Greta Barfield spent most of her school years in Muncie, Indiana, where she graduated from Burris Laboratory School, which is part of Ball State University’s Teacher College. She also earned her bachelors degree in special education, concentrating on what was then called Mental Impairment and Physically Handicapped. Barfield went on to earn her master’s degree in learning disabilities from Eastern Michigan University.
While in high school and throughout college, Barfield worked with students with Down Syndrome, and at summer camps geared toward students of all ages with a variety of disabilities. It was during these early years she knew she had found her purpose and would work with students with disabilities.
Before coming to Ann Arbor, Barfield worked in alternative learning settings in southern Indiana and in San Antonio, Texas, where her love for working in special education was solidified. Since 1989, she has worked as a teacher consultant at Tappan and Scarlett middle schools. Now in her 32nd year of teaching, she teaches students in a self-contained classroom at Huron High.
Barfield is the mother of two adult children, Cortnie and Drew, who are graduates of Community High School and Skyline respectively, and the grandmother of Jamil, who is three. Barfield volunteers for Special Olympics and in her church, and is a strong advocate for breast cancer awareness and Relay for Life. She also enjoys crafting, traveling and event planning.
Profile and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News
What is the most rewarding part of teaching? The most rewarding part of teaching is partnering with classroom staff as we bring out the best in our students. There is nothing better than laughing, playing and learning while encouraging students to exceed expectations. Additionally, the close relationships formed with my colleagues over the years has made the journey very rewarding. The genuine support and appreciation expressed by the families I have worked with has made my journey exceptional.
What would you like to say to college students considering a career in special education? When I speak with students who visit the classroom, volunteer, or come to observe, I encourage them to truly explore their desire to teach. The gift of teaching is not for everyone, particularly in special education. Anyone can perform well in class, but not everyone has the ability to reach students and form relationships with families that enhance the learning experiences for all those involved. Positive, strong leadership skills are crucial for building a classroom environment that is conducive to giving and receiving knowledge. Understand that you are an advocate for a sector of the population that is often unable to advocate for themselves.
Describe an average workday. An average day in Room 6218 can be very unconventional. Because our program is centered around functional independence, our students spend part of their week at Community Based Instruction work sites including: Old Navy , PTO Thrift Shop, Food Gatherers and Barry’s Bagel. When in the classroom/school setting, students participate in yoga, Adaptive PE and Life Skills instruction where students learn the critical skills needed for eventually living independently in the community. We also take advantage of the many cultural and athletic events in our community geared toward students with special needs. Students enjoy elective classes and peer-to-peer programs like Project Unify. Academics are usually taught in small groups and vary depending on the individual student’s schedule. Our day requires a great deal of teamwork and organization.
Which apps and websites would you recommend to other teachers? We use News2You on a weekly basis in my classroom. I love it because differentiation is automatic within the lessons. Current events articles and news stories allow us to teach students about the world while checking for the critical learning skills needed in reading, math and social studies. Students also increase reading comprehension through the Reading A-Z program. The leveled program is perfect for increasing reading vocabulary and comprehension and includes printable books that we use in class and for home practice. My students are huge fans of Mr. Nussbaum’s Cash Out, which is an online game that challenges them to purchase items and count change in order to earn money. Good old-fashioned board games are used regularly in my classroom. The social interaction that is required to participate is extremely valuable for students with cognitive impairment.
How do you stay organized? Staying on top of the many tasks that I am responsible for is a constant process of checks and balances. I use an old fashioned planner to jot down my ideas for lessons, use calendars and alarms to remind me of the things I need to do and then try to check things off my to do list each day. Delegating tasks to my invaluable para professionals allows me to focus on the teacher essential goals that I must achieve myself. Rigid flexibility, as a good friend once reminded me, is definitely necessary.
What was always written on your report card in grade school? I have to say that I was a very assertive and talkative person in elementary school. My fifth grade and favorite teacher, Robert Caldwell, regularly commented on how smart I was and that I was a leader. He often had to pull me aside due to my talkativeness! His words and actions have helped form the teacher I am today. He always treated me as an individual who could be proud of who I am, which allows me to see the individuality in each of my students.
What has surprised you most about the profession? What has surprised me most about my profession is the lack of minority educators. The impact of learning from teachers who have similar background and experience is invaluable and often misunderstood in the profession and in the world at large.
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher? People often underestimate the dedication and work ethic of educators. Many spend nights and weekends planning, often rearranging, and creating learning opportunities for their students. The school day seldom ends when the last student leaves. Even on vacation, some of us are gathering information and artifacts to share with our students. Our work is more from the heart than from the degrees which we have all earned. We understand that the world depends on the outcome of our efforts; teachers touch the future.
If you could change one thing about public education, what would it be? In an ideal world, parents would be required to participate in their child’s education, which is crucial if we are to ever close the achievement gap.