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As we enter our 100th year of leading special education, the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) is recognizing exceptional educators from around the world who have shown a passion, dedication, and commitment to making a difference in the lives of the students who they teach. Hear from teachers about their personal experiences working in the field, and get inspired to make your own impact this year.

Since 1984 CEC has honored members who currently provide instruction to students with exceptionalities and are outstanding members of the profession. The Teacher of the Year Award is given every year to a CEC member teacher whose work exemplifies the best in special education teaching and reflects significant, documented positive outcomes for students, continued professional development, and the highest standards of educational quality. 

Take a look at former CEC Teachers of the Year and see where they are now.

Debbie Metcalf

Deborah Metcalf

What is your current role?

I am semi-retired, live with my husband in North Caroina, and love being a 'Gigi' to my 5 grandchildren.  I supervise a few interns for East Carolina University and sometimes teach courses for Loyola Marymount. Occassionally, I help with staff development. I've been a teacher/instructor for over 40 years and I still enjoy doing this. I also like to research and write about UDL and I've been pursuring my avocation of drawing and painting.  I was active in DISES and IASE before the pandemic and also organized study abroad trips for ECU students to Northern Ireland.  Hopefully, these will resume in person soon.


How has the CEC Teacher of the Year Award had an impact on your career and/or how has it built upon your leadership in CEC?

I've made so many wonderful connections!  I gained many friends, research and writing partners (I co-author a UDL text with Richard Garguilo at UAB).  I learned so much more about what CEC does and how vital its work is to the world. This opportunity led me to serve on the CEC Board of Directors. It's interesting to see the nuts and bolts of developing policy, standards, and best practices.  I have thoroughly enjoyed being a member of DISES as well. Networking with educators around the world has provided me with so many ideas and perspectives.  I have seen first hand the passion of special educators and the determination of children in all walks of life. They have given me so much joy - the ones who have very limited resources in some very challenging conditions inspire me the most! 


What was most memorable to you about your experience in CEC and/or in education?

The networking! I loved all the conferences (mostly CEC for me) and would save my money each year to attend (this wasn't always easy in the beginning with my teaching salary). The gatherings energized me and kept me up-to-date. Sometimes I would bring parents of my young students with me. Later, I brought university students.  I have met so many amazing people! For me, CEC is place where like-minded people can come together and accomplish great things by sharing, learning, advocating, and having fellowship together. It has allowed me to see the our country and the world more fully. I will add that it was really fun to meet celebrities like Henry Winkler, Mailee Matlin, and Temple Grandin but it was also a joy to meet children working on wheel chair dances in South Africa, and visiting with children with autism (and their parents) in Beijing, China at Stars and Rain. 


What advice do you have for early career teachers?

Join a professional organization!  Feed your passion for teaching.  Know that there will be tough times but if you have the passion, reach out to others who are like you. They can be in your back yard or half way around the world. This is how you can recharge and keep your dreams alive. Some of these connections will likely become lifelong.  I cannot even begin to list the number of friends and memories I've made over the years.  Their collaboration enriched my teaching and leadership skills.  They made the work more meaningful and exciting.  I don't think I personally would have reached career status without CEC.

Posted:  2 June, 2022

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