'THE POSSIBILITIES ARE LIMITLESS'
When Michelle Bonham applied to be a learning specialist at West Linn High School six years ago, she didn’t expect to get the job. Now, the 2022 West Linn Tidings Amazing Educator is certainly glad she applied.
Bonham recalled thinking, “It’ll be a good experience” before her job interview.
“They offered me the job and I was a little bit overwhelmed,” she said. “But I’m glad I did it. It has been fantastic.”
Bonham began her teaching career in 1999 at a speech and hearing school in San Francisco, where she worked as both a special education kindergarten teacher and a learning specialist.
While the past two years have brought changes to everyone at school, Bonham saw her roles change when she began working with the West Linn-Wilsonville School District’s online program last year, and again this year when she became a department chair.
Serving as a department chair this year means Bonham is working with students online while also helping teachers and parents make sure students have the support they need.
Bomham added that the past two years have included helping kids re-learn how to be at school.
“If you think about our freshmen, they haven’t been in school since they were in the middle of seventh grade,” she said. “I think we’re still trying to figure out what our new normal is.”
From learning the bell schedule to navigating the building and adjusting to being around classmates again, supporting students is imperative, Bonham said.
Throughout her career, Bonham said she’s relied on help from those around her. That assistance in turn helped her offer the best support she could for her students.
Bonham’s favorite teaching moments come when encouragement leads to students realizing they can do things they never thought possible.
She recalled a kindergartner she taught who used to say he’d never be able to read. When reading finally clicked for him one day, Bonham said his face lit up.
“That’s the thing that still brings joy to this job, is seeing kids become confident in themselves,” Bonham said. “The possibilities are limitless. It’s only about figuring out how you learn best and using the support that you have in order to become the best ‘you’ you can be.”
Bonham also loves that she works closely with small groups of kids, getting to know them and seeing them grow over their four years at West Linn High School.
Important factors in this growth, Bonham said, are discovering the things that bring them joy and finding “their people.”
“Whether it’s a club or a sport, or some other activity, like you have to find a place where you feel like you belong. And then I think the rest of it kind of falls into place,” she said.
This devotion to seeing kids thrive was highlighted by Rachel Perry, a parent of one of Bonham’s students who nominated her as West Linn’s Amazing Educator.
“Ms. Bonham has worked tirelessly to make sure (my son) is connected to the school and is continuing to work on his goals and become a confident high schooler,” Perry said. “(I’ve seen her) having to split herself into so many different pieces to provide a rich education for all of her students — in person and remotely.”
Bonham aims for each student to know themself and understand what they need by the time they leave high school. Doing this requires support from not just one teacher, but a whole community.
“It takes a village,” she said. “I can’t do this by myself. I need to work with students and with families and with our other learning specialists and with the teachers in the building to make that work. We all have to work together in order to support students.”