Teacher of the Week: Karen Hughes, special education, Rantoul Township High School – News-Gazette

One of Editor & Publisher’s ‘10 That Do It Right 2021’
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Updated: October 21, 2022 @ 4:46 am
Special Education teacher Karen Hughes poses in her classroom at Rantoul Township High School. Submitted

Multimedia Specialist
Special Education teacher Karen Hughes poses in her classroom at Rantoul Township High School. Submitted
Growing up the daughter of two teachers, it was obvious what career path Karen Hughes would take. That was only reinforced in kindergarten, when she loved her teacher so much, she made a decision that she’d be an educator when she grew up.
She fulfilled that goal, first working at Rantoul’s Pathway Program, an alternative school, and now as a special-education teacher.
Hughes also coaches the Scholastic Bowl team and holds a teaching certificate in Nebraska that has allowed her to teach at Boys Town, an alternative school in Omaha. She was named one of two Educators of the Year by the Rantoul Area Chamber of Commerce last year.
I find my work important because … teachers can make the world better. It is so exciting to see students grow and take pride in themselves. That sounds sappy, but it’s true, and it’s pretty magical to be a part of all of it.
I became a teacher because … I adored my kindergarten teacher and wanted to be her when I grew up.
My favorite/most unique lesson that I teach is … Jack Benny Day! Jack Benny was a comedian (“star of stage, screen and radio!”) from the days of vaudeville through the mid-1970s. He was also an incredibly kind, humble, generous person who enthusiastically encouraged other performers. He has always been my hero, and it is important to me to keep his memory alive. Every year on his birthday, Feb. 14, we have Jack Benny Day, where the lesson focuses entirely on Jack. This year, for instance, my students read a short biography of him, answered questions about him, watched a clip from an episode of his TV show, and colored pictures of him. They also sang happy birthday to him. I love Jack Benny Day!
My most fulfilling moment on the job was/is … It’s so hard to pick one! Whenever I see former students and hear about all the wonderful things they’re doing, it makes me feel so proud. I love when former students ask for help on college papers. It’s also incredibly fulfilling to see students putting into practice things that we have discussed in class. For instance, we spend a lot of time discussing the importance of caring about other people and showing them we care, and recently, one of my students told me that he had been thinking something over for a long time and ultimately made the decision he did because, as he explained, “I care about people.”
Something else I’m passionate about is … At school, I am also very passionate about Scholastic Bowl. This is my fourth year coaching the Scholarly Eagles, and they never cease to amaze me with their brilliance and dedication and perseverance and heart. I am so proud of all their hard work! Outside of school, I am passionate about writing and acting.
My favorite teacher and subject to study in school was … Lee Cheramy, my kindergarten teacher at Leal Elementary, was my idol. She was the most joyful, creative, compassionate person, and I wanted to be just like her. My favorite subject in school was always English. I loved reading and writing (and still do: Officially, I am a special-education teacher, but the main subject I teach is English).
I engage students during this strange time by … empathizing with them and letting them know we’re all struggling together. It’s important for them to realize that their teachers are in their corner, and we love them and are here for them as we all navigate the surreality of the world.
If I weren’t a teacher, I would be … a novelist or actor.

During her 17 years as a teacher at Stratton Academy of the Arts, Anne Bryce-Cotes has taught every grade at the school aside from third, and that experience has made her a valuable member of the school’s teaching staff.

After 35 years at Leal, Leroy retired at the end of the school year, a development she announced to her students in April when she gifted them shirts that read, “Mrs. Leroy’s Last Class.”

After spending 12 years at St. Thomas More, Krista Hinkley returned to teach English at Rantoul Township High School, where she fell in love with reading and writing before graduating in 2002. 
Multimedia Specialist
Anthony Zilis is a multimedia specialist at The News-Gazette. His email is [email protected], and you can follow him on Twitter (@adzilis).
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