TIR Student John Skillings Nominated for Outstanding Teacher Award by Mesa Public School District
Gilbert resident John Skillings spent years working in social services in Illinois before reaching out to Rio Salado’s Educator Preparation Program to enroll as a Teacher in Residence student after his family moved to Arizona. Two years later, Skillings has distinguished himself as an educator: he was nominated as an Outstanding Teacher for the Mesa Public School District’s 2020-2021 Student Service Awards.
Rio Salado College’s Teacher in Residence (TIR) programs allows students who already hold bachelor’s degrees to work in a classroom while they simultaneously complete their education coursework toward certification. The program provides aspiring educators the chance to apply what they learn directly with students, giving them a unique opportunity for developing professional skills on the job.
Originally from Champaign, Illinois, Skillings enrolled in the TIR Post Baccalaureate program at Rio following his family’s move to Gilbert in 2019. After a career in the social services industry, Skillings was interested in entering the education field as a teacher.
“I always wanted to become a special education teacher,” Skillings said. “ I love working with children and making a positive impact in their lives.” Skillings’ previously worked with youth populations as a mental health professional in a children's home and spent time coaching athletics as a Boys and Girls Club Unit Director in Illinois.
During his first year at Mesa’s SHARP School in the TIR program, Skillings worked as a high school Emotional Disability Placement (EDP) teacher with a focus on students with emotional and social disorders. He transitioned to a new role as a Mild to Moderate Autism junior high teacher for his second year at SHARP.
“I made the move as I wanted to get more experience and be a better overall teacher working in different environments,” Skillings said.
Skillings admits he was initially anxious about the remote aspect of his own education: “I anticipated feeling overwhelmed and disconnected in a learning environment, but what I found was a very supportive environment that went to great lengths to keep everyone connected and engaged.”
Skillings praised his mentor, Dr. Amanda Kosachuk, singling out her webinars and guidance as a highlight of the TIR program.
“She helped prepare me in so many ways,” Skillings said. “The support I received from Rio and building lasting relationships with other students is truly what I liked the most about my time in Rio.”
Mesa’s SHARP School recognized Skillings as a nominee for Outstanding Teacher because of his skill and ease when it comes to mentoring and teaching his students.
"John Skillings sees each of his students as works of art that are just beginning to reach their most vibrant of colors," said SHARP School site leader Karen Eulate. “John is a gentle giant who possesses a presence that is so welcoming and comfortable that the most challenging student wants to perform to his or her best.”
When asked if he’d recommend the TIR program to other students interested in pursuing certification, Skillings enthusiastically vouched for the program.
“The TIR program is very effective in giving you the skills and knowledge needed to work in the education field,” he said. “It gives you the ability to hold a full teaching contract as a TIR student, go to school and learn as a student and staff at the same time. This not only helped financially, but also it helped me greatly by being able to apply the coursework as it gave me ongoing experience in the classroom as a special education teacher.”
While Skillings is currently focused on continuing to develop his Outstanding Teacher-worthy skills in the classroom, he said he's interested in eventually exploring the administrative side of education. Reflecting on their time at Rio, Skillings is grateful for the base of knowledge and experience that the TIR program provided.
“It gave me a foundation in the ever-changing world of special education,” Skillings said. “It gave me the opportunity to become certified in what I truly love.”