Teacher at Bakman Advocates for Students with Special Needs

Monday, April 24, 2017

Amy Sousa, a 23-year veteran of teaching, is a resource specialist program teacher at Bakman Elementary School. She was a recent finalist for the district's Excellence in Education awards. A colleague, Michelle Diebert from Phoenix Elementary Academy, said this about Sousa: "She has always been an advocate for children with special needs and goes above and beyond to see that their needs are being met at school. Even with her most difficult students with incredible obstacles, I have never heard her give up on a child."

You have been teaching for over 20 years. How do you stay inspired?

My students inspire me every day! I see the personal and educational challenges they conquer, and it makes me want to do more to help. They are so excited when they grasp a concept, and that excites me. There is still nothing like sharing that moment of discovery with a student.

You are a resource specialist program teacher. What does that entail?

My position falls under the umbrella of Special Education. I work with students with IEPs (individualized education program) and help facilitate their access to the general education core curriculum. I work together with classroom teachers to make sure a student's needs are being met. Many times, the smallest adjustments make a huge difference. Other times, there are more interventions that need to be put in place. I'm very fortunate to work with an amazing team of professionals who believe in educating all students, That makes my job very rewarding.

What works best to motivate students?

I think many students are motivated by their own progress. If I am able to engineer a situation in which a student is able to grasp a grade level concept at their instructional level, that's big. That makes a student eager to learn more.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

I love working with my students, and I love working with our Bakman team: our instructional assistants, teachers, parent volunteers, NTAs, administrators, clerical and custodial staff, and DIS/psychs/emotional support staff will do whatever it takes to help a student or a family. Coming together for our families and addressing their needs can create lifelong change. I'm always honored to be a part of that process.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

There are, of course, not enough hours in the day to meet every need. Striving for balance between meeting student needs and case management is a never-ending challenge. Much of the work at Bakman occurs in collaborative teams, and that's a huge support. We can get much more done together than we can working individually.

What book are you recommending to others right now?

We received so many great resources as part of the restorative practices training this year. One book I especially like is "Emotional Intelligence 2.0" by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. It's a good, quick read about the emerging importance of EQ (emotional intelligence as opposed to IQ intelligence) not only in education, but in our culture as a whole. It's packed with dozens of takeaway ideas that you can read and use immediately. Also, it's very uplifting. I call it my lunchtime book!

What's your favorite book for elementary students?

"The Snowy Day," by Ezra Jack Keats. It's a timeless classic about a child who goes on a walk in his neighborhood on a snowy morning. There are so many sensory moments in this book. What does the child feel, hear, etc. on his walk? Even though we do not live in a snowy climate, students can compare their sensory experiences to the character in the book. It's a gem.

Name one thing most people do not know about you.

I met my husband in kindergarten at Wishon Elementary and we went all through school together, graduating from McLane in 1982. He too, works for the district. So I guess you could say we are a true Fresno Unified family!

If you were not a teacher, what career would you choose?

Teaching was my second career. I used to do professional writing for ad agencies (newsletters, annual reports, etc.). When I discovered teaching, I knew I had found my life's work, but I've always retained that love of language, words, and writing. Maybe freelance writing is something I'd like to do eventually. Even so, it's hard to imagine a job without students!