Alisa Haliburton 

Autism Teacher, Shaw Middle School @ Garnet-Patterson

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Ms. Alisa Halliburton is an autism teacher at Shaw Middle School @ Garnet-Patterson. She teaches five students with autism between the ages of 11 and 13 years old.

Ms. Halliburton has taught for DC Public Schools for 10 years. She recently was awarded a Rubenstein Award for Highly Effective Teaching, an honor given to 20 DCPS teachers for their extraordinary work as educators.

Why did you become a teacher?

I became a teacher because growing up in the special education system, I had lots of great teachers who believed in me. I also had people who did not believe in me. I was once told that I was not college material and that college was not for me. I felt that I had something to prove and I did just that.

As a person with a disability – I am deaf – I feel I have a lot to offer because I have been there and done that. I had a lot of misdiagnoses when I was growing up, and I felt that if I became a teacher, I could prevent those things from happening to other kids.

What is one thing that you wish someone had told you when you were a first-year teacher?

I wish someone would have told me that teaching is not just getting in front of the classroom, presenting materials and grading papers.

The advice I would give to a first-year teacher is that nothing good comes easy, and that teaching is what you make of it. You get out what you put in. If you don’t put anything in it, you can’t expect to get anything out of it.

The first year is a teaching and learning experience. Just give it your best.

What are the strategies that work best for you in the classroom?

The first thing is that you need to be patient. Then you need to structure your classroom. You need to have a schedule, and you need to follow that schedule. You must have classroom rules and behavior expectations.

A lot of autistic children have a problem with transitioning from one thing to the next, so you need to follow that schedule as much as possible. When there is a change in schedule, inform them ahead of time, if possible.

You have to have a good communication relationship with parents because you need teamwork. You also should have a behavior plan in place, which is fitting individual kid’s needs and not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Some of the behaviors that I have worked with can take time and patience, but like I said, once you have a plan in place and you follow that plan from day one, most of the time everything else falls in place. But if you don’t have a plan, you are in for a challenge.

Why is teamwork with parents important?

It’s important because you and the parents need to be on the same page. You can minimize some of the students’ challenging behaviors if you support each other.

But if you are here, and the parents are over there, it’s sometimes confusing to the kids.

Why is teaching an incredibly important job?

Because you are providing the future for the next generation, and you always want to make things better for the next generation.

I know that a lot of people, when they think of a child with autism they think, “Wow, that must be hard. I don’t think I can do that.”

But you never know what you can do until you try it. If I had to do this all over again, I would choose the same field, educating children with autism.

What advice would you give parents who are finding out for the first time that their child has a disability?

I would tell them to be patient with their child, to take the time to get them help while they are young, and to take their child’s education seriously because no matter what the disability is, you don’t let anyone tell you what your child cannot do. Love and respect your child for who he or she is, not for what he or she has.

Since this is autism awareness month, what is something you would like everyone to know about children with autism?

This poem:

“A child is like a butterfly in the wind,
Some fly higher than others;
but each one flies the best it can
Why compare one against the other?

Each one is special!
Each one is different!
Each one is beautiful!”

--Author Unknown


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