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Teacher leads unique class at Sevier

Ella Miller, Staff Writer

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Leslie Church is the “Academic Social Adjustment Program” teacher at John Sevier Middle School. Church previously worked as an assistant at John Adams Elementary, and before that, attended college at ETSU, where she was an employee at the Positive Behavior Supports and Initiatives project for two years.

“I completed my undergraduate degree at Northeast State and ETSU,” Church said. “Then, I completed my graduate degree at University of North Carolina and ETSU. I graduated from ETSU with my bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Development with a Minor in Communicative Disorders. I also hold a Master of Education in Special Education from ETSU.”

Church grew up in Johnson City and still lives there today. Are the commute and distance inconvenient? Not to Church.

“I doubt I would ever move to Kingsport,” she said. “I enjoy the distance between work and home.”

Some people want to be marine biologists, while others would prefer to be architects. Why did Church want to be a teacher?

“Initially, I became interested in the field of behavior analysis,” Church said. “This led me to get my degree in special education and become a teacher. I was attracted to this job because it provides me with an opportunity to use my knowledge and skills in behavior analysis to help students appropriately adjust to a school setting. I took this job after much prayer and faith that the job wouldn’t be offered to me unless it was the place that I was meant to teach.”

The name of Church’s class, ASAP, seems unique and sounds like the abbreviation for “as soon as possible.” ASAP actually stands for “Academic Social Adjustment Program”.

“The primary purposes of this program are to provide students with the the tools needed to succeed in both academic and social settings, eliminate or reduce problem behaviors and replace them with positive alternative behaviors, help students develop social skills and emotional coping skills, and to prepare students to function outside of the school setting by learning consequences for behavior,” Church said. “Further goals in our class include increasing self-confidence, and helping students discover and build upon their natural talents, strengths, and interests.”

Since Church is teaching a special class, she faces some unique challenges.

“I would describe my class to be somewhat chaotic at times,” she said. “Not only are we working to improve academic success for students, but we are also teaching them socially appropriate behaviors and emotional coping skills all at the same time.”

Her students are more challenging to teach than some, so Church has different relationships with them throughout the school year.

“I guess it really depends on the day and it depends on the student,” Church said. “Sometimes they love me and sometimes I’m their least favorite person, but at the end of the day, we are all a family in our classroom.”

Church often finds herself caring less about the grades of her students than their personal health and feelings.

“The strangest thing that I have ever experienced in my teaching career is that I’m the teacher, but when the principal asks to see me, my first thought is ‘what did I do? what did I do?’,” Church said. “Furthermore, I believe I am more excited about spring break than my students.”

Jobs can be exciting and fun, but there is always a downside.

“My favorite part of my job is seeing that I made a difference in someone’s life,” Church said. “My least favorite part of my job is waking up early to make that difference…#ilovecoffee.”

Church has made some great memories while helping her students.

“My most memorable school-related event would have to be the annual Dollywood field trip that I was able to experience during my residency,” Church said. “High school students are provided the opportunity to practice appropriate social skills at a local theme park and I was able to participate in this tradition. My fondest education-related memory would be the relationships formed along my journey, each one having such a positive impact on my life, even though I may not have realized it at the time.”

Church has learned some valuable lessons from her teaching experience.

“My students have taught me to love unconditionally, forgive repeatedly, and to remain in constant prayer,” Church said.

Church’s taste in music would definitely surprise some of her students.
“Something that students don’t know about me is that my playlist usually consists of 90s rap/hip hop, artists such as Snoop, 2PAC, Biggie, DMX, Wu-Tang, Ice Cube, Nas, and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, just to name a few,” Church said.

As an “Academic Social Adjustment Program” teacher, Church has a positive opinion about the recently installed good behavior program.

“The new ‘good behavior’ program actually dated back over thirty years, from the ‘Caught Being Good Game’ evolving into School-Wide Positive Behavior Support Programs,” Church said. “Research supports the effectiveness of these programs in decreasing office discipline referrals and increasing appropriate behaviors with students. All behavior follows a specific set of rules and behavior modification techniques that rarely fail. Rather, they are either implemented inconsistently or inefficiently, which results in a less than desired change.”

Church hopes that every one of her students remembers the importance of integrity and tries their best at everything.

“It is my job to help all my students belong,” Church said. “This means part of my job is to educate the wider community about the needs of a child who may be perceived as ‘different’ to help them become embraced as part of the community,” Church said. “Like R.F. Pierson said, ‘every child deserves a champion – an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they be the best that they can possibly be’.”

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Teacher leads unique class at Sevier