Graduate Student Creates Classroom Culture of Awareness and Respect

PFLAG Silver City’s Nancy Kailing Memorial Scholarship recipient Hannah Cothran, who is working toward a master’s in special education plus an endorsement in TESOL (gifted) at WNMU

© Western New Mexico University

“I am an Intensive Global Support Level 1 Special Education teacher at an inner-city middle school where 99% of students come from low-income and poverty-level homes. I consider my students to be a very unique, diverse, and vibrant group. Our classroom culture has taken on a true awareness and respect for all individuals, despite any differences,” WNMU graduate student Hannah Cothran said.

Working toward a master’s in special education plus an endorsement in TESOL (gifted), she is one recipient of PFLAG Silver City’s Nancy Kailing Memorial Scholarship, which through the WNMU Foundation is given to students who have demonstrated work toward securing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. “As an ally of the LGBTQ movement and individuals involved, it is my sincere hope to continuously uphold the values of awareness, respect, and equality in all my current and future years of teaching,” Hannah said.

In Albuquerque, the first-year teacher works with students who have severe disabilities. “I think teaching special education is so important, because a big part of my educational philosophy is helping kids become more independent and empowered,” she said.

Hannah herself was enabled to pursue her master’s through scholarships such as this one through the WNMU Foundation. “I come from a background where there wasn’t a lot of money put aside to help me with my education. This is a huge factor in me being able to continue my education and benefit my students and their families and their communities,” she said.

In her classes, she incorporates evidence-based strategies her WNMU professors introduce through course materials and assignments. “It’s helped me look outside of the box,” Hannah said. “This year, I took a class on students with emotional behavioral disorders. Every day, I had to do something to build trust with my students. I used these strategies and could see that I really was building trust with my students and their families — even in an online platform.”

While her students have now returned for in-person learning, Hannah said that the rapport she developed with their families prior to the pandemic continued through the period of fully online schooling during which she worked to ensure all felt accepted, loved and understood. “I will always advocate for equality, no matter who, where, or what I teach,” she said. “If students are taught to care for themselves and others, they too can become allies and supports for the LGBTQ community.”

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