Flagler alum receives governor’s award for teaching
In the seventh grade, Flagler College alumna Terri Samson, ‘05, watched a film that shaped the trajectory of her life. “Mr. Holland’s Opus” is a movie about a music teacher obsessed with leaving behind a musical legacy. Only, it wasn’t the main storyline that grabbed her, but rather a subplot about the lead character’s difficult relationship with his deaf son.
“That movie really opened my eyes to the field of deaf education,” she said, “and from then on, I chased that.”
Samson’s love for deaf education as a teacher at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine was recognized this year when she was a recipient of the Governor’s Shine Award for significant contributions to education in Florida.
“I was completely shocked and honored to learn that I received the award,” she said. “What a humbling experience to stand with the governor, and alongside other amazing teachers from Florida who truly do make an impact in our field.”
It’s hard for her to admit that she is one of those teachers, but her track record affirms it. Just last year, she was FSDB’s 2016-2017 Teacher of the Year, and her class received a state award for a literacy service project she helped launch.
“Studying deaf education is what was in my heart,” she said. “I don’t know if it was the beauty of the culture — the fact that they have their own language and sense of pride — or because I had teachers (in high school) tell me that such (deaf) schools didn’t exist. But I always knew that the path felt right.”
Samson’s path actually began back in middle and high school when she asked her parents to buy her books on learning sign language. On her own, she mastered basic signs. She admits that the reasons behind her professional pursuit weren’t clear. But her passion for it was unflinching.
In 2001, Samson’s intuition brought her to Flagler College, where she jumped into the school’s Deaf Education program, studying with retired Professor Dr. Paul Crutchfield, Dr. Margaret Finnegan and Dr. Carl Williams. Her educational framework began to take shape and the natural next step was to intern at FSDB. Before she knew it, she had received an offer to work for the famous school before graduating in the fall of 2005.
More than a decade later, she is still there, teaching United States history and language arts to mostly hearing-impaired middle schoolers.
“This was my first job out of college, and it is my dream job,” she said.
Samson’s classroom is like typical middle-school classrooms, except that hers adds another layer of complexity. Hexagon-shaped tables are arranged in an open pattern so she can easily walk over to clearly sign to a student.
For the Flagler alumna, navigating this unique type of learning experience requires a working knowledge of a different form of communication, and equally important, resources.
“My goal is to provide the same standards and content as any public school in Florida, but in their language and primary mode of communication,” Samson said. FSDB has tremendous resources on-site, she added, such as speech and language pathologists, as well as extra support staff to readily meet the needs of its students.
In her classroom one day, Samson discussed what it was like to teach the hearing-impaired, the planning it requires and the balancing act of teaching content and sign language simultaneously. While she described her experience, she signed, even though there wasn’t a hearing-impaired person in the classroom. Her hands danced in another language to illustrate her spoken words.
She didn’t just do it because FSDB’s policy of inclusiveness requires her to sign regardless of who is present. She did it because she lives and breathes this other form of communication — a form of expression that has become a part of her own identity and one that she happily shares with her students.
Ultimately, she said, she hopes that transfer of knowledge translates into students feeling empowered.
“I really want them to go out and participate and engage in dialogue,” she said. “We’re not just robots. I want students to teach the hearing world what the deaf can do. They should be proud and confident in their abilities, and know that they too can change the world.”
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