LAGRANGE — Being a teacher can be challenging enough in itself, managing a classroom of dozens of youngsters.

But working with special education students with physical or development disabilities can present an even greater challenge for a young teacher.

But for Casey Whitman, the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly’s 2021 Education Awards Emerging Star, the challenge was one worth the big reward for helping students meet their school goals.

Whitman, an Indiana University grad who recently worked at Lakeland Intermediate School and now is at Butler Elementary, got her start in education working with special education students in the classroom.

Like many educators, the impact teachers had on her in her school career inspired her to follow education as a job path.

“All of the wonderful teachers I had growing up showed me how fun education can be. I have always loved helping and taking care of others so it just came naturally,” she said.

A drive to help and take care of others persuaded her to pursue a career in education focusing on special education and those students who had additional needs in the classroom.

While special education can be one of the most challenging jobs in a school, Whitman found that it could also be one of the most rewarding.

“Being an advocate for others who do not know how, or cannot advocate for themselves, is something I have always found rewarding. The field of special education provides me with many opportunities to do so,” she said.

“The most challenging thing is understanding that a behavior is just the student’s way of saying they need help. There have been times where students say or do things that they do not really mean, they just do not know how to express themselves appropriately,” she said. “The most rewarding part of my job is getting to know all these students and watch them grow. I love being able to see them excel in things and have confidence in themselves.”

For example, Whitman recalled one student who lacked confidence in himself and his abilities at school. She worked with him, talking about positive aspects about himself on a daily basis, working to build his esteem. But even still, he was really hesitant about working with others for fear of embarrassing himself.

But Whitman stood behind him, literally, to help usher him into the room with his peers and helping him get to work with others. Once he got settled and started to work, he turned out to be a fine addition to the group.

“He got to do his job and he did it very well! He thanked me later for making him go in the room. I reminded him that he got himself in the room, I just watched,” she said.

For current students or youngsters who are considering education as a career one day, Whitman said the most important thing is to not give up. The ups and downs of education be exhausting, frustrating even, but the rewards are there too for people who can work through the tough times.

“Don’t give up. This job can be exhausting, mentally and physically. You will be so glad you pushed though. It is the most rewarding job you could ask for,” she said.

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