Ellerhorst Elementary School – 2008 Winner

Linda McAninch is a special needs teacher at Ellerhorst Elementary School in Pinole teaching grades 1 through 3.  She has been a teacher for 25 years.

Each day, Linda confronts problems most of us could not imagine.  Her students suffer from a wide variety of very different challenges.  Many are on heavy doses of medication.  Many should be but are not.  Some are physically handicapped.  Some have autism.  Some are hyperactive.  Some won’t say a word.

Some of her children live with different mommies and daddies and in different homes almost on a daily basis.  Some have been abused and neglected. Many have been chemically exposed or live in homes where drug use plays a major role.  These children, with all of their different challenges, make up Linda’s class.

Moreover, by definition, her students have failed using traditional teaching methods.   Each student has had at least two years of challenging, discouraging experiences before arriving in her class.  But Linda does not accept failure as a possibility.

She begins by learning as much about each student as possible.  She does this by performing home visits and having parents fill out questionnaires about the child’s strengths and weaknesses.  She pays special attention to the physical layout of the classroom, keeping visual stimulation to a minimum, taking special care to arrange the children’s seating, putting defensive children at the end of a row, and highly distractible children in front.

Structure is her mantra.  Linda plans every minute of every child’s day in her classroom.  She eats with her students because they need structure even to get through lunchtime.

And her methods work.  One parent told us her son came home excitedly one day and said that Linda was the best teacher he has ever had.  She continues to tutor former students and recently saw three of them exit special education altogether and succeed in general education classrooms.

One parent affectionately calls her the 24/7 teacher.  She arrives long before school begins and stays after the day ends.  She devotes much of her personal time to her students as well.  Last year, one of her students was very ill.  He was not able to attend school on a regular basis.  She stayed closely in touch with the student and his family when he was at home or in the hospital.  She ran a 13 Kilometer race to raise money and awareness about leukemia wearing a tee shirt with a picture of the child as she ran.

Linda makes home visits during the year.  She does so to make the children feel special and also gain valuable insights as to their behaviors.  She attends baptisms, birthdays and extra curricular activities.  She organizes potlucks, fieldtrips, and offsite birthday parties.

One year Linda had a student whose family was in serious peril.  The child’s mother was in a battered woman’s shelter.  After several months, the shelter could no longer accommodate her.  Linda opened up her own home to the student and her mother.  To make a long story short, they ended up living there for five years.

Linda gets up every morning and goes to a job that few of us can imagine.  Linda’s children may all have special needs, but what they really have is a very special teacher.