June 21, 2016

Teachers Talk Back: Nicole Orlando

Nicole Orlando is a Resource Specialist Program teacher at Luther Burbank Middle School and is currently in her 11th year in the classroom. She has taught in both a traditional district school in LAUSD and a local charter school and is a member of the E4E-Los Angeles 2016 Teacher Policy Team. In this conversation with E4E-LA Outreach Director Felipe Ramirez, she discusses her experience working with a unique student population and her passion for serving these students.

Felipe Ramirez (FR): What inspired you to become an educator?

Nicole Orlando (NO): As an undergrad at UCLA, I tutored elementary school students after school and saw firsthand the power that positive relationships have on student achievement. My best teachers growing up were the ones who made learning fun and cared deeply about me. My belief that education is the gateway to opportunity, coupled with my understanding that learning happens when relationships are built, led me to teach.

FR: You decided to become a special education teacher. What brought you to this?

NO: I wasn’t exactly sure what was in store for me when I decided to pursue special education, but now I can’t imagine teaching anything else. The beauty of my job is that I get to build relationships with students and families over multiple school years. In IEP meetings, I can refer back to a student’s performance from two years ago and report on all of the growth that was made each step of the way. I see my students in multiple subjects and environments, so I see their overarching strengths and challenges. The best part is that I can leverage those strengths to not only build their confidence, but to address their academic needs.

FR: What are some of the biggest challenges you face?

NO: Teaching is challenging. Period. On a daily basis, teachers are charged with interpreting standards, creating effective lessons, engaging students to learn the material, assessing growth and communicating those results. Special education is no different. It is important to remain patient and positive. I learned that celebrating the small accomplishments along the way is key to student motivation and teacher sanity. It is so easy to focus on the areas for growth and overlook all of the progress that’s been made.

FR: What brought you to E4E?

NO: My passion for teaching and advocating for students with special needs, an interest in collaborating with colleagues, and a deep belief in the power of teacher voice and leadership drew me to E4E. Teacher voice is essential to create effective policies, and it’s fundamental to elevating the teaching profession. In my years of teaching, I’ve been fortunate to be a part of those decision-making processes to grow even stronger schools for my students and colleagues. I stand with the entire network of E4E teacher leaders working to create positive outcomes for students across Los Angeles.