By Elaine Pool

The road to becoming a teacher is not always a straight one.  Someone can head in one direction, focused on a certain major in college and graduate school, then make a U-turn into something completely different.  That happened with Tonya King, SB Magazine’s public-school Educator of the Month.  Tonya has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology and counseling and had planned to be a psychologist or Human Resources specialist in the business world.  Then she walked into a classroom and began teaching, and her life changed totally.  She fell completely in love with her students and with teaching.

Tonya started teaching at Sunset Acres Elementary School in Special Education and stayed there for five years.  She moved to Desoto Parish schools for a five-year stint in regular education, then returned to Caddo Parish.  She is once again a Special Education teacher at Keithville Elementary/Middle School and loves her job.  She loves Caddo Parish Schools because the school system is so family-friendly.   Her favorite part of teaching special needs students is being able to work more closely and individually with her students, have a deeper relationship with them, and see them blossom.  She works hard to help them grow, with the goal of helping them move into classrooms with their peers.  The hardest part of her job is having to say goodbye to them when they “age out” of her classroom.  Wanting the best for them, however, Tonya knows they need to move on, so she makes sure they are ready.

Teaching special-needs children isn’t always a piece of cake.  Instruction must be differentiated for each student because the same teaching methods don’t always work for every student.  And, as Tonya’s goal is to help them move toward regular education classrooms, she often has to say goodbye to children she is in love with.  Because she loves them, she wants the best for them.  Tonya has had to help students transition to more specialized classrooms when her class isn’t the best fit for them and their needs.  Her hardest experience was working with a student who had a significant amount of Autism.  While the child was intelligent, they were very emotionally volatile, and Tonya’s classroom wasn’t meeting their needs.  She had to advocate for the child with parents and school personnel to help them get the correct and needed placement.

Tonya works hard for and with her kids; she communicates with parents to ensure the lessons carry over and are reinforced at home.  She must track and analyze test results to monitor progress and often creates Google slides of each lesson so the students can follow the lesson visually.

She says, “The kids are what keeps me showing up to school.  I love the kids!”  Tonya has a super-bubbly personality; she can be goofy and have fun with her students, which elementary children really like and respond to.  She tells her students that she loves them all day long to ensure that they hear that as much as possible, even if they don’t hear it at home a lot.  The love Tonya shows her students is evident when watching her interact with them.  The children respect her and the rules, follow directions to the best of their abilities, and come up for hugs frequently during the day.

When asked to give advice to someone who might be considering a teaching career, Tonya suggested that they go and observe multiple public schools; not every school and grade level is the same.  If Tonya could give advice to her 22-year-old self, she would tell young Tonya to major in Education from the beginning rather than Psychology and save the student loans!  That’s some serious wisdom from a voice of experience.