The sign on Archie Cannon Drive outside John M. Gandy Elementary School reads “Congratulations Mr. Ellithorpe Teacher of the Year.” Daniel Ellithorpe is a special education teacher at Gandy, but was no stranger to the school’s hallways when he began 13 years ago.
Ellithorpe attended Gandy Elementary himself during the late ‘80s, learning multiplication and Virginia history at the same location he now teaches social skills and reading.
“Having gone to school here, I definitely have a big sense of pride teaching,” Ellithorpe said one afternoon in his classroom.
Ellithorpe’s classroom is spacious and welcoming—even adults can’t help but want to sit in the comfy chairs of a little reading nook. Ellithorpe juggles students ranging in age from third to fifth grade, with different math, reading and social abilities. His day may not always follow a perfectly scheduled plan, but Ellithorpe prefers his experience teaching special education.
“I like the one-on-one interaction you get with students,” Ellithorpe said of teaching special education. He typically has eight to 10 students in his classes each year, opposed to the class size of over 20 students for general education.
Each year, schools evaluate and determine eligibility of their students to be enrolled in special education classes. A student’s eligibility may change, or only require that they participate in the special education program for a year or two at their particular school. Ellithorpe may only have a particular student for one year while they attend Gandy, or for three, depending upon their eligibility for the program.
With the assistance of two paraprofessionals, Ellithorpe teaches his students math, reading and social skills. Instruction focuses on how to interact with other students and executive functioning, such as note taking and handling course loads. The smaller class size allows Ellithorpe the opportunity to speak with his students about any concerns they may have, or conflicts that arise during their school day.
“It’s great seeing how far my students come socially,” Ellithorpe said. “It’s hard when you’ve known them all three years and then they’re leaving for middle school.”
Special education instructors remain in close contact with their students’ parents and provide regular feedback.
“You’re talking to doctors and things like that so you just know a whole lot more about the student’s history, and you become a lot closer,” Ellithorpe said.
Ellithorpe said that it is not uncommon for parents not to attend parent-teacher conferences, as they are regularly updated of their child’s school performance.
When reflecting on his own time at Gandy, Ellithorpe recalls a positive experience, which he wants to carry on to other students.
“I had a big group of friends,” Ellithorpe said “We had a lot of fun here.”
Though he loves his teaching career, Ellithorpe didn’t originally plan to follow this path. Ellithorpe first studied history at Hampden-Sydney College.
“It wasn’t until about half-way done with undergrad that I realized this was something I really wanted to do,” Ellithorpe said. After finishing his history degree, Ellithorpe received his teaching certification from Old Dominion University. “I still didn’t know what age group I wanted to teach,” Ellithorpe said.
Ellithorpe worked as an instructional aide at Atlee High School before he was offered the position as a special education instructor at Gandy.
Anyone who knows the Ellithorpe name in Hanover County is not surprised to see Daniel awarded “Teacher of the Year.” Ellithorpe grew up in an academic household—his mother Sally Ellithorpe taught music education at Gandy for years, even while Daniel attended the school. His father Robert Ellithorpe also taught music at Liberty Middle School.
Ellithorpe has three children, a six-year-old girl and four-year-old twin boys. Though his children are too young to show serious interest in continuing the teaching legacy, Ellithorpe says that his daughter plays teacher in his class room when she visits after school.
Natalie Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org