Science Hill special education teacher Sandy Babel likes to joke that she has been at Science Hill longer than some of the lockers. And while that might be true, Babel has used her time to make a difference in the lives of all the students at Science Hill.
Babel was recently selected as Johnson City Schools’ Teacher of the Year for grades 9-12. She joined South Side teacher Morgan Rankin and Liberty Bell teacher Haley Reynolds who earned the honor in grades PreK-4 and 5-8, respectively.
Babel started her career in special education during the 1981-1982 school year and she said that earning the honor of teacher of the year was a very humbling experience.
“I am very honored and humbled,” Babel said. “I work with wonderful teachers and to be nominated from my peers is probably the greatest honor.”
Even though she is almost four decades into her career, Babel said she still gets excited to come to work each day.
“The greatest joy is seeing kids feel good about themselves and overcoming a struggle, no matter what that struggle is,” Babel said. “Our ultimate goal is that they can be as independent and productive when they transition out of school. That is what we are really working for.
“What we do is very different than what other teachers do,” Babel continued. “Growth and progress with special education students looks a little different than with other students. They make amazing and incredible gains and successes that often go unnoticed. But we make it a point to celebrate those small successes every day.”
Since 1990, Babel has served as a mentor to upcoming special education teachers who are students at East Tennessee State University and Tusculum University. She also helped develop Science Hill’s peer tutoring program, which started in 1998 and continues to have a huge impact on the school culture at Science Hill.
“There have been many success stories that have come from our peer tutoring program,” Babel said. “Friendships have been developed and life lessons have been learned for all of the students involved. The peer tutoring has helped students with special needs feel accepted and that they are a positive part of the school culture.”
Another highlight that Babel looks forward to each year is the Special Olympics. She said it is little successes, like watching her students compete and overcome fears, that made her so happy.
“When you feel important, cared about, and worthy, and a part of things, I think that is a huge thing in preparing for life beyond school,” Babel said. “My hope is that everyone, adults included, feels better when they leave than when they come in.”