(Learn more about Georgia's state schools: Georgia Academy for the Blind, Atlanta Area School for the Deaf, and Georgia School for the Deaf)
GaDOE: When did you first realize you wanted to be a teacher?
Melanie Thompson: When I was thirteen, I started working at a summer camp for kids with disabilities and at-risk youth. I fell in love with serving others and though I didn’t know it then, my family knew that I would have a career in education. When I graduated from high school and was no longer eligible to work at the camp, I started wondering how I could continue my work with people with special needs. With a little push from my family, my pursuit for a degree in special education began and here I am nearly ten years into a career in teaching special education.
GaDOE: What keeps you in the classroom?
Melanie: That’s easy: the students. Sadly, I didn’t really have a teacher that impacted me or that I connected with until I was in college. I don’t want my students to have to wait that long!
GaDOE: What character qualities make great teachers?
Melanie: Great teachers definitely have to have a heart for service, mentoring and advocacy. It also doesn’t hurt to have patience, creativity, flexibility and a good sense of humor.
GaDOE: What is your favorite part of the school year? Why? [You can’t say summer or recess]
Melanie: My favorite part of the school year is the spring (and not because summer is approaching). As a senior advisor, I play a big role in the end of the year activities for our graduates from year to year. I see the excitement, the anxiety, and the sorrow all related to graduation. The senior trip we planned all year finally happens and the students start understanding and internalizing how meaningful their time at GAB has been. Parents get to see their 15-ounce miracle babies that they feared wouldn’t live fifteen hours go to prom and walk across the stage. The work of the whole village comes to fruition. I just love it!
GaDOE: What is the funniest thing a child has ever said to you?
Melanie: My students are hilarious (I really should write a book) so it is hard to pinpoint just one thing. But the most recent thing that comes to mind is when I recently worked a weekend camp. We had all the students blindfolded so that there was an even playing field between students who have low vision students who don't have sight. At the end of the activity, I told the students they could remove their blindfolds and several of students with low vision were happy to regain their limited vision after an hour long activity. But one witty student (that is totally blind) pulled her blindfold off and without skipping a beat said, “Nope, didn’t work. Still blind.” The way she and so many of my students accept their visual impairment with humor and grace is not only refreshing but humbling as well.
GaDOE: What is your favorite technology to use for engaging students in learning?
Melanie: Lately, my students and I have been making a lot of videos related to our content. I would have to say the iPad and its virtually limitless list of apps is my favorite piece of technology to use with my students. They are able to access their materials on the iPads via Voiceover as well as using their own refreshable Braille devices which pair with the iPads. We can do everything from making movies, to expanding on lessons with educational apps, music and videos, to composing documents, to fun trivia, rewarding sound effects, and competitive leisure and educational games.
GaDOE: Everyone likes to know the morning routine of successful people. What is yours?
Melanie: I am in a busy season of life with a five-year-old and a two-year-old. I wish I could say that I wake up at 4 a.m. for a run and a kale smoothie all before getting my perfectly obedient children out of the bed and off to school and work! But I shall not tell a lie. I guess you could say I am prepping my kids for a future on the wrestling and debate teams since I tend to leave the house every morning having wrestled my daughter into matching socks and having sometimes lost the debate on whether my son can have cookies AND chips in his lunchbox.
GaDOE: What do you tell students when they need encouragement?
Melanie: When my students need encouragement, I remind them of their strengths and that I believe in them. I try to help them find the importance in whatever hurdle they are trying to get over, so they can clearly see what their end goal is all while keeping them motivated and celebrating the steps in between from start to finish.
GaDOE: What do you tell other teachers when they need encouragement?
Melanie: I offer them chocolate and remind them that we get to try again tomorrow and Friday is coming!
GaDOE: What is the best teaching advice you’ve received?
Melanie: The best advice for me is always found in scripture. James 3:1 says “…you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” With that being said, I’ve taken to heart other advice such as giving my students the attention, care, and education I would want for my own children and to be aware that somebody is always looking up to me even when I’m not looking.