Tiana Coles, Thurston Elementary ASD teacher

Growing up in Ann Arbor, Tiana Coles attended Ann Arbor Public Schools—Carpenter Elementary, Scarlett Middle School, and Huron High School—before leaving home to attend Central Michigan University. The pull of family—including her older sister Taylor, parents Whitney and Joseph, and a large extended family in the area—brought her back to the area after graduation. She now lives in Ypsilanti.

Coles started her teaching career at Haisley Elementary School as a Resource Room teacher before moving to Thurston to teach an ASD Self-Contained Program class. While this is just her fourth year of teaching, she has had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of students with a wide array of skills and needs. She says she is extremely grateful for the Haisley teachers who acted as unofficial mentors, teaching her so much about quality instruction, classroom management, and building relationships with students and families.  She especially thanks Haisley SXI teacher Erin Addison.

Thurston Interim Principal Samantha Cucu says that Coles fosters an inclusive learning environment with students.

“Students are supported and the relationships she builds with her colleagues uphold her values of inclusiveness and care,” she says. “Her adaptability and empathetic approach ensure that every student’s unique needs are met, creating a truly enriching educational experience for our Thurston Elementary students that she serves.” 

Westerman Preschool Principal Natasha York—who nominated Coles for this honor last year when she was principal at Thurston— noted that Coles has made a significant impact at Thurston during her first year there this year.

“Tiana came to Thurston as a self-contained classroom teacher and created a hybrid ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) program in which she transitions our self-contained kiddos who are showing significant growth, and moving them into general education settings where they can be successful,” said York. “She develops strategic schedules that create opportunities for each student to succeed in general education.  Students are not only learning additional social norms and behaviors but are also strengthening their communication skills.”

When you recall your first year of teaching, what memories stand out?

What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?
Be adaptable and ready to take in and implement new information. 

Why special ed?
When I was in high school I got the opportunity to do an independent study in Hurons ASD program classroom with a mentor teacher Dana Cesarz (Oslett). She introduced me to special education, The Michigan Special Olympics, and Central Michigan University.

How do you gauge success at work?
In my classroom, we know we are successful as educators when students feel comfortable and safe and are able to try their best each and every day.

What was always written on your report card in grade school?

Describe an average workday. 
I like getting to work early. It’s my most productive time of the day. I get schedules set and copies made before we get our students off the bus. The kids in my class come and go during the school day, receiving some of their instruction from me, and some from general education teachers. We do mostly small group or one-on-one instruction. As with all elementary classrooms, we take trips to the playground daily, and my students get the chance to play with their peers.

How did your years as an AAPS student impact your career today?
My time as a student in AAPS made me go into special education. In high school, I participated in peer-to-peer, adaptive PE, and did an independent study in Huron’s ASD Program classroom with Dana Cesarz. Dana continued to support me well into college.

Were you inspired by any teachers in particular?
I have had many influential teachers in my life, but the ones that stick out are Mrs. Racine-Creekmore and Dr. Peterson while I was at Scarlett, and Dana Cesarz at Huron.

What’s the happiest part of your day?
Listening to the gen ed students in our building interact with and include my students. We have an amazing Peer to Peer program in our building and it has been a joy to watch the bonds and connections build this school year. 

Favorite websites: 

If you could know the definitive answer to any one question, what would that question be?
“What do my cats think when they look at me?”

What makes teaching at Thurston unique?
Thurston is an amazing group of educators. They are knowledgeable, open to new ideas, kind, and welcoming. 

What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
The most rewarding part of teaching is watching the looks on students’ and parents’ faces when a student finally masters something that we have been working on for months—or longer. 

How do you spend your summers? 
I am a server at Red Robin.

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