When Amy Norris’ fourth-grade students arrive to her Summit Academy – Akron Elementary School classroom for the first day of classes next Thursday, you might guess she’s met them before. Her students, many with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism and other challenges, find a kindred spirit in Norris, once a struggling student herself.
“I missed things,” says Norris, recalling her childhood days in the classroom where her teachers’ words scrambled in her head and lessons rarely made sense. “I struggled, especially in math and reading. I could not wrap my head around algebra because of its use of letters.”
Norris eventually discovered that she had attention deficit disorder and used visual learning as her ticket to college. Getting there, however, was a long, taxing journey that spanned 12 years, during which she spent endless hours studying and writing classroom notes over and over again.
She says she enjoys sharing her personal tale with her students, many of whom face learning obstacles similar to those she experienced as a youngster.
“Letting them know I had troubles puts them at ease,” says Norris.
Likewise, she says her story’s happy ending, one narrated with a successful college career and highlighted with undergraduate and master’s degrees and a rewarding vocation, helps instill her students with optimism about their futures.
It’s no wonder Norris sees her students as “hidden geniuses” waiting to be discovered, ready for Norris to do her magic to bring out their best.
Norris’ approach to teaching her students is as individual as they are. A nonverbal student may need to take a quiz by flagging her answers with Post-it® notes in a book. Another child, perhaps one with a limited vocabulary, could require a spelling test with words containing four or less letters.
“We adapt and we see a lot of growth. It’s like paints. Pick one that works, and use it,” says Norris, adding that her 14 years as a teacher at Summit Academy is no accident.
“I wanted to be the teacher I never had and desperately needed,” she says.