Krystal Bush, special-education teacher at Phillip C. Showell Elementary School, was recently named the school’s Teacher of the Year.
Bush, from Laurel, went through the Laurel School District before graduating from Salisbury University with her teaching degree. She is dually certified in elementary education and special education.
Although there are other teachers that teach special education at the school, Bush has students with the most severe types of learning disabilities. All are “educable disabilities,” she noted. Two of her students have one-on-one help throughout their day. And she has a student that is both legally deaf and blind, a student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and a student with epilepsy.
“It’s a good mix this year,” she said of her students.
Bush has some students this year who have been with her for a few years, and one student that has been with her all four years, which she said helps because it allows her to build strong relationships with the students and to get to know their individual needs.
She said one of the most challenging parts of her job is trying to find a way for her students to meet their grade-level expectations. For example, a fourth-grader who might only be on a first-grade reading level is still required to be tested at a fourth-grade level in the Delaware Student Testing Program (DSTP).
“They have accommodations,” she explained of the testing procedure for her students, such as having someone dictate the questions to them, or writing down the answers given verbally by those who need that type of assistance. But, Bush said, the challenge for many of her students is pushing them to think critically.
“They are concrete learners,” she said, so, for some, to think “outside the box” is where they might get stuck.
The students are with her for language arts and for mathematics but, for social studies, science, lunch, recess and special classes, they are acclimated with their grade level. At assemblies, for example, they all sit with their assigned homeroom teacher in their respective grade levels.
“My first year, they were all together the whole time, but Darlene St. Peter, the director of Special Education for the district, changed it. She really pushes for them to be accepted.”
The change has been a distinct improvement, Bush said.
“It was sad, because that year, the fourth-graders were going on a field trip, and my fourth-graders had to look out the window and the rest of their class getting on a bus, and were like, ‘How come we don’t get to go on the trip with our class?’”
Bush said the children know they are different, but she tries to relay to them that everyone just has different needs, and that, basically, people are the same.
“I had one student who didn’t want to take his medicine, and the principal said, ‘I take medicine every day,’ to show that really, we are all the same.” She added that the rest of the teachers are very aware of the fact that her students want to be included, just like anyone else.
“The regular-education teachers are very accommodating. If something special is going on, they will call them back to homeroom. They are very inclusive at this school,” she said.
Although Bush started in a para-professional career with pre-schoolers, she said that now, having second- through fifth-graders, she can’t imagine going back.
“When I first started, I thought fourth-graders were old. ‘How am I going to deal with them after dealing with pre-K and kindergartners?’ But they want the same things. They still want to be accepted, to be loved, to be cherished. They are just at a different level. It’s ironic now, but I wouldn’t want to go back.”
Bush said she was shocked that she had earned the title of Teacher of the Year, because this was her first year eligible, but she said she appreciates the recognition regardless.
“I don’t want to brag on myself, but I think I have the patience and the personality for this. Every day someone will say, ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ I am definitely happy. As hard as I work all the time — you know what you do, but to have your colleagues appreciate it, it’s good.”
She added that with the right ingredients of high expectations and patience, her students can excel and often do.
“These children are very smart. They are very capable. You just have to find the avenue for them to reach their goals. They are not to be pushed aside. You just have to raise your expectations. I had one student who had been working on her letters for a while and would have been happy just coloring the letters in. And one day I just said, ‘She needs to be pushed.’ And the progress she has shown just in the past few months… I am amazed, just because of raised expectations.”