Can you tell us about yourself?
"Hi, my name is Diana Armstrong and I work at Quitman junior high. I am the eighth grade inclusion teacher and the special education teacher. Um, it is located in Quitman, Mississippi and I've been there three years, but I've been teaching for 20 years. All in special education."
Why did you start a career in education?
"I started my career in education kinda in a nontraditional way. I went in as a substitute on the request of the superintendent who had been a teacher of mine many, many years and he just called and said, I think I have the job for you. And I was like, I don't know, but I'll try it. And absolutely fell in love from day one. And so I went on to get my teaching degree and, and have been teaching ever since."
If you could have any other job what would it be and why?
"Um, if I could have another job, what would it be and why? Okay. So I would have never thought this 20 years ago, but I actually have just gone back to school because I would love to be a special education director or maybe work with the state department in special education. I've just done it for so long now I see that there's a need for somebody who is compassionate for our children, but at the same time knows how to follow the rules and talk to parents and communicate because that's so important. So many of our parents don't even know what ruling their kids have, much less what it means. And I just think that there needs to be a unity in that to help our kids grow and flourish because they do struggle so much. And so that's definitely one of my ultimate goals."
How are kids different now than 30 years ago?
"Um, how are the kids different now than 30 years ago? Okay. So I tell the kids this all the time when I was in school, respect was huge. Yet it didn't matter the teacher was barely out of school or if it was a veteran teacher for 50 years, you respected that teacher and adults in general. And nowadays it's like you have to earn that respect and you have to constantly work with them to keep it and you have to respect them as well. And it's, it's harder than it was. I mean, I respected my teachers and, and other people too. But for these kids, it's like a daily thing. Everything's a new day and you have to earn their respect all over again. I also see a lot of struggles, which is crazy because you would think with technology it would make things easier. But so many of our kids struggle to read. And technology is not the only answer. I mean it has definitely helped tremendously for a student that can't read, to have something to read aloud. But so many of them don't have access to technology at home. So we're having to that process too. Um, I mean there's so many differences. Just the way we're all so much more mature than we were and we were allowed to be kids and you played outside and it was okay. And these kids have to watch what they do every step of the day. And so many of them don't have supervision when they get home, so they get into things that children shouldn't be exposed to. And so we have to deal with a lot of that at school too. Um, not knowing what's going on, on at home for so many. And then for others, just knowing that they're involved in adult type activities and they're bringing that to school every day, they bring the weight of that with them, but we still have to educate them and we have to help them understand that they need that education."
How is teaching different now than 30 years ago?
"Um, how is teaching different? Oh, wow. Um, I wasn't a teacher 30 years ago, but it's been 20 now. And I can say that I've taught some of these kids parents, which is crazy. But it has changed because like I said, technology has changed the way they access information has changed. And just the whole personalities of the children, I mean, they're little adults and they think that way. So we have to really work harder now to make them understand how important it is to get an education. They think live in the street life is great and that that's going to pay the bills forever. Or they have very real unrealistic goals of everybody wants to be an NBA star. Of course they do. But if you're not even playing basketball now, that's highly unlikely. So we have to teach them the skills that is okay to dream, but your dreams have to be sitting reality. And that's hard for a lot of them to get. And that's okay. It's, it's wonderful that they have the imagination that they can be anything they want to be. And so we have to foster that imagination, but at the same time teach the reality of the world and help them to understand that you need a backup plan. It's definitely not just, Oh, I can do this, so I'm gonna do this. You have to have a plan, you have to go to college, you have to finish school. That's really important. And um, like I said, I wasn't teaching that long ago, but when I started teaching, technology was pretty new in the classrooms. So I think that's probably the biggest difference. And the kids upper middle year with things like YouTube and video games. So trying to incorporate stuff like that into their learning really seems to make us from Indus difference in this age. They're technology kids, that's what they are. So incorporating that now is a huge part of gaining their attention. Keeping them focused and definitely keeping them engaged."
What would you tell someone who wants to become a teacher?
"What would I tell someone that's thinking about becoming a teacher? Um, not everyone's to be a teacher and in 20 years I have worked with some absolutely amazing teachers. I work with some amazing teachers right now and I've worked with some that weren't so good or some that maybe thought teaching was their calling, but maybe were better in a daycare setting or maybe just wanting to coach and weren't that good in the classroom. So it's, it's a field that's definitely probably different than what they expect. Um, of course teachers are not paid enough, so it definitely is not a fabulous profession as far as making ends meet. Um, you're never going to get rich teaching, but if you're passionate about it and you have a passion for our kids and for helping these kids become successful adults, it's worth it. I mean, I couldn't have done 20 years of special education if I didn't think it was worth it. Um, I would definitely tell them that if they believe in the future of our students that the shot, but that is hard work. It's very hard work and nothing is handed to you. I mean, you have to earn that respect and that trust and building communication with the parents. It's the, and they're not always easiest to build relationships with, but if we don't, you know, we're not ever gonna make progress with our students. So for a new teacher, you've just got to work all that stuff out. You've got to figure out how to balance it all. Can they? Absolutely. I mean we were all new at one point in time, but I think getting a mentor that's done it for a while, especially in your subject area, they can help me with curriculum and planning and know something about their parents is a wonderful idea. But yes, I would definitely encourage them if they feel like that's their passion."
What is one thing you would change to help kids learn better?
"It's one thing I would change to help kids learn better. Um, probably class size. I know that's been an initiative for a long time to get smaller class sizes. But if you have a class where there's 25 students and 10 of the students have an IEP and four of them are ELL students. And I mean you just scale up a class with struggling learners and you either have a class, some may even slower, then the curriculum is telling you you need to move or do you have a few students in there that are advanced in their board? So class sizes steal a little bit of a problem if you ask me. Um, I just think to be absolutely successful, we need a small class as we can possibly get and we need to be able to mix those students more effectively where there's higher performance and lower performing students in the same classes. Because one thing I have seen that works tremendously with my special needs students is peer tutors. It's cool to work with your peer. It's not cool to work with the teacher. So when we're able get a size group that's workable like that, it definitely benefits the students. And it also gives those advanced students more opportunities to Hale. I mean through knows some of them may be our future teachers. So we definitely want them to get that experience and if not, it makes them a better human being. They're learning how to work with others. They're learning how to help somebody that needs help. And then they want to how to be leaders at the same time. I mean, they can't sit there and argue when there's the pace to be helping somebody, they have to help. So it just to me, makes a lot more rounded individual when we can have a smaller class and work more one-on-one and with peer tutors and of course, including the technology because that's here to stay and the kids love it. So we just have to figure out how to do that effectively. And I think in a smaller class it's easier because you can have one route working on something like computers and another group reading a passage out of a text, then another group doing an activity. And that's so much easier to manage when it's a small group. Thank you so much for asking these questions and giving me a chance to answer them for you."