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Elaine Manteiga ’81 teaches special education
Feb. 27, 2012
Elaine Manteiga ’81 was never the best student in school, but her understanding of what it’s like to struggle in the classroom inspires her today in her job as a special education teacher.
She has worked for 20 years at North Cumberland Middle School with special needs students ages 11 to 15. Her students may have learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, emotional trouble or physical impairments.
Working with this population can be a challenge because most students have trouble absorbing the day’s lesson, but for different reasons. Manteiga must know each of her 20 students individually and teach in a way that works best for each of them.
“I like to get to know the kids one on one,” she said, “and, hopefully, if you do your job, you can see a difference in them within a year.”
Special education has a famously high burnout rate, Manteiga said, with many teachers lasting only two or three years in the field. She said that potential special education teachers need to be certain that this is what they want to do.
Fortunately, Manteiga is certain.
“There’s never a dull moment; it truly is never boring,” she said. “Besides raising my children, it’s been my favorite thing.”
North Cumberland Middle School has a rotating class schedule, and Manteiga divides her day between teaching lessons to smaller groups in her own classroom and being part of the classroom instruction of her fellow teachers. She is a strong supporter of individual attention for special needs students because she said they are all capable of learning, but it comes to them in different ways.
“If you have students that are challenged, they’re not going to learn like everybody else,” she said. “They’re not going to read and write like the students next to them, so how do you assess how they’re understanding the concepts being taught?”
The answer is to work with each student closely and create an individual education plan that can meet his or her particular special needs.
Though not on the same level as her current students, Manteiga remembers struggling in school herself and that experience inspired her to become a special education teacher. A lifelong Rhode Islander, she chose to attend CCRI’s Flanagan Campus in Lincoln to stay close to her home in Cumberland.
Manteiga did field work at several schools during this time, including Meeting Street School.
She graduated with a degree in elementary education and special education, earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Rhode Island College in 1984 and a master’s degree in education from the same school in 1990.
Manteiga attended North Cumberland Middle School as a child and is glad to be back. When she first started on the faculty, some of her co-teachers had had her as a student.
“I’ve come full circle,” Manteiga said. “It’s like coming home but I’m on the other side of the desk now.”