Staff Spotlight - Gomes School's Traci Furtado

Staff Spotlight - Gomes School's Traci Furtado
If Traci Furtado, special education teacher at Alfred J. Gomes School, had to specify the most important attribute of a good teacher, it would be building connections with students.
 
Ms. Furtado, who started at Gomes in 2009 and spent several years at John B. DeValles before returning to Gomes, said that having empathy for students without making excuses or expecting less is a part of that relationship building.
 
“You have to understand what it’s like to ‘be’ them, especially in this district – you don’t know what their struggling with, what their night or morning was like – and so you have to be motivated, creative, flexible,” she said. “You can’t be stuck in a conventional way of learning always – and just as with students, you have to work with peers, work with different styles and personalities.”
 
On making connections with her kids, Ms. Furtado said it starts with the basics.
 
“I talk about my life – something like my pet cat, or my interests,” she said. “I’m a car racing fan, so my system for behavior in my classroom is based on racing.”
 
“Show your students you’re a real person, and they’ll open up about themselves,” said Ms. Furtado. Making connections with one student with autism based on his Michael Jackson style dance moves has helped him make great strides, she said, because they’ve been able to discuss the music and build up language skills talking about a subject he likes.
 
Inspiration for her work came early in life, from an uncle with special needs who Ms. Furtado was particularly close to until he passed away in 2010.
 
“I remember once, I was young, and we were out to lunch and he couldn’t read the menu – and I thought to myself, he’s missing so much in the descriptions of the food,” she said. “He never learned to read or count money, and I remember thinking that it was a shame. And I wanted to teach kids how to have these skills and be successful, to be a successful learner through their lives.”
 
And Ms. Furtado had a teacher who made a deep impact on her as well.
 
“I’m still in touch with my second grade teacher, and she’ll drop box tops off for my class or other things she thinks my kids might like,” she said. I hope someday, I can be remembered by a student like that, and still be in touch.”
 
But she already does have those lasting connections with former students – including one of the first students she ever had, who recently turned 25.
 
“I will seem him, I’ll visit him at his job which is at a garden shop, and he’s happy and he’s having a successful job there,” said Ms. Furtado. “And we keep in touch, and it’s been amazing seeing him continue to grow. Emails that used to be just a few sentences are now four or five paragraphs.”
 
“Seeing that success – long term or in my kids every day in class, in my autism cluster for instance, as they make the littlest strides – it’s such a huge accomplishment,” she said. “It can be the toughest challenge, but it’s the most fun and most rewarding to see.”