Better Together Teacher Feature: Rai Laird-East Lake Academy
Posted on 11/11/2019
Photo of Rai Laird teaching students in her classroom.Exceptional education teachers are special educators teaching children with unique gifts. These exceptional learning leaders not only teach children but are advocates, protectors, and special guides the children rely on each day in Hamilton County Schools. Rai Laird, known as Ms. Rai by her students at East Lake Academy, is one of these exceptional teachers, and she works each day helping children find their voice.

“My favorite part about teaching special education is that I am seen as ‘their special person’ by the children,” said Laird. “I know that if they are in the hallway or they’re having a stressful moment, or they’re in the lunchroom, and it’s really chaotic, I’m the person that they turn to for support.”

Laird’s exceptional education classroom at East Lake Academy is home to eight special children with strong determination. Each day she works with children to help them master daily life skills and meet personal learning goals.

“It’s important to know that all these kids have the ability to express their wants and their needs, and even though it doesn’t look like traditional ways you may expect, they’re still trying to be heard and trying to communicate,” said Laird.

Consistency is key in Laird’s strategy to help students learn. The class follows the same schedule every day, and it is posted on the wall for the students to see. Laird also uses visual cues and repetition to help her students grasp concepts. “When I share a direction for completing a task, I try to tell the direction the same way to that child every time so that they can connect me saying it with the action,” said Laird.

The students are only about halfway through the first semester, but Laird’s class is already excelling in mastering daily tasks like eating in the lunchroom, walking up steps, and speech development. They are also making great strides in learning sight words, letters, and numbers. Her class is making tremendous progress, and Laird gives her students all the credit.

“The best way to describe it is these students are artists, and I’m a paintbrush,” said Laird. “They’re trying to express themselves on a canvas, and my job as a paintbrush is to help them express what’s in their mind. They’re the creators, and I’m simply a step along the journey to expressing themselves.”

Great teachers and leaders are essential to the success of schools and children and a key part of the five-year plan Future Ready 2023 for Hamilton County Schools.