Teacher Talk

McCormack is One very Special (Ed) Teacher

By David Ertischek, Naset in Review, June, 2008. Edited by S.Akens

Growing up, Joanne McCormack couldn’t imagine being a teacher. “I thought it would be boring and unrewarding” she says. “Now, here I am with a whole new career that I absolutely love. Will I be here with a walker at 90? I love going to school.” Not only does McCormack love her job as a special education teacher, but so do the school’s staff and students. After being named an Outstanding Special Education Teacher, according to the National Association of Special Education Teachers, McCormack found out that her co-workers had nominated her.  She didn’t find out that she had received the award, let alone been nominated, until a school-wide assembly.” I think I was cheering the loudest. It was very exciting. The kids cheered, too,” said McCormack of Hyde Park. “I was stunned. I was very, very surprised, very honored and pleased and excited. I couldn’t wait to get to the room to read what the award said.”

Like one of the 5-, 6- or 7-year-olds that she teaches, she put up her paper award on her refrigerator when she got home. She made her family read the award before they overran it with notices about upcoming hockey games.

“Joanne McCormack is a truly gifted educator,” said Principal Laurie Carr. “She believes in the potential of each and every one of her children, and they, in turn, rise to her expectations and standards. Joanne has also developed incredible relationships with our students’ families, going above and beyond to assure that they have the supports they need at home.”

Previously, McCormack worked as a librarian and a paraprofessional. But her personal experience with her daughter Courtney, 22, who is autistic, led her to become a special education teacher.

“I was very frustrated with the system. I didn’t know what was going on. I was never comfortable at meetings. I never knew enough about what I should be doing, and I didn’t understand individualized education plans”. Now she offers advice about IEPs for special education students.

McCormack has gone on to be a great advocate and teacher for special education students. “I want them to know they can do anything. They may go about it differently or it may take a little longer, but they can do it,” she said.

“I work hard at [teaching]. I’m always questioning myself and questioning other people. I love to learn and I’ll never stop learning. I’m in other teachers’ rooms and picking their brains and getting ideas, help and advice.”

McCormack also gets immense pleasure from helping her students, “I had a kid learning to sound out words. He looked at me and said ‘That’s how you do it. That’s how you read. You put the sounds of letter together and that’s how you read.’ I was like ‘he’s got it, he’s got it.’ That’s amazing when they start reading and I realize I taught them how to read.”

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