When you ask Ashley Early McClain, 2005 graduate from the special education: general curriculum teacher education program at UNCG, what keeps her excited about teaching after 12 years, her response is quick: “I keep my focus on the children – their growth, what they need to be successful. I don’t allow any negativity in my thinking when it comes to being the best teacher I can be for my students!” This positive attitude has certainly earned Ashley the respect of her peers and her principal as well as the Guilford County Schools (GCS) system. Ashley, who has been a special education teacher at Alamance Elementary for all 12 years of her teaching career, is the 2016 Elementary Teacher of the Year for the system and was a finalist for the GCS Teacher of the Year.
Ashley is an outstanding teacher just as she was an outstanding School of Education teacher candidate. She was awarded the UNCG Student Excellence Award, the highest honor given to undergraduates and she was named a member of the Golden Chain Honor Society. When asked why she chose UNCG, again there is no hesitation in her response. “I knew that UNCG’s School of Education had a wonderful reputation. I looked at other programs in the area, but I knew that I wanted to be at UNCG. I would be able to stay close to home and receive an excellent education.”
What was it that made her UNCG preparation so valuable and beneficial to her as a future special education teacher? Ashley shares that the emphasis on a cohort model offered her extensive opportunities to collaborate with other teacher candidates while developing close relationships with her professors. Another aspect of the program that she found most beneficial was the diverse clinical experiences in area schools and being able to apply what she was learning in her college coursework in those classroom settings. She said, “We were being trained to be effective teachers all along the way!”
In her very first year of teaching, Ashley shared that the extensive preparation in the special education program at UNCG gave her confidence to work with families and lead school-based teams to ensure that appropriate educational services were delivered to the children she taught. She was self-assured in implementing needed student evaluations, curriculum-based assessments, interpreting psychoeducational evaluations, and being able to apply that knowledge and skill to effectively serve the students at her school.
As an experienced teacher, Ashley has continued to grow as a professional. She is a national board certified teacher (NBCT) as an exceptional needs specialist. She exemplifies teacher as leader, serving as the department chair of the exceptional needs program at Alamance Elementary for the past 11 years. She also serves as a mentor teacher for the early career special education teachers at her school. In addition to this service, she has provided professional development for the elementary education teachers in the collaborative development of IEPs and the roles and responsibilities of general education and special education teachers as they work together to provide the students in their classrooms with the accommodations and modifications they need to be successful with the general education curriculum. Ashley has also provided many opportunities for elementary education teacher candidates to observe in her classroom and co-taught classrooms as she implemented effective evidence-based instructional practices to meet the diverse learning needs of the students she serves.
As a seasoned professional educator, Ashley has a few words of advice for all of the future teachers from UNCG: “Always keep the focus on the students, that’s our job-to have our students reach their maximum potential, academically, socially and in all ways that children grow and learn.” These words provide excellent guidance from an outstanding UNCG teacher!