which is really useful as I’m learning new information this year.”
A big part of special education is also preparing students for life after high school. “One of the things our special ed department does in helping with the transition to adult life is referring our students to the Texas Workforce Commission,” Chapman says, a resource that parents have found to be beneficial.
Chapman’s work has not gone unnoticed. Parent Pauline Mayfield describes her as “a very dedicated, compassionate, proactive, and always very professional teacher. She is extremely patient with the students and their parents and radiates gentleness that calms the most stressed-out students. Her room is a sanctuary for children who have a hard time feeling comfortable in any other place. I feel blessed that my children are under her guidance; I know they are in great hands.”