8th Grade Teacher of the Year
Special education teacher Paula Ontko has been named the Teacher of the Year for the 8th Grade Center.
“Even as a child, I was infatuated with the classroom,” Ontko said. “Chalkboards, grading papers, the E-Z grader, desks, the smell of the building, school supplies, red pens, playgrounds, and of course, the Ditto Machine smells.”
When she was in high school, Ontko volunteered to work in an elementary school for her elective. “When I went to college at Oral Roberts University, I remained in love with education. I chose to get my degree in elementary education,” she said. “I love showing my students who they can become. I love nurturing and helping them in their development of their academic and emotional lives.”
Teaching in a special education classroom requires different skill sets compared to some teachers.
“Being able to teach students with different needs is the crux of my daily life,” Ontko said. “Each student I work with is at his or her own level in each subject area. I have to find the best way to reach each student to help them become the best them that they can be. It’s a constant challenge to find that spot for each student. Some learn through play, others through technology, and some like to do paper/color work. And for many, every day is a new day and their enjoyment of the type of work changes.”
Ontko said, “My greatest hope is that each of my students will always know that I am in their corner. I will always cheer them on and assist them to becoming the best person they can be. I teach a work skills class and we cook weekly. I also hope that they will always remember the good times we had in the kitchen and that that room will be a happy place for them to be to continue learning to cook.”
Ontko started out as a paraprofessional in a pre-kindergarten classroom at Cedar Ridge in 2008.
“My own kids had gone there and I loved what I had seen at Union Public Schools,” she said. “I graduated in 1997 but had the opportunity to stay home with my own children for 12 years. I was thankful for the opportunity to come to Cedar Ridge and be there with two of my 4 children. The kick-off that year sealed the deal for me. WOW. What an incredible display yearly of our amazing district! I love what Union stands for in their education belief system. I am honored at how they treat their staff and students and I completely believe that Union is the best district in any state.”
Ontko loves working with middle school students. “And I love working with special needs students,” she continued. “I have great co-workers in my building here at 8th Grade Center and I can’t imagine working anywhere else. I am the Head Coach for Team Union’s Special Olympics and I greatly enjoy taking the students to those events.”
She graduated in 1997 from Oral Roberts University, and since received certifications in early childhood education and special education, and she is debating whether to pursue a master’s degree.
In the meantime, Ontko said, “I will remain here at the amazing 8th Grade Center!”