How does an Exceptional Education teacher help her students shine?

How does an Exceptional Education teacher help her students shine?

Meet Ashley Caffey, an Exceptional Education teacher connecting with students and families in unique and meaningful ways.

By Hazel McLaughlin

“Ashley has always had a heart for exceptional education,” one nominator wrote of Ashley Caffey, the Exception Education teacher at Bluff Park Elementary in Hoover. With 15 years of experience, Caffey recently “took a leap of faith” and is now teaching within an AAS (Alternate Achievements Standards) classroom, a self-contained classroom serving 5 to 6 students.

With help from instructional support aides, Caffey creates new opportunities to reach her students who learn in different ways while also forming unique connections with their families. When we asked about what inspires her, she replied, my students. "Watching them make even the smallest wins is huge in our world. It’s truly amazing to watch their progress!”

Inside an AAS Classroom

What’s the most important purpose a teacher performs?

The most important purpose a teacher performs is making your students feel safe. In an AAS classroom, students thrive off of structure and stability. If those things are not in place, learning can’t take place.

What is your approach to teaching students?  

I try each day to meet them right where they are. This population of students can’t always come out and tell you what’s bothering them. It’s my job to give them the tools to communicate in the best way possible so that they are successful in their day.

Tell us about one of your most challenging experiences.

Making the move to the AAS classroom has been the most challenging but also most rewarding experiences of my career.

What’s a common misconception about your job?  

There are tons! I hear all the time “I don’t know how you do it,” but I can’t imagine doing anything else now. I have always been drawn to this population of kiddos and am loving every minute, even the hard days. 

Tell us about a time when you helped a student overcome a problem. 

I have a student who is currently nonverbal. At the beginning of the year, he struggled with using a larger device to help him express his wants and needs. After working with the speech pathologist and a communication company, we asked for a more practical talker for him. Once we implemented the use of it in the classroom, that student was, and is, able to request “more, yes, no, and water” from his device. It has opened a door for him that wasn’t there before and has been amazing to watch!


What part of your job do you wish you’d known earlier?

I honestly have loved learning along the way, especially in this role. You think you have a plan, but then a curve ball is thrown and sometimes ends up being better than what you planned in the first place!

What advice would you share with people interested in becoming teachers?  

You have to love it, all of it. The good, the bad, the ugly. There are parts of teaching that aren’t sunshine and rainbows. But the way a kid looks at you after you’ve taught them something they couldn’t understand, helped them reach a goal they swore they couldn’t reach or reaches out to you after they’ve been out of your class for years just to say “thanks,” makes all the extra, unnecessary stuff worth it.

What advice would you give a first-year teacher?  

Give yourself LOTS of grace. You can’t do it all. Work on one or two things you want to get really good at and make that your mission. Love your kids and make sure everyone ends the day with a smile. That’s what they’ll remember.

Do you know an extraordinary teacher in your community? Nominate them for the APT Excellence in Education award!

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