Class Acts: A Q&A with Shannon Hess

Holly Grace Palmer nominated Shannon Hess for Class Acts. Palmer said Hess is a truly dedicated special educator who has established outstanding relationships with students, co-workers, parents and administrators. Hess has unwavering passion for supporting students with a wide variety of mild to moderate developmental disabilities, Palmer said.

• Name: Shannon Hess

• Age: 34

• City of residence: Modesto

• Occupation: Education specialist

• Education background: Attended multiple universities in California; bachelor's from California State University, Chico; multiple- subjects credential from Humboldt State University; special education credential from Stanislaus County Office of Education; working on master's in special education at Chapman University.

• Teaching experience: Resource specialist at Summit Charter Academy and currently RSP with Sylvan Union School District

Why did you get into teaching? I became interested in teaching after high school. I was fortunate to have several wonderful teachers in high school that changed my life.

What is your favorite thing about being a teacher? Watching one of my students learn to do something they never thought was possible. All of my students have been identified as having a learning disability of some kind. Many of them have low self-esteem and little confidence in their academic skills. With differentiated instruction that works with the students' strengths, many of them are able to achieve more than they thought possible.

What is the most challenging part of your job? When a student gives up. By the time a student has been identified with a learning disability, some of them already have decided that school is too difficult. Many of them have developed behaviors that impede their learning. Once they enter my program, I have to spend a great deal of time helping them believe that they are capable learners. This takes longer with some students than others, depending on the disability and the amount of time the student has gone without support.

What is the most important lesson you've learned? That each student is as unique as a fingerprint. Because of this, each student needs an individualized program to meet his or her individual needs. The best way to do this is to think of teachers, parents and staff as allies with the same goal of helping the student. The key to doing this is to value each member by collaborating as a team.

What is your favorite teaching tool or activity? Because my school is very modern, I would have to say my favorite teaching tool is technology. I have the capability of projecting anything on my computer on to a screen in my classroom. With this device, I can use images from the Internet or Web sites to enhance my lessons. I also have an interwrite pad that allows me to be across the room and write things on the screen in the front of the classroom.

What's next in your classroom? I am constantly trying to improve my classroom by increasing student responsibility and self-awareness. Most recently I put up posters with the word "choices" on them. This started a dialogue with my students about personal responsibility and making choices. I want to ingrain in my students that they are always responsible for the choices they make, and even when they choose to do nothing they are still making a choice.

What advice do you have for students? Never give up! It seems as though all of my students are faced with a challenge that they have to overcome. In a society that has negative attitudes toward people who are different, it is important to me that my students with learning disabilities believe that they are capable members of society.

What advice do you have for parents? Children learn what they live. Most of my students come to school with distractions from the stresses in their homes. If parents can take an extra moment to read, talk or interact with their kids in a positive way, it will make a world of difference.

What will it take to improve academic success in the valley? That's a difficult question. I imagine that when students in the valley are personally invested in their education, then academic success will improve. When students are motivated to learn because they value education as a crucial component of the community at large, then the valley will see academic success.

How do you try to reach students not interested in school? I try to reach my students on a personal level. I have many students who are challenged by the rigorous curriculum in their general education classrooms. They have little interest in learning something that isn't going to help them survive. I show them the value of learning the state standards and how it will benefit them in their daily lives. Feeling a connection with the academic material makes my students more willing to try.

What one area should schools put more emphasis on? Building a school as a community where students feel invested, active and connected.

If you could change one thing about the current educational system, what would it be? How many students fall through the cracks.

What would surprise people about your job? The amount of collaboration that my job requires: working with students, parents, teachers, school psychologists, counselors, legal counsel and administrators.

What are your future plans? Get a master's of arts in special education and continue to grow professionally.