Special education teacher values connection with students – Shaw Local
Blake Slutz considered a career in public relations and marketing while a student at Illinois State University, but after volunteering with the Special Olympics, he changed his major.
“It started out as something for my resume and to give back a bit,” he said, “and I liked it more than I thought I would.”
He is now a special education teacher at Seneca Township High School, with a class of freshmen and sophomores, and another of juniors and seniors. He also co-teach English II and English III. He is in his third year at the school and this year received an award for excellence in education.
He loves his job and knows that the decision to pursue it was the right one for him.
“It was really about what I wanted to do, the things I wanted to accomplish, and the difference I wanted to make,” he said.
Prior to STHS, Slutz taught students with behavioral and emotional challenges at La Salle Peru High School and then in eighth grade special education science and history at Bloomington Junior High School.
Seneca Township High School Superintendent Dan Stecken said the school is fortunate to have Slutz serving its students.
“Blake Slutz demonstrates wisdom and experience beyond his years of teaching,” Stecken said. “He has the unique ability to identify each student’s specific area of need, coupled with the knowledge to create a plan to meet that need. Blake brings his passion, dedication, sense of humor and positive attitude to school every day and truly makes Seneca High School better as a district.
Slutz said teaching special education comes with challenges, but also rewards. The biggest challenge, he said, is probably also the biggest reward, and that is the variety of needs and strengths in his classes. Special education students have a wider variety of needs, he explained, such as reading levels that can range from second to seventh grade in a classroom.
“I love the creative aspect of it,” he said, “and the challenge of helping them achieve their goals. For me, it’s incredibly motivating and rewarding.
He enjoys really getting to know his students and connecting with them on a relational level.
“They showcase some of their most honest and best work when you do that,” he said. “For me, it’s more about relationships first and academics second.”
Being a case manager for students with special needs is also important.
“It’s a second set of eyes to make sure they’re adjusting well and doing well in high school,” he said.
And that they’ll transition out of high school with a concrete plan for their next path.
The school ended remote learning this school year, and Slutz said it had been a wonderful thing for his students.
“I think the kids are really, really enjoying it,” he said. “It’s great to see them socializing with each other again.”
Slutz said he wants people to know about special education students.
“I want people to know that’s not their identity,” he said. “It might be a facet of who they are, but they have all these other wonderful things about them that give them ways to succeed.”