Teaching from the heart


Caroline Bryant

Mrs. Carr teaches lessons to her students.

Paula Carr did not originally intend to become a special education teacher.

In fact, she didn’t want to be a teacher at all, as both her parents had pursued this career. But one year of college changed her mind.

“I wanted to be a veterinarian or CPA. After my first year of college, that’s when I realized I love teaching,” Carr said. “Because my parents are teachers, I almost have that whole rhythm of teaching down.”

So, Carr began studying elementary education at the College of Charleston. As a final project, Carr started teaching full-time under a teacher at Newington Elementary in a fifth grade class. “In that experience, I gravitated towards the students who were struggling behaviorally and academically and I noticed that other teachers…gravitated towards more higher achieving students,” she said. “So, I ended up getting my masters in special education at DePaul in Chicago.”

Carr has over six years of teaching experience under her belt from multiple positions. She worked as a substitute teacher at Wando and in Chicago for two years, while earning her Masters degree. She also served as a one-to-one teacher for a student diagnosed with Down syndrome and autism.

Now, Carr has been teaching in the special education department at Wando for three years.

“I’ve always had a heart for students who are struggling and saw a need for teachers in that field” Carr said.
During Carr’s first year at Wando, parents of students approached administrators and special education teachers about starting a club to engage the special education population of the school. Carr jumped on the opportunity.

“I started the club three years ago to unify the typical and nontypical populations at Wando,” she said.

The Exceptional Warriors Club meets on a monthly basis to participate in unifying and engaging activities, such as kickball, karaoke, and soccer.

“Music connects the two populations, but sports does that too. The club provides a safe space to make mistakes, learn from them, and communicate with others you typically wouldn’t in your normal day” Carr said.

The Exceptional Warriors Club started out with just 12 members, but their membership has grown to over 60 members.
“When we talk about bridging the gap, it’s almost like I don’t see any gap because the general education [population] wants to interact with my students,” Carr said.

This club has even led students to consider a career teaching special education. Junior Legare Kerrison has always had a passion for Special Education and joined the Exceptional Warriors Club her sophomore year.

“I was in yearbook originally and my advisor, Mr. [Philip] Caston…brought a lot of us to one of the meetings. When I got there, I loved the whole environment because it didn’t feel like we were taking care of anybody. It just felt like we were friends and we were interacting,” she said.

Now, Kerrison is student leader of the club and thinking about becoming a special education teacher.

“Right now I’m in the teacher cadet class and I plan to do my field work later in the semester in the elementary school working with special education. Depending on how that goes, we’ll see what my plans for the future are,” she said.

The meetings of the Exceptional Warriors Club led Carr to hold a lecture for AP Academy on how to communicate with students who have learning disabilities.

“Through the club, I’ve seen the communication breakdowns that have happened,” Carr said. These breakdowns made Carr realize how general education students lack the tools to act appropriately with special education students. Carr’s lecture provided students with these tools through do’s and don’ts of conversation and a general understanding of learning disabilities.

At the end of the day, for Carr, her students are her top priority. Everything she does are in her students’ best interests.

“My favorite part [of teaching special education] that gives me the biggest chills is when a student gains confidence in something that before they weren’t very confident in,” she said. “I think every teacher melts when they see one of their students not only learn what they taught them and show their knowledge, but become confident in that.As long as they’re confident and happy kids, that’s the goal.”