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Ms. Denise Haning – Elk Ridge Middle School

I want to nominate Denise Haning for Teacher Feature. I have known Denise for two years now and have seen the effort she puts into her classes. This effort is especially seen after school when she is grading papers and tests, and trying to find any positives possible to help boost the self esteem of her students (Sometimes she will stay at school until 9:00 PM or stay up at home till early morning working on papers and tests, getting just minimal sleep).

These students have many different problems and even though they are in different grade and academic levels, they are all put together in a class. Denise has to develop lessons that help all the students and try to get them to understand and at the same time gain some understanding of the concepts and self worth. When these students are placed into Special Ed they are many times looked at as dumb, or unable to fit in with the mainstream student body. They can suffer from low self esteem. So when Denise can help them to understand concepts that before were roadblocks, it creates a win/win situation.

Denise is a devoted teacher who loves teaching Special Education. She teaches at Elk Ridge Middle School and has students who are in 7th, 8th, and 9th grade who on an average are academically on a 2nd or 3rd grade level in some areas. These children all have problems at home or social problems, and have found Denise to be a teacher who will listen to them and sympathize and show compassion to these students in a way that they don’t get from any other adult. There are many days when she has students come to her to talk about their problems at home. One day, one parent asked their child who they would like to go to for help because of the depression she was feeling, a psychologist, a doctor, or Denise. The girl chose Denise. Not because that was her “field of expertise,” but because she felt comfortable to express all the things she was going though with Denise rather some doctor who she might feel intimidated with.

I was on the phone with Denise during her lunch break when this student came to her crying. Just after that, three other students came to her to say good bye, as they were leaving to other schools with programs which would better serve their personal needs. Denise is always sad to lose a student because she cares for each and every one of them. When I talked to Denise later I thought she would be exhausted emotionally, but her response was, “No. I am charged up because I realize there is so much more than academics, and I see why I chose to teach this hormonal group of challenging kids.”

Denise decided to go into Special Education because she had several children of her own who had special learning disabilities. She felt by becoming a teacher she could become the best of help for her own kids and also help other children at the same time.

Many students, who are not even in her classes, will stop in before school and during breaks just to talk to Denise. She is approachable, caring, and sincere with these troubled youth. They have found a teacher who sincerely cares about them as an individual. They trust her and share many things with her that they may not even share with their parents as she does not judge them, but listens and looks for opportunities to help them.

She tries different ways to make school and life a more positive experience for the kids she comes in contact with. Recently she incorporated a “Win” program, where at the beginning of each class each student has an opportunity to express a “Win”, or “positive” event which is taking place in their life. This seems to open the students up to more discussion and look at the class as something positive. These students look forward to attending Denise’s class as they actually get a chance to express something positive in their lives when there seems to be so much stacked against them with poor home life, ADHD, and other emotional and psychological problems. If she forgets to start the class with a win, the students let her know… It is something they look forward to, and look forward to attending her class.

Unfortunately not all students benefit from the compassion and true love and care of teaching each one of her students, as some are too angry about life. Their personal problems exceed the ability for Denise to be an effective teacher for them as they need more individual attention than she can provide due to a large class of students who all need that “personal” attention and care.

Denise is sad to lose any student when she is unable to provide the help they need or they are outside even her personal abilities with these kids.

When students leave, they always seem to take time to go and say good bye to Denise, and many ask if they can stay in touch. For some I would say she is an adult role model for them. A Hero, if I may say, as she touches the lives of these Special Ed students.

Denise gets so excited when she is teaching a subject and she sees the ‘light come on” and the students start to understand the concept of what’s being taught, and they even start getting excited about the subject.

Denise exemplifies and truly fits the spirit of the recognition of the Teach Feature Program.

I highly recommend her for this award and recognition.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter,
Paul Nederhand