Douglas County Preschool Teacher Gains Strength From Adversity
As a young child growing up in Littleton, Jennifer Morris excelled at school. But at 7 years old, a devastating ski accident at Copper Mountain left her with a traumatic brain injury. She was in a coma for three days.
When she returned to school, she struggled to keep up. Morris says she was dropped from the advanced classes to a year below her grade level.
She received a lot of tutoring at home from her parents, who were trained educators. And like them, Morris felt drawn towards teaching children. She now teaches at the Douglas County preschool at Iron Horse Elementary in Parker.
“My dad was a math teacher. He started in 1968,” Morris recalls. “When he taught, he would explain, have visuals, answer questions and address different needs. I follow the same idea, using linguistics, visuals and kinesthetic teaching techniques, as well as addressing the different needs of my students.
She gives an example of reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar with her students.
“We first looked at the pictures and made predictions,” she explains. “I asked the children questions, like ‘How is the character feeling?’ and ‘What do you see?’ After reading the book with emotion, we talked about the life cycle of a butterfly. Finally, we watched a video of a real butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. The children are learning on so many different levels. We will read the same book at story time for a week or more.”
The Iron Horse Elementary preschool is an integrated program, incorporating special education and regular education.
“The most important thing we teach all our preschool students is social skills,” she says. “Of course, we also teach ABCs and 123s, but social skills are the priority at this age. Lily and Lou help me.” She pulls two life-sized puppet children out of a box. “Lily is always getting into trouble. She tells the children all about what she did, like if she didn’t want to share.”
Morris still bears the faint scars of her ski accident on the left side of her face and says that she still finds math tough. However, she does not let the hurdles she had to overcome in childhood hold her back from achieving success in adulthood.
“The accident made learning hard for me, and I was shy at school. I didn’t love it,” Morris says. “Now I want my students to love school.”
In February, Morris won Douglas County School District’s 2015 Apple Award for Early Childhood Education. She is currently working on getting her master’s degree in early childhood special education from the University of Colorado Denver, and she says she learns from her preschoolers every day.
“Providing fun experiences each and every day, such as smiles, hugs, high-fives, laughter and encouragement creates an enticing environment for young children,” she says. “This positive energy makes my students want to come to school.”
Finally, as both a teacher and a self-professed “life-long learner,” Morris loves school again, too.