WoFo’s Teacher Spotlight is on Kelly O’Neill

WoFo’s Teacher Spotlight features awesome educators who are dedicated to teaching and inspiring young people everyday.

In this edition, WoFo features special education teacher and one of my oldest friends Kelly O’Neill. I would like to thank Kelly for her interview, for being a life-long friend and for her dedication to the teaching profession.

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Find what clears your mind and try to do it everyday!


Besides being a teacher Kelly O’Neill is….

an aunt, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a marathon finisher, a live music lover, a reality TV binge watcher, a reader, a learner.

Where do you currently teach, what do you teach and for how long?

I’ve worked for the School District of Philadelphia for the past 14 years as a special education teacher. My first assignment was at the Edward T. Steel Elementary School in the Nicetown-Tioga section of the city, where I taught for 11 years. I taught a self-contained learning support class, grades 4-6.  For the past 3 years, I’ve taught at the Samuel Powel Elementary School in the University City section. I co-teach 3rd and 4th grade math and reading. I have also been the Special Education Liaison at both schools (“head” of special ed services for the school) for the past 13 years.

What is your favorite lesson to teach and why?

A specific lesson doesn’t come to mind. But my most memorable unit was one I had planned for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. We spent weeks researching the Olympic games, the country of Russia, studying the culture, the land, the different sports, etc. For my inner city students who have never even left the city, it was a real eye opener. Every morning they would come in excited about what they had learned from watching the Olympics the night before. They got into sports they had never even heard of before. As a culminating activity we held classroom Olympics and I planned all these different events throughout the school, and students won elaborate medals I had made. I think it stands out for me because I was able to be totally creative in planning every aspect of the unit, and my class couldn’t have been more engaged in learning then they were for that 6 weeks.

If for one day you where in charge of your school what would you do?

I’d give the teachers time to talk to other teachers. Often we are flying solo in class all day, never able to interact with other adults because our focus in on the kids all the time. During prep class and lunch we are busy running copies, making calls, prepping materials for the next part of the day. Teachers can learn so much from each other, and I’d give them the chance to do that.

If you could write one quote on the board for your students what would it be?

Run when you can, walk if you need to, crawl if you must. But never, ever give up.

If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be?

I’d own a bed and breakfast, where I can meet different people and cook for them and make them feel welcome in my home.

What advice would you give to all new teachers?

Take time for yourself. This profession can be all consuming at times. There is always going to be a stack of papers to grade, lesson plans to write, decorations and posters to create, phone calls to make. I learned very early on in my career that if I didn’t take time for myself everyday, I’d be burnt out. For me, it is exercise. I try to give myself 45 mins-1 hour a day to turn off everything and sweat. No phone, no computer, no distractions! Find what clears your mind and try to do it everyday!

If the best thing about teaching is the students, what’s the second best thing?

The 2nd best thing about teaching is that every day is truly something new. You have to constantly be thinking on your feet and problem solving. I know a lot of people who go to their jobs, do what’s expected and go home- its just routine. You can’t do that in teaching. Your best-planned lessons will ultimately not go as planned, and your least planned days will be the best day of the week! I love that no 2 days are the same, and that I am consistently challenged.

Who inspires you?

My dad passed away almost 15 years ago, yet his impact is still felt daily in my life. I hope to one day have the influence on a person that he has had on me. He was a gentle giant who made everyone feel like family. He inspired me when he was with me, and he inspires me without being here physically.

My classroom superpower is…

the ability to connect to others because I know how important it is to have someone who cares about you and is a listening ear. My students often deal with things that, even as an adult, I’ve never had to deal with. Establishing and maintaining a connection is an invaluable power.

Kelly, can be reached at Instagram: @kaboneill


Do you know an awesome educator dedicated to inspiring and teaching others? If so, please consider nominating them to be a part of WoFo’s  Teacher Spotlight Series. You can send their contact information to writeonfighton@gmail.com.