APSU senior presents grant findings at the TMTA Conference
Clarksville, TN (10/16/2023) — By Zoe Huffman - APSU student
Austin Peay State University senior Samantha Deems presented grant findings regarding special education classrooms at the Tennessee Mathematics Teachers Association Conference at Belmont University in September, and also presented her findings as part of the Posters at the Capitol event in the spring.
After winning a $1,000 grant, Deems donated it to her local elementary school in Dickson County, Tennessee, Stuart-Burns Elementary. She gave the grant money to the special education program, which allowed them to purchase math manipulatives and other learning toys to better accommodate the students' individual education plans (IEPs).
Deems, an elementary education major, used the progression of the special education class as a foundation for her presentation, noting the impact of the manipulatives on the students' learning abilities.
"I went over how the students are progressing and learning and more interested in doing math," she said. "They're actually learning how to add and subtract, and some are even learning how to multiply now."
Deems also found that the students had much more energy in the classroom. They came in excited to learn because they knew they could use the manipulatives to help them along the way.
"Their energy is more outgoing," she said. "Some of them have anger issues, and when they come in, they're actually excited because they know that they're not going to sit there and write stuff down, listen or watch a video. They know they're going to play with a Pop It.They're still learning, but they're also doing their stress reliever at the same time."
TMTA conference attendees were interested in Deems' findings as she presented to a room packed full of onlookers, many of whom asked in-depth follow up questions.
"The whole room was full," she said."People started asking questions. People were taking notes. People were taking pictures, which I was not expecting. And someone came up to me and asked, 'Hey, is it OK if I email you and ask more stuff? Will you send me the links? It was awesome."
Deems wants to continue her career in education, advocating for students who do not have a voice. She said presenting at the Capitol and the TMTA Conference have made a significant impact on her hope for change within the education field.
"The kids are my number one," she said."That's why I picked this degree. It's why I'll never change my degree, no matter how rough it gets out there. But it has really made me have more hope that I can change the education field. Before I just thought it was a dream that I'd never be able to accomplish, and doing this for the past year, it was like, I can actually make this happen."
More than anything, this experience has solidified Deems' love for children and her passion to enrich their lives through support and education.
She wants to make a real difference in her students' lives, and better understanding their individual needs and advocating for them has bolstered her appreciation for teachers.
"I want to impact the kids' lives," Deems said. "I want to help educate them and help teachers, but I also want to help the children. If you really want to impact people's lives and children's lives, then you can do that here."
Deems said witnessing how her hard work and dedication impacts her students is the most rewarding part of her chosen career.
"Seeing them smile," she said. "I taught a girl that couldn't even say her alphabet in the beginning of first grade. By the time I was done with her, she could say our alphabet, read a sentence and write her own name. And that was huge."
As advice for aspiring teachers, Deems urges them to "find their people." She recommends finding a group of likeminded teachers to lean on for support and comfort. Most of all, she emphasizes the importance of teamwork.
"Teaching is a team sport," she said. "It's not something you can do individually. We might be in the classroom individually, but, in every grade, you have your team and you work together. But you're in your own classrooms, so you have to count on each other to make it through."
Deems studies in the Eriksson College of Education at Austin Peay State University. With a variety of initial licensure and advanced degree programs, the Eriksson College of Education prepares dynamic teachers and educational leaders to positively impact communities and schools in the 21st century.