Karen Bell 

Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Grade Special Education Teacher, Emery Education Campus

Karen Bell is a fourth, fifth and sixth grade special education teacher at Emery Education Campus.
David Rubenstein and Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson presented Ms. Bell and 19 other DCPS teachers with highly effective teaching awards.

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Ms. Karen Bell is a fourth, fifth and sixth grade special education teacher at Emery Education Campus.

Ms. Bell 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.

Tell us about your class.

I have some of the greatest students in DCPS. I teach a self-contained classroom of students with intellectual disabilities, and they work so hard and can do so much. All you have to do is have high expectations and not allow them, or their parents, to use their disability as an excuse.

I am a disciplinarian and am really hard on my kids, both academically and socially. You need to have high expectations because what any student may lack in one area, he or she may excel in another. Only with high expectations will students reach their potential.

Why did you become a teacher?

I always wanted to be a teacher, and later in life, I realized that teaching is one of my gifts. As a kid, I always played school, and I would play the teacher.

I always wanted to go to D.C. Teachers College, and I did. However, when I graduated with my degree in special education, I didn’t go into teaching right away. I went into banking and finance for 20 years.

In 2001, the Lord led me back to DCPS, and it has been so amazing. I was going into the newspaper to get some coupons, and I saw an advertisement that said DCPS was looking for teachers. I called the ad, and the very next day there was a job fair five minutes from my house, and I went.

I was only going for information, but they offered me a contract right on the spot. I went home, told my husband, and he said, “You know teaching is one of your gifts.”

In August 2001, everything fell into place, so I knew it was meant to be. Once I came to DCPS, I saw why He led me back. It's an awesome responsibility, and the needs are great.

And teaching has to be more than a job. You give physically, mentally, emotionally, just everything. You give your total self.

What is one thing a student has taught you about being a better teacher? How did he or she do it?

When I taught at Brightwood Education Campus, I learned to know my limitations and realize that help is available. One day in class, a little boy was reading to me, and he kept getting to this word, and I kept telling him no.

He kept saying the word pat, and I said, “No, that’s not it, try again.” Finally, I said, “The letter ‘e’ makes what sound? The word is pet.” And the little boy pointed to the page and said, “But Mrs. Bell, that’s an ‘a’”.

I didn’t have my glasses on, and I thought it was an “e”. I said, “Oh, you are so right, and you are so bright.” I just wanted to laugh.

And I had my glasses – I just didn’t put them on. I think about that often, when I am straining to see something, I think, “Get your glasses.”

Now I realize I have limitations, and when I recognize it, I just get some help. A student had to help me realize that.

Why is teaching an incredibly important job?

Next to the parents, we are the most important people in shaping lives. As a teacher, you’re the parent, nurse, counselor, friend – you are everything at different times.

If we are effective teachers, we will impact their lives positively. If we are ineffective teachers, we will impact their lives negatively.

We have an awesome responsibility, and some days I wonder how I will teach some lessons. I have to be creative and modify lessons so my kids can master it.

What are three words you would use to sum up your daily role as an educator?

Committed, self-motivated and teachable.

What’s one thing your students would be surprised to learn about you?

My students would be surprised to learn that I’m a preacher as well as a teacher.

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

I don’t have to have all the answers. As a teacher, we think we have to, and we don’t. It’s okay not to know, and that's what I tell my students.

As a first year teacher, if no one tells you that, you feel if you do ask for help it makes you look like you are incompetent. It’s good to have a mentor that year, and I didn’t have one. Now I mentor first and second year teachers in creating their portfolio and teaching strategies.

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