Daily dose of joy
By Julie Matuszewski; photos courtesy of Jessica Bird
Jessica Bird never knew she wanted to be a teacher. In fact, when she enrolled at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, her plans were to get a degree in physical therapy and play point guard for the Lady Zags basketball team.
Her academic plans changed with the psychology course, “Applied Behavior Analysis.” The scientific approach to behavior that the course explored was fascinating, she said. Growing up, Bird would spend summers volunteering in her aunt’s special education classroom, and she also had a cousin with special needs. The class and her own personal experience within her family prompted her to change her major to special education.
After finishing her undergraduate degree, Bird went on to earn a master’s degree in leadership studies at the University of San Diego, while teaching high school special education … and she hasn’t looked back.
Bird has been in front of a classroom teaching for the past 10 years. She has taught sixth graders through high school students in both regular and special education classrooms. Most of her experience has been as an affective needs teacher – teaching high functioning students with social, emotional and/or behavioral concerns. It was when she and her husband John of 18 years started their family that she took time off to raise her four children, Bella (16) Tanner (14) Walter (12) and Aria (9).
During her time off, Bird remained in the school setting, but on the basketball court rather than in the classroom coaching Rock Canyon High School (RCHS) Gold Crown teams – the feeder program for the high school team.
Five years ago, she joined the RCHS girls basketball program, and today is the varsity assistant coach. It was a fellow coach familiar with her teaching background who invited Bird to substitute in the RCHS Significant Support Needs (SSN) program. She agreed and fell in love with the academic side of RCHS, but more importantly the students in the RCHS SSN program.
Bird returned to her teaching career at RCHS in 2020 shortly before the pandemic hit. She said her feet weren’t even wet and everything was changing so fast that first year back. She feels these last two years have given her a crash course in adaptation. All aspects of COVID-19 – social distancing, wearing masks, and remote and hybrid learning – all present huge challenges for her population of students.
As a mom, Bird learned how to adapt to the constant changes, made the best of every situation, and adjusted her sails to reach her destination at home and school. Her students have a wide range of abilities, and Bird enjoys teaching life skills and finding ways to tap into each students’ strengths while teaching them to become increasingly independent.
Every day, Bird’s students inspire her to be a better person and she admires each one of them. Her students provide the entire SSN team and anyone lucky enough to spend time with them with what she calls, “her daily dose of joy.”