Scotts Ridge special education teacher named Teacher of the Year

A sly hidden smile from one of her students is one of Allison Elkow’s most satisfying moments on the job. Elkow has been a teacher in Ridgefield for the past 23 years and has won the district’s Teacher of the Year Award for her excellence and dedication in the field of special education.

She sits at one of the tables in her classroom — lining the walls are posters of Harry Potter characters featuring positive messages. The room is structured in group tables, and in the corner marked with a large green poster is a quiet area for students who need to decompress.

She didn’t always admit she wanted to be a teacher. Growing up, it wasn’t a respected profession in her household.

“My father kind of put teachers down a lot. So they didn’t get a lot of respect. He said they didn’t make enough money,” she said. Nevertheless, she suspects it was her calling even before she herself knew it.

While in college she had a job at the school preschool. Whenever she phoned home she complained to her parents about her roommates and other college-related stress, but she never failed to fill them in about work.

One day her father asked her if she had ever thought about becoming a teacher.

“This was long before cell phones, of course. I dropped the pay phone and it just hung in the air for a few minutes before I picked it back up. Then I declared my major,” she said.

Ever since, she has delighted in seeing children flourish and nurture their self-esteem through positive reinforcement.

“When they have that ‘aha moment,’ that light kind of goes on in their heads,” she said. “About something you’ve been working on with them, or a way you’re trying to make them feel about themselves and they just kind of get it.”

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Sometimes helping children believe in themselves can be the most difficult aspect of her job.

“It’s hard to work with them if you know their skills and things you can help foster and grow in them and they’re having difficulty with their own self-esteem,” she said.

But she believes that working as a team with other school faculty, such as counselors and psychologists, is instrumental in the success of these cases.

She describes winning Teacher of the Year as a “surprisingly happy shock.”

Elkow, who moved to town after marrying Ridgefield-native Christopher Elkow, goes to work every day ready to devote all her energy to the development of her 14 students. But she never imagined her efforts were being noticed to such a large extent.

“It was a solidification of all these years of me continuing to do all the best that I can for the students,” she said. “Other people are noting and were also giving me accolades for it, and it was just very humbling.”

For Elkow, being a special education teacher means that work merges with her home life. Her father-in-law Jon Elkow used to be on the board of education. She spends much of her free time doing required paperwork so that she can give her students her full attention at school.

She said there is no average day, but she does have a schedule. Elkow moves around the school, sometimes teaching in her own classroom or making visits to other classes as an observer and helper. In this environment she interacts with all of the students in order to not single anyone out.

Since she first started her career she has noticed changes in the field of special education.

“There is a greater positive push to really have the students I work with be held to the same standards as their typical age peers,” she said.

Elkow knows her students can achieve in the same way as the rest of their peers — they just need different methods.

“Many kids with special needs, their brains are kind of wired differently,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re not capable of doing those tasks or activities that their peers do, which in the past they may not have done. It’s just that we need to provide them with different tools and strategies to be successful.”

As for their teachers, she encourages everyone to value them.

“Teachers as a whole don’t get the credit they deserve,” she said. “If you could just ask teachers what it is that they do or enjoy about their job or any struggle they had, people would better understand all the work that we do."