Education - Teachers First

Jan 26, 2012 7:11 PM by Andy Koen

Teacher draws on personal adversity to help students succeed


Melanie Austin couldn't be happier to be in the classroom. Working with special education students has literally been her life's ambition.

"When I was 10 years old, I was going to school in Jefferson County and I was at one school and across the way was a special needs school and I said, it's not fair that they can't come over and play with us."

Melanie has been teaching for 13 years, and at Sunset Park Elementary in Pueblo for the last 5 of them.  It takes an open mind and a lot of creativity to do her job. For example, one of her students hates using worksheets. So, Ms. Austin brings out a pair dice to work on math problems with them.

Along with that creativity, Melanie also has a strong passion and determination to see her students succeed. It's the kind of passion that's rooted in personal experience. You see, Melanie couldn't read herself until the 6th grade.

"I was the only special needs child in my school growing up," she recalls. "I had a severe learning disability. So, I understand where these kids are coming from."

So, even if she has to repeat a problem over and over again, she will because Melanie knows personally that her students can overcome their challenges.

"A lot of people don't realize that they're very capable people," she said. "They might require a lot more time, but they're very capable."

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