a teacher for the ages
To say that Bill Jensen had a knack for teaching the disabled would be like saying Elvis could sing and dance a little. For more than 40 years, Jensen has made a career of teaching students that were deemed unteachable. He providided joy and victory where frustration and failure once reigned.
Jensen began teaching disabled children in 1972 after spending a year teaching "normal" kids in East Carbon.
"In East Carbon, I worked as the wrestling and football coach my first year teaching and it was a great time," said Jensen. "But the first time I was able to teach disabled kids something just clicked for me. I felt like I was teaching and being appreciated rather than playing police man all day."
Jensen joined Ann Self in Spring Glen in 1972, a school he would not leave until his retirement in June.
The life-long teacher was honored for his dedication this year as the Utah Developmental Disabilities Council presented him with the Educator of the Year Award at the state capital.
Joined by his colleagues, family and friends, Jensen was finally recognized for his truly monumental skills and dedication.
"The way that Bill could work with extremely difficult children was remarkable," said Castle Valley Center (successor to the Ann Self School) Principle Mike Keller. "He could take behaviorally challenged kids and teach them, teach them to read well."
According to Jensen, his talent did not come easily or quickly, it was something he worked at. The Emery County native began his career by waking at 6 a.m. every day to drive the Emery County children to Ann Self. He would then teach all day before taking everyone home around 6 p.m.
"For the first eight years of my career I was the only teacher at Ann Self with education that specialized in teaching those with disabilities," explained Jensen. "Sure we had aides and a principal but I was the only one who knew what these kids were really going through."
Finally in the 1980s, three more teachers were hired by Ann Self and attitudes toward teaching those with disabilities began to change.
"At one point they used the label "trainable mentally retarded," said Jensen. "So you can see how far we have come."
During the late 1980s a program came along called DISTAR, which showed that two year old children could be taught to read and even do simple mathematics.
Jensen grabbed hold of these techniques and ran with them.
"The DISTAR program was a major breakthrough, it allowed me to teach large groups of kids to read and read well," he said. "And not just the borderline kids.Many of my students who had been labeled impossible and a waste of time did very well. No child's education is a waste of time."
Jensen moved with the Ann Self faculty when a new school was built for the Castle Valley's disabled in 1987.
He continued as the anchor on an ever growing ship until 2007 when he retired for the first time after 35 years of service.
"I retired and was actually enjoying myself but when they asked me back, what could I say?" queried Jensen. "I did however, tell them that if I was coming back I wasn't going to be driving the kids from Emery County anymore."
The school agreed, and Jensen came back full time until his officials retirement in June.
"You know, Bill's main area of education is reading but he is skilled in so many other areas," said Keller. "The rapport he has with the students and their parents is something you rarely find in teachers. I tell you Bill could work with students nobody else could."
While those at the school miss Jensen, they are happy for the freedom he now has.
Jensen was brought up in Cleveland. He has made his home in Orangeville with his wife Kathy and their daughter Joel who is the manager for Zions Bank in Castle Dale and Huntington.