Donna Shaw is an Instructor of Special Education at Loras. In her ninth year here, she is full-time. She recently retired from the Dubuque Community School District after 31 years of teaching and administrative work in the field of Special Education.
She is originally from the town of Churdan, a small farming community in central Iowa. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education from the University of Dubuque, a Masters of Learning Disabilities from Clarke, and an administrative endorsement from Loras College. She has also done post-graduate work at the University of Iowa, Drake University, and the University of Kansas.
This semester Shaw is teaching Foundations of Inclusive Education, Learning Environments and Collaborations, and Learning and Behavior Strategies I.
Her hobbies include doing things outdoors, like gardening, hiking, and biking; and spending time with her family.
SHAW’S INTEREST IN THE FIELD OF EDUCATION
Originally, Shaw said, “I hated school … I hated all of it, because we were exceptionally poor … I had to wear my brother’s clothes, and I was so mistreated by teachers.”
“I always tell my students a story about when I was in first grade: Back then you’d take a penny every day to school and you’d get a carton of milk for your break … (On the last day of classes), my teacher said I was missing a penny, and so she wouldn’t give me my report card … I cried all the way home that year. Back in those days your report card would tell you you’d advance to the next grade. So I thought, as a little six-year-old, that I’d failed, and I was going to have to do first grade over again … (My mother) knew she had sent a penny every day, and we were so poor that was really scraping the bottom … so she marched back to the school, yelled at the teacher, and gave her five pennies and paid for my report card, so she could see if I was going on to second grade.”
“Growing up I got to know this young man … he had cognitive issues … we got to be friends … I was probably 12 … he was 10-15 years older than me … One day I found out he’d just vanished. I found out they decided to send him to the county home. He wasn’t hurting anybody. He had a job, he was living with his family. It just made me so mad that he got locked up.”
Shaw also shared about other experiences she had with people who had disabilities while she was growing up. She often didn’t like the way those people were treated. She went to college to be a history teacher, but was told she’d have to be a coach.
“But I wanted to teach,” she said. “So I quit school … and didn’t go back until after I had a job, down in southern Iowa at a private boarding school for people with disabilities.”
SHAW’S WORK IN THE FIELD OF SPECIAL EDUCATION
Shaw said, “What we know about Special Education is like one baby step, because we’re so new at it.”
She said, “In Special Education we are the last hope for those students. I mean, why are they in Special Education? It’s because other people failed them.”
About designing interventions, she said, “Behavior is usually to avoid something or to get something. And if you can figure out what is driving that behavior, then you can usually design an appropriate intervention … Teachers are really the problem so often.” Teachers, she said, need to ask themselves, “What are we doing? Are we pushing buttons?”
When asked if she ever considered going on for a doctorate, she replied, “I did, but I didn’t have the time.”
SHAW’S WORK AT LORAS
Shaw said, “I want to say how great the Teacher Education people have been.” She added, “I love teaching …. I love the kids … I love Loras.”
Her advice for students taking her classes: “They have to be willing to talk and collaborate.”
Shaw has a concern shared by many on the faculty about some students’ excessive engagement with technology (smart phones and laptops). Of this, she said, “I worry about addiction for some of my students … My job is to have their brain … and if they’re on technology I don’t have their brain.”