Orange County Public Schools has announced its five finalists for the Teacher of the Year award, and Corin Metz of Thornebrooke Elementary School is one of the five nominated by their school. The winner will be announced at OCPS’ Stellar Awards Feb. 4, 2022, at Rosen Shingle Creek.
“It still amazes me that I was chosen as a finalist,” Metz said. “I am so honored.”
Metz has taught Exceptional Student Education at TES for 14 years and has been employed by OCPS for 24. Her journey to become an educator was inspired by an Orange County teacher who put her on the path to teach students with learning disabilities.
“I am a product of (OCPS) and a student who grew up with a learning disability,” she said. “I have a personal connection with students who struggle with making academic progress. I understand how much harder they have to work to do what their classmates seem to be able to do so easily.
“I remember feeling inferior to my friends,” Metz said. “There wasn’t any kind of ESE support for students with a minor disability like me. It wasn’t until I was in the seventh grade (that) I felt that college was an option for me. My language arts teacher, Mrs. Kennington, was the first teacher that I had who made me feel like I could achieve more.”
Metz said when she was completing the packet for Teacher of the Year, it made her reflect on what she does for her students and the school.
“My student academic growth is not my only focus,” she said. “Their growth socially and behaviorally is just as important to me. My students will leave me, and they need to be prepared to be successful in their everyday life. I make it a priority for all of my students to have opportunities to be with their same-age typical peers.”
Metz helped create a school-based service club called Kids Who Care with the school guidance counselor and behavior specialist. This club provides an avenue for students to be involved in their school and community. As co-founder, she is responsible for recruitment, coordinating, planning, training, supervising and facilitating student interactions. She coordinates Barracuda Buddies, a program within Kids Who Care that pairs up general education students with students in the self-contained ESE classrooms who have significant cognitive, social and academic challenges.
As part of this program the general education students forgo their recess to spend time with these students. Their time together consists of playing games, working on art projects, and participating in other social activities.
“Through these interactions, the general education students provide positive social interactions and modeling of appropriate behavior for the students with cognitive and social disabilities,” Metz said. “With Barracuda Buddies, not only are students learning appropriate social interactions, they are also forging friendships which helps them feel included. Barracuda Buddies fosters genuine friendships between students who might not typically interact with each other.”
Metz’s classroom is self-contained with 10 first-, second- and third-grade students. Most of her students have autism, but she also teaches students with Down Syndrome and other learning disabilities. They range from significant cognitive disabilities to minimal disabilities, and all of them require some sort of social emotional/behavioral support.
“I love teaching these incredible students and can’t imagine doing anything else,” Metz said. “I work with incredible professionals and my students are amazing. My students make me a better person.”
Students in her self-contained classroom flourish, in part, because she instills in them the belief that there are no limitations to what they can achieve.
“The self-contained ESE classroom environment offers some very unique situations and behaviors to collect data on, which requires a level of data collection that exceeds the typical classroom,” Metz said. “For ESE students, it is not uncommon to collect data on compliance to teacher directions, self-advocacy assistance, social interactions, daily self-care such as toileting and eating, as well as physical aggression frequency and duration.”
To help students attain academic success and skill acquisition, she creates adaptive materials to provide access for students with disabilities to the grade-level standards. Students’ learning gains confirm the academic decisions she makes for each student impacts their learning.
“I have been instrumental in creating tools to monitor non-desired behaviors, the impact of interventions on student achievement, behavior, and compliance at Thornebrooke Elementary.
Because of the nature of my students' disabilities, it is difficult to measure student learning and success using grade level standards,” Metz said. “Typically, my students do not perform well on grade-level standardized district assessments because of the presentation and question types.”
Metz said she wants people to be more understanding of different severities of disabilities.
It is our job not only to teach students to be better scholars, but also important to teach our students the importance of empathy and understanding of those who are different from us,” she said. “My day-to-day experiences are what propelled me to pursue Kids Who Care and link together typical students with students with autism. The elementary age group is where we can change and mold a more inclusive society.”