James Knoebel – Soldotna High School
2016 BP Teacher of Excellence
“Every day I am inspired by the students I work with,” said James Knoebel. “Their persistence, resilience, and steadfastness to overcome barriers push me to be a better educator and person. I am appreciative of my team members at SoHi that support me as I promote inclusive and dynamic learning environments. I love what I do, and look forward to continuing to foster an atmosphere within our school that promotes self-determination and an appreciation for the whole person.”
“This year’s nominees were again, an excellent representation of our staff as a whole,” said Sean Dusek, superintendent. “They are humble, hard-working and student-centered. I was particularly impressed with how all of the finalists have gone the extra mile for their students and make sure every student they work with know that they are loved.”
James teaches special education at Soldotna High School. He graduated magna cum laude in vocational rehabilitation from University of Wisconsin and achieved his Master of Education in Special Education from University of Alaska Southeast. He has been a teacher for nine years, all in Alaska.
“I don’t think there’s a branch of education that calls for more compassion, patience and a refusal to give up than special education. These are children who have difficulty in class and will have difficulty in life later on. Their experience in school sets the groundwork for how they will deal with life’s challenges, most of which require some form of learning. Many of these kids have been told for years they will never be able to graduate high school. It’s critical for them to learn how to learn. But even more, it’s critical for them to learn to believe in themselves.”
James’ students come to him not only with academic challenges, but also behavioral, social and mental-health issues. He is inclusive in the way he teaches, developing meaningful relationships with each child, working to steer them to general education classes for more-typical students and lighting within them the belief that they can overcome difficult things.
One nominator writes: “He is the most inclusive teacher I have come into contact with in over 20 years of working as an administrator and special education coordinator.”James achieves a notably high graduation rate with kids who might otherwise drop out of school by helping them become independent. He inspires them to become problem-solvers. Mr. Knoebel’s innovative approach to teaching has not only been recognized locally by students, parents, co-workers and administrators, but also by special education professionals from the state, who have visited his classroom to observe his exceptional work.
As the department chair, he assists other teachers in the Intensive Needs program. He also takes on coaching position for girls’ softball. James has been a staunch advocate for students with disabilities throughout the school and, by his example, has succeeded in changing the culture of acceptance in perhaps the most difficult group of all–teenagers. In his classroom, children learn they can complete school assignments, conquer emotions and navigate complex, often frightening social situations.
But James’ favorite time of year is graduation night. He says, “I get to sit in the audience and watch students I’ve worked with for years, sometimes five or six years, walk across that stage and shake the principal’s hand and hold up their diploma.” Our goal in this life as teachers is to inspire young people to believe they can do it, whatever their own personal “it” is. James achieves that goal every year on graduation night–against odds the rest of us simply don’t have to face.
Congratulations, James Knoebel, BP Teacher of Excellence.