‘They don’t realize what they’re teaching me’ | Special education teacher opens up about teaching during pandemic

A digital series that introduces us to some of the most inspirational, resourceful people in and around St. Louis who are teaching under impossible odds

FESTUS, Mo. — A few minutes into talking about her career as an educator, Jena Bohn started to cry.

“You go into this profession and you want to teach these kids everything that they need to know,” she said choking back tears. “But they don’t realize, what they’re teaching me.”

Bohn is a special education instructor at Festus High School where students have been learning in-person since the 2020-2021 school year began.

Her classroom has eight students with severe physical and mental disabilities. She says they have taught her perseverance, strength and pure joy.

“I have students who have conquered stuff that they didn’t even think they could,” Bohn said.

She’s been teaching for 16 years. Her classroom focuses on life skills like grocery shopping, laundry, ironing, and cooking. 

“My goal is to get them ready to be out in the community and be as independent of an adult as they can be,” she said.  

She’s ensured that goal by creating programs that foster these everyday skills.

Her class cooks and serves 100 veterans at the school each Veteran’s Day. They also tend to the football team’s locker room and make sure it’s ready for Homecoming. Due to COVID, these events couldn’t happen this year.  

But she says the ability to teach her students in-person makes a huge difference.  Most of the instruction is one-on-one.

“My program is very individualized. We may be doing something all together but everybody might have a different assignment,” Bohn said.

So why special education?

Bohn said she struggled in school.

“To be honest with you, I myself have a learning disability. I have been through that struggle or similar struggles. I know what it feels like when you want to give up,” she said.

And after all these years, she still remembers how her teachers made her feel.

A memory that caused a few more tears.

“Everyone learns differently. I had amazing teachers in my career that taught me different ways to learn.

“That pushed me to go outside my limits and to me that is really important. I do that here in my classroom.”

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