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Spotlight On...Special Education Teacher Marissa Rothermel

Marissa Rothermel grew up in upstate New York, where she lived until the spring of 2022. Making the transition down to South Carolina, her move decision was made with “health, happiness and warm weather” at the top of her mind. Her two-year old daughter was also a factor for Marissa and her husband- “We said, we either move her now before she’s established in New York, or we’re stuck here until she finishes school. That’s pretty far out,”  she laughs. 


Marissa started thinking about choosing education as her career in the 2nd grade. That year, she participated in a time capsule project in which students had to name the career they’d like to pursue. True to kid form, Marissa leaned into her best friend’s answer of becoming a teacher. The idea began to take shape. 


“That year and the following year,” Marissa says, “...were the most influential part in my grade school career.” She had two incredible teachers who took their students on pretend adventures, tying all curriculum for the year back to these imaginary trips. She says the immersive learning experience was so inspirational that she knew by the end of 3rd grade that she really did want to become a teacher! “These teachers really let our creative minds go while holding us to high standards”, she recalls fondly.

Flash forward to 10th grade, when students are beginning to map out what their future would look like. Knowing she wanted to go into education, a friend inspired her to look into special education. After taking a few classes, Marissa admits she fell in love with the different ways the mind and body work. “The more different of a learner a student is, the more intriguing of a challenge it is for me to figure out how to help them get what they need,” she says. This led to many years working with students who are non verbal and/or are in need of significant behavior support.


When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Marissa immediately switched into virtual learning mode. At the same time, her colleagues were looking at it as “emergency learning”, but Marissa was fully embracing the challenge of teaching virtually. She says she had a lot of success very early on in the pandemic, due in part to her affinity for “gamification” of learning-  she says, “It’s all about finding new ways to hold the interest of the students.”  In fact, her philosophy on learning clearly reflects how well she understands how to work with her students:


“Be the cookie. That means, become the thing the student wants. You have to understand how to relate to each student- find out what they like, what makes them tick, and that will be the beginning of a real relationship.”


What has been your biggest challenge in education?

Every day brings a new challenge in the field of special education- I just look at that as the next obstacle to overcome. Education is constantly changing and not all educators change at the same rate. I try to always be current in best practice, with supporting the students and their families at the forefront of my practice..


In your opinion, what does TeleTeachers do well as an organization?

I think we are constantly pushing the envelope as far as how we can best help the education environment. We are in a time where educators are leaving the classroom, and TeleTeachers is responding to that by being the package deal of providers and platform-  trying to help school districts and learners to stay afloat and modeling new ways of thinking and learning.


What have your students taught you?

It’s okay to go by “bro”. (Laughs). “No, but seriously, I’ve learned every kid has their way of relating or attaching to you. My willingness to be a human with them has made me successful. I’m not coming at them like, I’m the teacher and you’re the student. I try to take what their interests are and have real conversations and show up for them and their families every day so that they feel seen, heard, and respected.”


Anything specific you’d still like to tackle in your career?

I want a voice, and that’s what I’m working on figuring out. I’d love to be a known and trusted person in the education field. I would love to become a public speaker or maybe write a book. I’m always advocating for students and parents and saying there’s no problem we can’t solve by putting our minds together.. I’m not sure what the end game will look like for me, but I hope that I can share my voice and what I have learned through experience  with others along the way.