Southsider Voice web editor
It’s not uncommon for Greenwood High School’s new special education teacher Laura Miller to stay at work late into the evening.
“There are many times when the janitor has caught me in here late on weekends and during breaks,” Miller said. “You have to have that passion to keep going because a lot of teachers burn out in this field. We just do it for the kids because it’s what they need.”
Planning lessons can be a challenge because her students have various needs and come from different situations. Her students range in age from 15 to 22; some use sign language to communicate.
Miller’s assistants ensure that the students’ needs are being met. Some students lack functional skills and have to be reminded of the class schedule by a pictorial map on their desk.
“Most of the things in this classroom are either handmade or I bought myself,” she said. “And I don’t think that is something people are aware of when it comes to special ed.”
Miller stresses practicality as she wants all of her students to hold jobs.
“With high school I try to do something realistic and functional,” Miller said. “Something that they will be doing once they leave here.”
To assist the students find jobs is a work program that Miller runs. She has been able to get companies like Goodwill, Domino’s Pizza, Subway, TJ Maxx and Lincoln Square to take in her students during the week.
“The businesses who take us always love and appreciate us because our students are awesome workers.”
Miller developed an interest in special education when attending Center Grove Schools, where as a third-grader she was a peer buddy to a boy with autism.
“I just knew then that I wanted to work with people with disabilities,” she said. “I didn’t know what way really, but that one boy sparked a passion in me.”
That desire continued to grow when her middle school English teacher introduced her to SonRise Ministries, a program that helped those with special needs. Miller volunteered there every year into college as she landed a paid internship as a Ball State student. She now leads a weekly Bible study at SonRise.
While at Center Grove she helped start the Best Buddies chapter, a program that builds relationships between special education students and the general body; she is now a faculty advisor for the Greenwood chapter.
Through Ball State she completed a master’s in ABA and autism to go a long with her bachelor’s in special education for intense interventions. Before joining Greenwood this year, Miller worked at Cornerstone Autism Center and Indianapolis Public Schools.
Because she is sometimes with her students multiple years, Miller says her classrooms become like families.
“I feel like I have more of a student-teacher bond than I feel most teachers do. I can truly say that I won’t forget any of my students. That’s something I really cherish about my job.”
At the end of the day, Miller wants people to know what her students are capable of.
“I think there is a perception that our kids a lot less capable than they are,” Miller said. “Sometimes I think there is that negative image that we play our day and that these kids can’t learn. But that is so far from the truth.
They are able to learn and grow and progress through out our program.”