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Lisa Arroyo, named next year’s teacher of the year for the Isles District, which includes schools in England and parts of Germany, Belgium and Bahrain.
Lisa Arroyo, named next year’s teacher of the year for the Isles District, which includes schools in England and parts of Germany, Belgium and Bahrain. (Courtesy of DODEA)

It’s not quite 2009, but Lisa Arroyo already has been named next year’s teacher of the year for the Isles District, which includes schools in England and parts of Germany, Belgium and Bahrain. Arroyo, a special-needs teacher at Lakenheath Middle School, recently returned from a "Teacher of the Year" forum in Washington, D.C.

So what did you do in D.C.?

We got an up-close look at where DODEA (Department of Defense Education Activity) is going. … It was very interesting to see the inner workings and what’s going on there. We also had a lot of in-service time for instruction, and worked on strategies to bring back to our schools on all the latest educational trends. … We also got the opportunity to tour the Pentagon and meet with Secretary of Defense (Robert) Gates. It was very exciting. … We also got the chance to tour the Smithsonian’s education department and see what resources are available to us.

What’s your teaching philosophy?

I have faith that every child can learn if given the proper instruction, no matter what. If you have faith in them, they will succeed.

Why did you want to become a special-needs teacher?

Growing up myself with a learning disability (dyslexia), I didn’t always have the best experience in school. The one thing I said I’d never do was become a teacher. And after I got my bachelor’s degree in arts management — of all things — I got a job at a psychiatric hospital and got my first exposure to special education. That’s when I went back and got my masters’s degree in special education with an emphasis in emotional impairments. And since then, I’ve gone on to expand to learning disabilities, including autism.

Middle school kids are a tricky bunch, add on top of that a disability, and it seems like your job could get quite hectic. How do you deal with it all?

This is my favorite age to work with, no matter what. I love this age because there’s so much going on with them, so much growth. I see a lot of maturing at this level, which opens up the doors to big strides. And that’s the same with students with disabilities. As they mature, they really take big strides. It’s exciting and rewarding when you get that student that’s never read and now they’re reading. Those are the rewards that are better than a trip to D.C. The real reward is working with the kids.

You’ve worked here the past four years and did a four-year stint in Japan right before that. How do you like England compared to Japan?

England was almost like a homecoming, since I went to high school here. (I’m a Navy brat and graduated from London Central.) We like getting out and about and being able to read the street signs, but we miss the food in Japan a great deal.

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