By LeAnn R. Ralph
GLENWOOD CITY — Tammy Hess Erickson grew up going to school in Glenwood City and graduated from Glenwood City High School in 1984, but she never thought she would come back to work at the Glenwood City schools.
And 21 years ago, when Erickson was asked to substitute teach for three days in the Cognitive Disabled classroom, she had no idea it would turn into a career opportunity.
Erickson, a special education paraprofessional in the Glenwood City school district, has been named the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) Education Support Professional of the Year.
WEAC has been giving out the ESP of the Year award for 25 years.
Erickson received the award at a ceremony in LaCrosse on April 28.
“When my daughter was three, I saw an ad for an opening for a teachers aide, and I thought, ‘What the heck, I’ll apply!’ I didn’t get that position but was asked if I would like to sub,” Erickson said.
“A few days later a long-term sub position opened up in the Cognitive Disabled classroom, and after three days, I was asked if I would like to take the position for the rest of the year,” she recalled.
Being a special education paraprofessional puts Erickson in a unique position to watch the growth and success of her students.
“I guess I keep coming back because I like to see the success that our students can have. Every day, every year, you get to experience growth and watch their success, and it feels good to know that maybe you had a small part in their success,” Erickson said.
“When you see them graduate, go to college, get a job and even get married, it’s a feeling like no other,” she said.
Erickson works in the elementary school every day with between seven to 10 students in third, fourth and fifth grade.
“I work in classrooms giving support to students who may need help with reading or math. Sometimes our job has us helping with sensory, behavior and even physical, occupational and speech therapy,” she said.
“I have worked in the Alternative Resource Curriculum Classroom for the last 20 years. These children have cognitive delays such as Down Syndrome, Autism, traumatic brain injuries and other health or physical delays,” Erickson said.
“You never know what challenges your students may face. We work with the same students every day and that’s important to them. Consistency helps so much, and they rely on us for that,” she said.
Erickson recently joined the WEAC Region 1 Board of Directors as the ESP at large.
“My job there is to give a voice to ESPs and share ideas on how we can help not only teachers but also ESPs in our schools. We work hard for not only Wisconsin schools but nationwide as well,” she said.
Erickson found out she had won the Educational Support Professional of the Year award from WEAC state secretary/treasurer Arlene Braden. She also received a formal letter from WEAC President Ron Martain.
Erickson said she does not know how many nominations there were, but “I was the lucky person to receive this year’s award,” she said.
Erickson was nominated by her friend Lynn Goss from St. Croix Central, who also is a paraprofessional. After she was nominated, Erickson asked two people for letters of recommendation to be included with the nomination.
Consideration also is given as to whether the person nominated for the Educational Support Professional of the Year promotes the WEAC union in schools and around the state.
Erickson said she started work and a family after she graduated from Glenwood City High School, and through WEAC, she “has been given the opportunity to have professional development classes and conferences.”
Erickson and her husband, Mark, have been married for almost 30 years. They have three children who all graduated from Glenwood City.
“Our oldest son Mitchell and his wife, Elizabeth, are 2006 graduates. Mike is 2008, and Madeline is from the Class of 2012,” she said.
The Ericksons have hosted four exchange students, three from Germany and one from France.
“We are still in touch with all of them,” Erickson said.
In her spare time, Erickson helps out by coordinating the Miss GC Royalty parades and events. She also volunteers to help out at the school’s musical productions, and she has coached cheerleading for 10 years.
“I help out on our family’s beef farm in Wilson whenever I can, and it’s my husband’s goal to teach me how to cut hay this summer,” Erickson said.
“I love to travel around Wisconsin as much as possible. I’m a huge Packer fan and love sports. Any time spent with family is my favorite thing to do,” she said.
Erickson is becoming more involved with WEAC as well.
After taking over the position in Region 1 as ESP Director at Large, “there is so much to learn, and I really want to be able to build our union and keep it growing,” Erickson said.
“In order to have strong teachers and ESPs, we need to support our public schools, and WEAC and NEA (National Education Association) help me do that,” she said.
“We need to focus on how many good things are happening in our public schools. We are all working together to make our children strong and successful. It really is everyone working together to help our kids succeed,” Erickson said.