Becoming a special education teacher was not something Renee McCombs had in mind when pursuing her career. “I kind of fell into it,” she says. “Right out of college I couldn’t find a job teaching elementary in the Des Moines area.” McCombs sought other options. “I ended up working as a teacher associate for the Polk County Youth Shelter.”
This opportunity allowed her “to work with students of all ages and abilities.” She enjoyed working with middle school students and those with unique learning needs. She then sought an endorsement to teach middle school special education students.
“I would not do anything different,” she says of the path she took. “This is where I belong!”
She enjoys working with students, seeing their accomplishments, and being able to celebrate with them. According to McCombs, “These accomplishments happen because of the teachers the student had before me, the general education teachers they see in class, the support they get outside of school, and, most importantly, [because] the student worked for it.”
Significant goals this year are for students to improve their reading, writing, and math skills. “I want them to be successful in school and gain confidence in their abilities,” says McCombs.
In addition to her teaching role, McCombs is a special education instructional coach, working directly with other teachers as they teach special education students.
According to McCombs, “Coaching is a very collaborative process and is about what teachers can do when given the chance to work together.” Coaching allows teachers to find ways to improve student learning and delve further into educational trends and research.
She also says the process is about improving one’s own listening skills and learning how to ask the right questions to help teachers reach their goals. “This is one of those times where I am definitely the learner,” she says. “I come away learning so much from them or from the work we do together.”
McCombs has been recognized for her work as a classroom teacher and coach. She was a finalist for the 2015 Iowa Teacher of the Year award. According to Jody Ratigan, principal at Eastview, “Renee McCombs is a tremendous example of what a teacher should be: creative, talented, and knowledgeable in her chosen field. She is truly a fantastic educator and teacher-leader.”