My Why - Sarah Mendoza, ELSP Teacher

February 15, 2023

Topic: My Why

Sarah Mendoza gets to experience a glimpse into the life of her students that most teachers don’t see. She delights in being part of the connections that her students make at school. Sarah is a special education teacher in the Educational Life Skills Program at Riley Elementary School  where she helps students with both academic and functional life skills. She teaches reading, writing and arithmetic – and also guides students on how to be successful, working on routines, independence, problem solving, and daily life skills. Her current students are kindergarteners, 1st, and 2nd graders. “It’s very rewarding to be one of the champions for their learning,” said Sarah. And she’s been helping students reach their potential for the last 21 years!

Recently, she helped a student who had lots of energy and was geared towards learning outside of the classroom. Sarah had to think creatively on how to harness that energy to motivate the student to learn inside the classroom. It wasn’t easy. She had to be innovative to convert outside interests to inside learning. Her work can be extremely hard, but it’s also exceptionally rewarding. 

Coming from a close family where education was valued, Sarah studied at University of Illinois and Benedictine University, where she received her master’s in reading. After graduation, Sarah wasn’t sure what kind of a teacher she wanted to be until her sister, who teaches 5th grade at Twain Elementary School, commented that she would make a great special ed teacher and encouraged her to apply to District 21. Sarah’s mother, also a teacher, enjoyed her career at Buffalo Grove High School, where she taught physical education and was the athletic director prior to her retirement. Thus, Sarah’s path was firmed up. 

In her spare time, Sarah loves to sing…in the car… at home… at work… to her students…. to her children (boys, ages 5 and 3). She thinks it’s fun and expressive. “What I lack in pitch, I make up for in enthusiasm,” Sarah admits. Good thing she followed the path of her family to work in education where she helps others express themselves and succeed.