Special teacher for special ed

Linda Peters, who retired in May after 43 years of teaching, helps one of her young charges run the bases while learning how to play kickball on her last working day with preschoolers. “Great times that I know I’ll miss,” Peters says.Courtesy photo by Linda Peters
Linda Peters, who retired in May after 43 years of teaching, helps one of her young charges run the bases while learning how to play kickball on her last working day with preschoolers. “Great times that I know I’ll miss,” Peters says.Courtesy photo by Linda Peters

To come “full circle,” according to Merriam-Webster, means returning to where one began.

That expression aptly captures the professional timeline of Linda Peters, who retired last month after 43 years of teaching, most recently with Marion County Special Education Cooperative.

Hired as the first director of special services for preschoolers in Marion County, Peters returned as teacher/director with MCSEC some 30 years later.

“I came back (to MCSEC), got a job with the early childhood,” Peters said. “So I came back to what I started — full circle.”

Peters, who grew up in Hope, graduated from Emporia State University and first taught business classes at Tabor College. Her trajectory as an educator changed after needing to find special education services for her daughter, Stacy.

“At that time if you wanted any kind of services for preschool kids, you paid for them,” Peters said. “It was out of Northview (in Newton) and it was on a sliding fee, but it was quite expensive.”

Peters decided to go back to Emporia State and earn certification in early childhood special education.

“At that time very few people were getting the full certification,” she said. “They were just getting provisional.”

With her early childhood certification, Peters was hired as director of preschool services in Marion County. But, at that time, the county didn’t have an independent special education cooperative.

“We contracted services out of Harvey County,” she said.

When the state of Kansas offered a grant that served children from birth to age 5, Peters, along with others at the Harvey County cooperative, wrote and applied for the incentive grant to provide preschool services in Marion County.

“And we got it,” she said. “That was how (early childhood) services started (with MCSEC).”

In the beginning those services were home-based.

“We went into the homes all over Marion County,” Peters said. “It’s now called the infant-toddler program, where they go out into the homes. But we went out once a week and saw the kids in Marion County and helped with their transition to school.”

While at MCSEC, Peters would eventually complete her certification for learning disabilities K-12 at Bethel College.

“I worked K-12 learning disabilities in Goessel,” she said. “I was only one teacher, and we would have about 15 kids. That’s when (special education) was all self-contained, so you would pull kids out and there was very little mainstreaming.”

With mainstreaming, special ed students are included in the regular classroom, Peters said about the shift from self-contained to inclusion teaching approaches.

Following a stint teaching special ed in Hillsboro, Peters said she decided to take a USD 259 position in Park City.

“I ended up with 14 kids the first year, fourth and fifth graders,” she said. “Fifth graders are really starting to question authority and the world around them. Eight out of the 14 kids visited a family member in prison, came from broken homes—just struggled. It was the best education I could ever have had. It was just a great experience.”

During this time, Peters said the “buzz word” was the Multi-tiered System of Supports model, which integrates instruction, interventions and assessments to meet the academic and behavior needs of all students.

Invited to join the leadership team to implement MTSS at the school, Peters said she learned a lot about effectively structuring the classroom.

“All kids in various degrees of disabilities (some extreme) went into the (regular) classroom for the first 20 minutes because then they were taught as a whole,” Peters said about the MTSS model.

“So some of my severe autistic kids learned that you’ve got to sit beside the kid next to them, and that kid has got to sit beside them. So then they learned, ‘He can’t read. I’m going to do the reading and he’s going to help me answer the questions.’”

She added, “We learned that with some kids, we’d give them the questions the day before so they learned the question. When they got called on in class, they knew the answer. So kids all looked the same, and everyone was learning at their level. It was a wonderful experience for me. I just can’t say enough about it.”

During her seven-year tenure there, Peters also taught children in lower elementary grades, including kindergartners her last year.

“(With upper grades) you’re accommodating, you’re trying to modify and you’re trying to help them figure out how to get the accommodations they need to be successful,” she said. “(With beginning grades) you fix the problem.”

Peters said the daily drive to Wichita from the Lehigh area, where she and husband Van farm and ranch, took its toll.

“That’s probably why I didn’t stay,” she added about leaving that job.

Peters decided to resign from her Wichita position and return to MCSEC as a preschool teacher. But instead of directing a home-based program, Peters said she now was working with an inclusionary model.

“When I came back, I brought the MTSS model,” she said. “And that had never really truly been done in preschool.”

Peters acknowledges that education has changed over the years, ranging from teaching methods to technology.

“We’ve gone from rote learning to understanding the whys,” she said. “I think that’s huge. I think it’s been a lot better for everyone.”

For Peters, retirement means having time to do volunteer work and be on their ranch.

“I’m kind of a farm girl,” she said, adding that her parents recorded “moo” as her first spoken word. “That’s why I had to marry that cowboy.”