Special Education Teacher
USD 512 Shawnee Mission
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Eighth-Grade U.S. History Teacher
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Seventh-Grade Social Studies Teacher
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Kansas Master Teacher Award
2015 Kansas Master Teacher
Special Education Teacher
Students are the most important members of a school culture, says Carmen Cantrell. Putting that belief into practice every day has had a lasting impact on her former students, their families and co-workers.
One mother saw her son, who has high-functioning autism and ADHD, enter middle school so disorganized that it became a nightly chore to help him track his assignments to turn in the next day. Cantrell was assigned to help him.
“She got to know [him] as a person and learned how he operated each day,” the mother wrote. “She communicated with every teacher in every one of his classes — daily. She took over his planner. He dropped an elective so all his homework was completed during study periods under her supervision.”
But Cantrell didn’t “manage” the student. Instead, his mother said, “she taught him how to function in the environment by stripping down his responsibility to a bare minimum and then adding it back incrementally.”
By the end of the year, the student was keeping track of his own assignments and staying organized to complete his work during study halls.
Cantrell began teaching in 1971 in Missouri after earning a bachelor’s degree from Pittsburg State University in sociology with a minor in special education and psychology. In 1989, she earned a master’s degree in special education from The University of Kansas.
She joined the Shawnee Mission school district in 1986 and is now at Indian Hills Middle School in Prairie Village. Cantrell is a collaborative teacher in seventh- and eighth-grade English classes and a teacher mentor for a science teacher. She also is a member of and resource for Professional Learning Communities at the seventh- and eighth-grade levels in English, social studies and science.
For one former student, Cantrell was the inspiration for her own career as a teacher.
“She was my teacher, but she was also my ally when I felt that school was too much to handle,” wrote the former student, now a teacher for 13 years. “Even with all the help and guidance, she never lowered her expectations.”
“I went back and looked her up when I got my first teaching job. I wanted her to know that her hard work had paid off … and I was going to pass along her compassion and her high expectations for my students who struggled like I did in school.”