Ms. Roseanna Gonzalez
Special Education Teacher
Desert View High School / Sunnyside Unified School District
While many of us are still catching up on our deep REM sleep at 6 a.m., or frantically hitting that snooze button for the umpteenth time, Roseanna Gonzalez is wide awake and already has a three-hour head start into her busy day.
The special education teacher at Desert View High School in Tucson’s Sunnyside Unified School District rises at 3 a.m. to outline what her students will be covering that day. She finishes grading papers from the day before and develops her students’ IEPs (Individual Education Plans). Gonzalez, a deeply spiritual person, also prays for inspiration, not just for herself but for her special needs students. She likes to share a motivational quote or encouraging video every day in the classroom.
“I try to find something that addresses what the kids might have discussed with me, such as self-esteem issues or communicating with their parents,” she says. “It’s a constant reminder that there is something positive and good in every day.”
After the pre-school preparation, it’s time to get her own kids up and ready for school. Did we mention that Gonzalez is a single mom of five children ranging in age from 6 to 17 years old? She gets their lunches and backpacks together and drops the kids off at her parents’ house before she heads into school at 6:30 a.m.
“School starts at 7:20, but I like to get there early to prepare for the day,” she says.
As if she weren’t prepared enough already. But, that’s just the type of person—and teacher—Gonzalez is. Thoughtful, organized, dedicated, multi-tasking, prepared.
Gonzalez expertly steers through six class periods each day, some more challenging than others depending on the special education students she has. On this day, her classes run smoothly and the kids are attentive as they work on reading, vocabulary, writing and math. Gonzalez likes to conduct group activities that help the students socialize and interact properly with each other.
“They do struggle at times with the core subjects, but I find that they also need to learn critical thinking skills,” she says. “I don’t want my kids to just say, ‘OK, if the teacher says that’s the right answer, it’s the right answer.’ I want them to ask questions, but sometimes they’re afraid of looking dumb. That’s why I try to get them pumped up with a positive, self-confident mindset.”
Gonzalez says the stress levels of special education students can become very high during the week, so she designated Thursdays as “Fun Days.” She lets them do simple activities to release their tension. Today’s activities include hula hoops, bubble-blowing and Play-Doh.
“I know this seems like little kid stuff, but it really helps them blow off some steam and become more focused, less stressful, about their other coursework. When I first introduced this concept, they weren’t buying it,” she laughs. “I told them that sometimes being an adult is overrated.”
On Leadership Tuesdays, Gonzalez’ students focus on being an adult with mature ideas and actions. She helps special education students realize their own leadership qualities and implement a school-wide project where they can make a change for the better. A recent project involved the students’ observation of increased trash on campus and their plan to add more trashcans in high-traffic areas.
“Many times, special education students aren’t included with the general population on campus,” Gonzalez notes. “This leadership project gives them a voice and makes them feel empowered. They feel like they’re part of something.”
All of these activities make for a very busy day and week for Gonzalez, but her school day doesn’t end when the bell rings at 2 p.m. She does at-home tutoring twice a week for special education students who are physically unable to attend school through the Homebound program. On other days, after the “normal” school day is over, Gonzalez supervises youth in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. On Fridays, she stays late to mentor girls through an organization called Girl Time that she created.
“I wanted the special ed girls to become involved in extra-curricular activities because they weren’t engaged at school,” she says. “Girl Time gives them a chance to talk to other girls, socialize and be exposed to successful businesswomen. It’s a great confidence-builder.”
Gonzalez rubs her eyes. She’s tired, but her day isn’t over yet. She heads out to her car. It’s time to pick up her five children.
“My kids go to different schools. Sometimes it takes two hours to pick them all up from every location,” she says.
At home finally, the sun is setting. Gonzalez and her children make dinner, do laundry, talk about their day, work on homework (children and mom—Gonzalez is pursuing her doctoral degree).
“My schedule isn’t easy. There are times when I don’t get a lot of sleep, but when you’re a mom, a teacher, a part of the community, I feel like all of the things I’m doing are things I should be doing.” Gonzalez says.
“Growing up, I didn’t have the greatest childhood, so when I got old enough to make a difference, I wanted to have a voice,” she adds. “I tell my students and my children, you have a voice and can make positive changes through education and knowledge. I see every day as a teaching moment.”