At a building celebration today, Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton announced that Brett Bigham, a special education transitions teacher with Multnomah ESD has been selected as Oregon’s 2014 Teacher of the Year. As Oregon’s Teacher of the Year, Mr. Bigham will serve as a spokesperson and representative for all Oregon teachers and will attend the National Teacher of the Year forum in Washington, D.C. where he will meet the President and U.S. Secretary of Education.
“Brett is a fierce advocate, a dedicated educator, and above all an incredibly caring and committed individual,” said Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton. “I am honored to have this opportunity to recognize him for his outstanding service to our students and our state. Brett has dedicated his career to fighting for the rights and opportunities of our special needs students. He is also deeply committed to supporting his fellow educators and sharing the resources he has developed so that all can benefit. He truly is a master teacher and I know he will serve as a wonderful representative for our state’s educators as Oregon’s 2014 Teacher of the Year.”
Brett Bigham teaches in a functional living skills classroom – a classroom designed to help students with disabilities transition from school into the broader world. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), special education students can continue to receive services until the age of 21, and Mr. Bingham’s classroom serves students in the 16-21 year range. Working for the Education Service District, Mr. Bigham, or Mr. B, as his students and colleagues affectionately call him, works with students whose disabilities are severe. His students arrive with a complex array of challenges and needs ranging from communications disorders such as autism to students with traumatic brain injury. His students’ academic needs also vary greatly. In a given class, he may work with a student struggling to count to five and another who is working on algebra.
“My students are complex and that means my job as teacher is often shifting focus with each student,” said Brett Bigham. “Every year I have students with entirely new and different needs coming my way and I need to become the expert. Overall, my job is a combination of teacher, parent, and social worker. And no matter what role I’m working on at any particular time, it comes down to being an advocate. I share what I have to share, I work hard to make sure my kids get what other kids get, and, overall, I find that I have become a champion for fairness to people with special needs. And in these roles I have found immense satisfaction in my job.”
Whether creating a special daytime prom for special needs students who can’t attend evening events or designing guide books to help prepare his students for visits to Portland landmarks, Mr. B. strives to give his students access to as many activities and opportunities as possible. This has been a hallmark of his career. From his first classroom where he successfully fought to have his students included in school fieldtrips, to hand-making 70 corsages for last year’s prom so that every girl would have flowers, Brett Bigham has never stopped fighting for his kids.
Working with special needs students often means creating a great deal of individualized programs, tools, and lessons, and Mr. Bigham is committed to sharing what he develops with colleagues or families who may benefit. He has developed guidebooks to help students prepare for a visit to the zoo or a Portland bridge – an outing that can be incredibly daunting for an individual with special needs. He is also working to design a functional living skills curriculum aligned to the new Common Core State Standards. Whether he is developing curriculum, meeting with case workers, designing guidebooks, or working in his classroom, his role as educator-advocate shines through.
“We at Multnomah ESD are so lucky to have such an outstanding role model and teacher for our students,” said ESD Superintendent Barbara Jorgensen. “I know what it takes to be that ‘over the top’ educator that is really in his career for each and every student he touches with his teaching strategies.”
The Oregon Teacher of the Year is selected after an extensive application process. Nominees from schools throughout Oregon submitted packets of information that included testimonials and letters of support from their principals, superintendents, and colleagues. From the written material, applicants were judged on leadership, instructional expertise, understanding of educational issues, professional development, and vision. Brett Bingham succeeds 2012-13 Teacher of the Year Nanette Lehman, a second grade teacher from the Baker School District. As part of his recognition, Brett will receive a $5,000 cash award sponsored by the American Institutes for Research. Other sponsors include SMART Technologies and Salem Trophy.