On an October evening a determined tutor is guiding her student in a school project by a computer in a brightly lit office. “Let’s read the beginning so that it makes sense” the tutor says to the high school teen. She reads the beginning of her essay. As she reads the essay, the student is able to correct sentences or adds new ideas to her essay. “Do you think I should put that there? I want to be able to make it sound simple” the girl says. “Okay that’s good, why we don’t say “Technology has made our world simple?” the tutor says as she types that line into the essay.
As the tutor is typing she seems driven. She stands up straight which shows off her tall-statuesque figure with her brown hair up in a ponytail, wearing glasses, with her long bangs flowing over them. “Okay good what other ideas do you have?”
The tutor is Laura Habal, a 48-year-old special education teacher. Habal has been working as a Special Education teacher for the past 13 years. Habal is someone who takes pride in helping students who have learning disabilities. Her goal is to make someone understand what they are learning. Habal is experienced with helping children learn.
Habal’s stepson Omon Habal who she has known for over decade praises her teaching ability. “She used to tutor me when I was a little kid. She was pretty good. I used to hate math and reading because I had trouble understanding it. She helped me with it by walking me through the problem or the story,” Habal says. He described how she was encouraging and made him want to learn more. Habal is now medical school student.
Habal has seen that students who are in Special Education become unconfident and it makes them not want to pursue academic goals. Habal feels that over the years more kids have a learning disability and it is important to address it quickly, so that child does not fall behind both academically and socially. Habal says she sees more kids developing learning disabilities over the years because curriculum keeps changing. Habal has seen that students who are in Special Education become unconfident and it makes them not want to pursue academic goals. Habal feels that over the years more kids have a learning disability and it is important to address it quickly, so that child does not fall behind both academically and socially. Habal says she sees more kids developing learning disabilities over the years because curriculum keeps changing. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, over 60 million children have learning disabilities in the United States as of 2014.
Habal grew up in a working class family in South Salem, New York. Her parents both immigrated to the United States. Her mother came from Germany, while her father came from Italy. Both of them only received some high school education. Her mother worked as a cashier and later head cashier at a grocery store. Her father worked in a warehouse for a grocery chain. Her parents worked very hard to put her and all of her three sisters through college. She started working as junior camp counselor for a local day camp during her early teens.
Habal graduated from John Jay High School in 1984 and went on to Suny Plattsburgh. She first intended to get a general liberal arts degree, but then decided to get an education degree. She ended up getting a master’s degree in education and is certified to teach elementary aged kids. “I actually ended up taking a class about Special Education then I thought “oh I can teach that” It seemed like something that I wanted to get into.”
Habal put teaching on hold to get married and have kids. After divorcing her first husband, she went back to teaching. She has been teaching at John Jay Middle School in Cross River, New York for the past ten years.
Her fellow colleague, who would like to go anonymously spoke highly of Habal, “I think she’s a good teacher. She always does her best to make sure a student understands what they’re learning.” She described how Habal teaches. She said that Habal models what she is teaching. She gave an example on how Habal uses this method to teach math to children. Habal walks the student through the problem. She helps them with it, but gives them their space at the same time. “The goal is to help them get out of special Ed. So they can be in a general class setting,” she said .
“How about we say how important it is not to lose sight of actually speaking to people.” Habal talks to 17-year old Nicole Larizza. Larizza is a high school senior who is in special education. “Okay yeah that’s what I was trying to say in my essay.” Larizza says. She is now working on an essay and power-point presentation. Habal asks Larizza what other assignments does she have left. She says that she has another essay to work on. Habal shows off her enthusiastic voice. “I really don’t want to present tomorrow,” Larizza said. Habal responds by saying “It’ll be okay its good practice. You know what, why don’t we print out your power point slides, so that you can write notes. It’ll be easier to present to the class.” Habal goes through the presentation.
After finishing up Larizza goes on to say nice things about Habal, “She’s really great at helping me. I have trouble staying organized or organizing thoughts into essays, so she’s good at helping me with that” Larizza said. While helping Larizza with her homework she is shown to encourage her, by saying things like “You can do it!” and “Good idea!”
Habal says the special education department has improved over the years. A student can easily be tested by her or even a school psychologist to test that child to see if he or she has a learning disability. Once the child has been diagnosed that child must have an IEP which is a legal document in which it specifies the type of disability the child has and what accommodations the child must have. “It is our responsibility that we help our students not fall behind. If they need help then we need to help them right away,” says Habal.
In 2012 Habal married her second husband Gias Habal. In 2013 they opened up their own organic farmers market in Somers, New York where she helps him run it over the weekends. She says “Yeah I love teaching and always will. I don’t have any major plans for the future. I guess I will continue to teach and tutor your sister. Every now and then I think about retiring!” she says as she laughs with a big smile. “I’m not sure when I’ll retire, but I do I think we might move out west, maybe to Arizona or something like that.”
“I’m not sure what lies ahead for me, but I do know I want to help kids succeed and go on to college. I think it’s pretty important to help them have a bright future no matter what.”