Enjoy our Teacher of the Year Profile series each Thursday in the Statesboro Herald February 23 - June 1. Portal Middle High School's teacher of the year is Penny S. Aubrey. This is her story:
My name is Penny Aubrey. I am a special education teacher for grades 6-8 at Portal Middle High School, where I have taught for six years. I previously served in the same role at Mattie Lively Elementary for four years. I received my bachelor’s degree and my master’s degrees in school psychology and in special education from Georgia Southern University.
In 1993, I graduated from Georgia Southern with a degree in political science. I had dreams of becoming a lawyer, but I had a six-month-old son, Kyler, and I lived in Statesboro before the age of online classes, so law school was put on hold. It soon became evident that Kyler was not reaching developmental milestones. This was the beginning of my path toward special education.
I spent most of Kyler’s early years working with therapists and agencies such as Babies Can’t Wait. My experiences led me to return to school to be a school psychologist. I wanted to make the kind of difference I had witnessed others make for Kyler and our family.
I worked in the early intervention field, and I visited families of infants and toddlers with disabilities. I used what I learned with Kyler to help other families see potential in their own children. I quickly realized I loved working directly with children and their families. I loved hands-on interaction and seeing the progress. Although I had earned by degree in school psychology, it was at this same time that Kyler was learning to read, and I was inspired by his teacher to become a special education teacher.
In special education, the smallest accomplishments are actually the biggest. We have the opportunity to teach students several years in a row. This, along with being able to work with fewer students at a time, helps us really get to know our students and to see the progress they make. I believe one of my major accomplishments is for me to teach students to read who have not been able to learn in a general education classroom. The ability to open doors to the world for children by helping them learn to read is an amazing feeling.
My greatest accomplishment during the past school year was to teach my students perseverance and to be an example of how life can be tough. Everyone has obstacles, even teachers. I lost my son, Jordan, in August of 2015, and the following month I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had some very dark days and difficult times. It was the support, smiles and words of encouragement from my students that made me want to get out of bed each morning. It kept me going when I wanted to give up.
I am able to look back now and feel proud about my ability to persevere and stay focused on why I chose to become a teacher, the students. Educating students is more than teaching the curriculum. It is building character. The human spirit is hard to defeat. My students saw me vulnerable. They made me realize that my success as a teachers in not only measured by test scores but by all the lessons I teach them, including perseverance.