I’m excited to tell you about Ben’s Teacher Feature for this week – Mrs. Lisa Olinger, Early Education Teacher at Fox Ridge Elementary in St Charles, IL. I am recognizing her simply because she was Ben’s preschool teacher and I wanted to tell you about her. I still remember the first day we met pretty clearly -- at Ben’s very first IEP meeting when he was entering the school system in 2015. I’d always heard about IEP meetings and how they were the most dreaded day of the year for any special needs parent, so I didn’t quite know what to expect.
Going into the IEP, I’m ashamed to admit I assumed they would put him in a significant needs room where he’d be with kids that were ‘like him.’ However, this was not the case at all. The Early Education team felt he would only benefit from interacting with typical kids that could engage with him, have the opportunity to play with others and build real friendships. I didn’t know this at the time but Mrs Lisa (who was in the initial IEP meeting) wanted to be his teacher – she wanted him in her classroom. And at the end of the meeting, she said she could hardly stand it and “couldn’t wait to get her hands on him.” She grabbed a beanbag chair, worked to get him comfortable and started to interact with him. I left the meeting with tears in my eyes, encouraged and hopeful that he would have a great first year of school.
I was right. In that year, I saw him develop and change. He was happy to be there each day – even though he was nonverbal, I knew this by his frown most days when I was picking him up. LOL. Including him in the classroom not only helped him, but it helped the other kids as well. By knowing and interacting with a kid like Ben, they were able to see him as a person and not just someone who needed extra attention, or someone who needed a wheelchair, or someone who couldn’t talk with them. They learned he could play, communicate and interact, just in a different way. And having experience with disability may make it less scary for them.
Lisa is an excellent teacher; she invested in and loved my kids like they were her own; she has been supportive of the Ben Smiles Memorial Foundation; she’s an all-around great person, and I believe is the reason Ben had such a great year in preschool.
Those are my words. Now, in Lisa’s words:
1. How long have you been teaching? I actually had to look this up because I don’t keep track of something I love so much! I have been teaching for 21 years. Some of that time was with children and their families from birth to three as well as kindergarten and first grade students. My passion is early childhood with students ages 3-5 which is the age group that I have spent most of my career with.
2. Why did you want to be a teacher? When I was 12 years old, I was very sick and confined to bed for an extended period of time. During my bed rest, I happened upon the muscular dystrophy telethon. I watched the entire weekend and decided at that time I wanted to work with and teach children with disabilities.
3. What do you love most about teaching? Or how rewarding is it? Teaching is all I have ever wanted to do; I find it rewarding each and every day. I love to be a positive influence in the lives of children while celebrating their accomplishments with them. Seeing their expressions of wonder as they figure out “why” or “how” is priceless. Teaching students with disabilities is my passion and I am blessed to be able to include students with disabilities in the general education setting.
4. What is the hardest part about being a teacher? The hardest part of teaching is data collection and paperwork. No matter what system I put into place, I always feel as if I am a bit behind. Working with young children requires teachers to collect data during play in an authentic manner, so I rely on my teaching team to assist me. We take lots of photos and make lots of notes to capture the learning of our students.
5. A little about yourself – where are you from? Are you married with children? Do you have pets? I grew up and now live in the suburbs of Chicago. My husband and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. We have three grown children and in June, celebrated the birth of our first grandchild. We have two dogs and an assortment of fish.
6. What do you like to do for fun? I like to garden, hike, bike, kayak, read, and most importantly, learn!
7. What is one unique thing about you that kids might think is funny? I love leftovers and often have last night’s dinner for breakfast; spaghetti or salad tastes great with coffee or tea.
8. Anything else you want to share or include? I am honored to be nominated for Ben’s teacher feature and also to be a part of Under the Big Top. When I look back on my time with Ben, I remember first and foremost his smile, but also the joy that he brought to his friends and teachers in the classroom.
Thank you Lisa for all you do, and for believing in my Ben.
To submit your own favorite teacher to be featured, click here.
To learn more about the Ben’s Adventures children’s books, click here.