Featured Teachers: Tiffany NeuhoffFebruary 27, 2020
By LEANN BURKE
HUNTINGBURG — It was early afternoon on a Friday, and Southridge Middle School teacher Tiffany Neuhoff was sitting on the floor of colleague Jennifer Schutte’s classroom leading a small group in math exercises. On this day, the students were learning about graphing data and finding medians, means and outliers.
The class — English/Language Arts and Math Extension — is a new class this year aimed at giving students more language arts and math instruction. Neuhoff, who is a special education teacher by degree, helps out in the class as an interventionist — a new position created to give students of any ability level extra support. SMS Principal Greg Gogel said Neuhoff took on the new position with passion, just as she takes on many roles around the school.
“She’s so giving of her time and her expertise,” Gogel said.
Recently, Gogel nominated Neuhoff for National Rural Education Association Teacher of the Year. In his nomination letter, he listed several school committees that include Neuhoff, such as the school improvement team, the AdvanceED accreditation committee and Positive Behavior Intervention Solutions committee. He also wrote about her willingness to become a homebound instructor for a student who needed to stop attending school due to cancer.
She’s currently pursuing a master’s degree in English language learning curriculum and instruction.
“She’s always looking for ways to make herself and how she can serve our kids and community better,” Gogel said.
To Neuhoff, the work she does is nothing extraordinary. Any of her colleagues would do the same, she said.
“Every teacher is here for every student,” she said.
Still, Neuhoff, 29, seems uniquely fit for the role of special education teacher/interventionist. She chose the career path as a student at Southridge High School while volunteering with Special Olympics. During that time, she bonded with one of the athletes and became friends with his family, too. That experience showed her that special education was likely the career for her.
“It’s a hard job,” she said. “But I’ve stayed because I love teaching and learning. It really does something for me in a profound way.”
The daughter of Brenda and Harold Neuhoff Jr., Tiffany grew up on a farm and thought for much of her life she’d become a veterinarian. But as she grew up and worked different jobs in high school, it became clear that she preferred a career in human services. By the time she graduated in 2009, she knew she wanted to be a teacher. She earned a dual degree in elementary and special education from the University of Southern Indiana and worked as a special education teacher for a year at Central High School in Evansville before taking a job at SMS.
In the last few years, she said, the teachers and staff at SMS have focused on reworking the special education program to focus more on intervention in the classrooms and less on pulling children out of class for additional support. In fact, that method has become more of the norm for special education teachers.
“We try to keep them [in class] as much as we can,” Tiffany said. “They need to see people of different ability levels and know how to interact with them.”
There are still instances where students are pulled out of class for extra instruction or placed in classes geared toward struggling students, but it’s no longer the norm.
And Tiffany’s skills aren’t reserved just for students with individualized education programs. As an interventionist, part of her job is working with high ability students to make sure they’re challenged, as well as working with general education students to ensure they stay on track. That work is reflected in the time she spends co-teaching English/Language Arts and Math Extension with Schutte.
“She is very organized and always meets the needs of all students,” Schutte said via email. “Her creative lessons always make class exciting and fun.”
Since Schutte is an English/language arts teacher, she said Tiffany will often take the lead on math lessons.
For Tiffany, the best part of her job is working with the students. As a special education teacher, she works with students during their sixth, seventh and eighth grade years, which gives her a front row seat to their growth in middle school.
“I love my students,” she said. “They’re funny, they’re creative, and they keep me on my toes. I appreciate that.”
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