Editor’s note: As part of our celebration of National Teacher Appreciation Week, we are highlighting a few outstanding educators from classrooms across the state. We thank all teachers for their dedicated work with Iowa’s students this past year.

Today’s Q&A session spotlight features Sioux Center Community School District teacher Lori Brandt. Brandt has taught for 23 years and is a special education teacher at Sioux Center High School.

Who was your favorite teacher and why?

Barbara Campbell was a phenomenal teacher. She was my third and fifth grade teacher in Rutland, Mass., where I grew up. Mrs. Campbell was light years ahead of the world of education when it came to getting the best out of students. In the ‘70s, she knew that in order for students to achieve they needed to be regulated. In order to be regulated students needed to feel safe. She understood that she was responsible for making the fifth grade school days be filled with opportunities to grow. Self regulation was the part of my life she greatly impacted, and I have carried much of what I learned so long ago into my life and my classroom. Seeing students grow, change and develop into young adults is rewarding, especially the students who have put in the work to be the best version of themselves. Mrs. Campbell laid a strong foundation for me and the relationship we built then, continues across the miles.

I see this lasting impact in my involvement with students, family and community and the depth of relationships. The most significantly disabled students who will transition to life as a dependent adult are people who live in my community, and after 23 years, I know them all by name. I supported families with transitional plans. There have been a few students who have struggled in their adult placement and I have supported them through opening my home to a more inclusive life through being a host home funded through the Intellectual Disabilities Waiver. One student has lived with me for just over five years and we have mutually augmented each other's lives as we have shared our families.

Why are you passionate about teaching?

I have a passion for education because I love children and want to support them to achieve their full potential. I was blessed to have educators in my life who supported me in my learning from when I was very young through my college years. I strive to be that teacher to be there for struggling students.

What things do you love about working with students?

Being positive in a person’s day brings me the greatest joy. I love to see students at all levels develop and change as they progress through school. Building relationships positively supports student development, but it also gives me a gift too, joy.

What do you think are the keys to a student’s success and how do you help foster that?

Students do not care what you know until they know that you care. Healthy relationships foster academic achievement. My classroom is a small community within the Sioux Center High School community. The students in my classroom are accepted and genuinely loved. Their needs are met, so they are prepared to learn and make relationships with others within the larger community. All learning doesn’t come from a lesson plan. Much of the learning comes from interacting with others in a positive environment where a nurturing teacher guides and provides scaffolded support.

Over the years, how have you grown as an educator?

Today I am a confident and reflective teacher. I am able to evaluate my own lessons candidly and set goals to improve instruction. I know my strengths and the areas where I could use a bit of support from an administrator or colleague. I’m more aware of the non-school influences impacting the learners and consequently my classroom and how to mitigate the negative impacts, but to also use the outside experiences to enhance instruction.

What opportunities do you see in the next few years in education?

I’m looking forward to mentoring younger professionals entering the district. I want them to know that without positive relationships throughout the community, learning is stymied. I want to impart to them some of the skills, knowledge and strategies I have learned mostly from trial and error over the years. I hope when the time comes for me to retire, there is a team that will pick up where I left off and keep providing the exceptional learners of our community with acceptance, positive relationships, sound pedagogy and equitable opportunities.

What advice would you give to a new teacher starting out in the field?

Take it one day at a time and look at mistakes as a tool for learning. Model being a lifelong learner for your students. Never judge because you have no idea what happens nor control what student’s life outside of the walls of the classroom. Celebrate your victories and let others know what’s going on in your classroom.

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