First-year teacher Brianna Winiesdorffer shares what drew her to teaching and specifically to special education.Sep 10, 2020
In high school, Brianna Winiesdorffer didn’t know what she wanted to do after graduation. One day, a friend told her she thought Winiesdorffer would make a really good teacher. That simple suggestion started Winiesdorffer on the path she’s now traveling.
It was working at Flagstaff Unified School District’s Flagstaff Families and Communities Teaming for Students (FACTS), a before and after school program, that solidified her desire to teach.
“It changed my life and my perspective,” she says. “I really grew to love it so much, and I can’t really imagine doing anything else with my life.”
Her first semester with FACTS was also the first time Winiesdorffer had really spent time working with students, and she learned a lot from following her coworkers’ examples. In future semesters and when working with FACTS’ summer camp, Camp Iwannago, Winiesdorffer grew in her confidence as an educator and advanced from a FACTS caregiver role to becoming the site manager of FACTS at DeMiguel Elementary.
“You learn so many different things,” she says about working at FACTS. “You learn classroom engagement skills even though you’re not in a classroom, you learn transition skills, you learn how to de-escalate behavior, you learn how to have uncomfortable conversations with parents.”
Her time working with FACTS also led her to realize how much she especially enjoyed working with students with behavioral and special needs.
“I really enjoy being an advocate for the students, and I think that’s especially important for students with special needs,” she says. She is honored to work with the special education students she’ll be working with as a math resource teacher at Coconino High School.
“For me, the biggest thing is helping my students with special needs realize they can lead whatever life they want to lead,” she says. Sometimes students with special needs get stuck in a limited vision for what their life can be based on experiences that make them feel like they can’t do everything they might want to, she explains. “They can lead just as normal a life as I can or anyone else, and they can pursue whatever they want to through that life.”
She hopes her students truly feel that from their time in her classes, but she knows that she can’t always see how she might have affected a student.
“I know it’s cheesy, but I feel like a lot of people just want to make that difference,” she says. “When it comes down to it, I really think that’s the goal of most educators, myself included.”