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Name: Justin Hayes

Occupation: Special education teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School

City of residence: Decatur

What got you interested in teaching special education?

I have wanted to be a special educator for as long as I can remember. In high school I got a job as an inclusion aide after school and in summer camps. I would be assigned to an individual with disabilities, and it was my job to make sure that person felt as included as possible in the camp. This job confirmed that special education was the career for me. Being an advocate for those individuals that often go overlooked in our society sort of feels like my purpose. Building lasting relationships with these kids has been incredibly rewarding, and I could never see myself doing anything else. 

How was your first school year of teaching?

Nothing can fully prepare you for all of the craziness that comes with your first year teaching. This has been one of the most challenging and fun years of my life. The group of kids I’ve had the privilege of teaching are some of the most warm-hearted and funny people I have ever met. They both amaze and crack me up every single day. Saying goodbye to my eighth-graders is going to be tough, but the progress I have watched them make this year makes me so excited for what’s to come for each of them. 

How do teachers prepare for the following school year in the summer?

My middle school will actually be merging with Stephen Decatur Middle School in the fall. The district is offering multiple trainings and other events this summer to make this big transition run as smoothly as possible. As a special education teacher, I will spend a lot of time going over my incoming student’s IEPs (Individualized Education Program) to familiarize myself with each individual’s areas of strength and needs. I will also be planning curriculum with the other SED teacher at my school to see how we can individualize our different academic areas to fit all of our students' needs.

5 questions with ... Jeff Dase, new assistant superintendent for the Decatur School District

What was your favorite moment from the school year?

There are way too many funny moments to pick just one of those. My favorite thing about teaching has absolutely been the feedback I get from parents on how great their kids are doing. I can’t even describe how happy it makes me to hear that the progress I see each kid making in my classroom has carried over to their home lives. It makes every hard day so worth it.

What are your summer plans other than lesson planning?

I am really looking forward to making some time for myself this summer to ensure I am as mentally ready as possible for the new school year. I’ll be moving into a new house here in Decatur in July. My girlfriend and I are very excited about that. I also saved up to go visit my college roommate in Arizona for a weekend, and will have more time to go see friends and family from my hometown.

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Contact Kennedy Nolen at (217) 421-6985. Follow her on Twitter: @KNolenWrites

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