A special educator answers her calling

Published 12:33 am Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rae Cochran is a whirlwind of energy – she moves quickly and talks even faster – and for the past nine years, all of that energy has been dedicated to teaching special-education students at Washington Montessori Public Charter School.

For Cochran, teaching has taken several different forms over her career. Chocowinity Primary School gave her the first job right out of college. She married, had two boys and decided to home school her children. For many years, she assumed she’d retire once she sent her boys off to college. Instead, the Montessori school came calling.

“I love teaching,” said Cochran. “I just can’t get away from it.”

Rae Cochran has taught special education to kindergarten through fourth-grade students at Washington Montessori Public Charter School for the past nine years. (WDN Photo/Vail Stewart Rumley)

Initially, Cochran’s return to teaching in a school setting was a part-time job as a special education teacher. Her role has evolved into a full-time position since then, working with 23 children during each school day, either in small groups or individually.

“I see a lot of children with learning disabilities,” Cochran said. “They’re just as intelligent as any other child, but have a hard time matching their achievement levels with IQ levels.”

Cochran’s teaching day is packed full as she helps students get over the hurdles of math, reading and written expression, though she sometimes assists her kindergarteners through fourth-graders with social skills. The rewards for working with these particular children are enormous.

“I never get tired of the first time a child reads,” Cochran said. “It opens up a whole new world. I can watch their self-esteem skyrocket.”

“The best part of my job,” she continued, “is the children — seeing them light up when they finally understand something.”

Cochran loves the freedom the children have at Montessori, how they’re able to move around the classroom, working together and learning together. In Cochran’s work, she fosters not only that freedom, but a caring environment, as well.

“Before anything else, the first thing is to make them feel safe — they know they’re loved and appreciated,” Cochran said. “I feel that’s the way children learn best, especially children who have struggled.”

Steve Jones, head of school at WMPCS, said that any special education teacher has to have a very special bond with their students.

“She has that,” Jones said of Cochran. “She wants the best for every one of her students.”

Cochran’s previous plans to retire from teaching have been abandoned to the passion she feels for her work, a passion she said is shared by all the teachers at the school.

“I plan to teach for a long time,” she said. “For as long as they need me.”

Her enthusiasm for and dedication to teaching likely means Washington Montessori Public Charter School will need her for a long time to come.