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Woodard transitions from teaching at juvenile detention center

Special+education+teacher+Daniel+Woodard+speaks+to+a+Summit+Academy+class.+%E2%80%9CMy+focus+has+been+more+on+trying+to+prevent+these+kids+from+getting+in+trouble+and+inspiring+them+to+be+more+than+they+believe+they+are%2C%22+Woodard+said.
Special education teacher Daniel Woodard speaks to a Summit Academy class. “My focus has been more on trying to prevent these kids from getting in trouble and inspiring them to be more than they believe they are,

Special education teacher Daniel Woodard speaks to a Summit Academy class. “My focus has been more on trying to prevent these kids from getting in trouble and inspiring them to be more than they believe they are," Woodard said.

Noah Siderhurst

Noah Siderhurst

Special education teacher Daniel Woodard speaks to a Summit Academy class. “My focus has been more on trying to prevent these kids from getting in trouble and inspiring them to be more than they believe they are," Woodard said.

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Special education teacher Daniel Woodard’s route to teaching was far from straight. He graduated from college with a degree in event management without any thought of teaching.

“It was soon [after I graduated] that I realized I loved money,” Woodard said. “I chased money for a number of years.”

Woodard sold cell phones and then mortgages for 10 years.

“During that whole period, there was a void present,” Woodard said. “I kept searching for ways to fill that void, and found myself gravitating to the human services field.”

Then randomly, Woodard was asked to start coaching. He has consistently coached football, track and women’s basketball since.

“I loved that connection with the youth,” Woodard said. “[With coaching], I was teaching before I even became a teacher.”

To Woodard, this was the first step towards something that had been coming for a while.

“Shortly out of high school, I dreamt I was going to become a math teacher, and I was like, ‘No,’” Woodard said. “Then in my early twenties, same thing. Then around 2009, it came again through a dream. Shortly after that, I filled the void.”

Woodard began teaching math, then transferred to special education, which landed him working at Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Staunton.

Unfortunately, the environment at the detention center wasn’t ideal for Woodard. He found himself stretched thin trying to fill too many jobs. He was the behavioral specialist because he had rapport with the inmates, the IT guy because he knew about computers and the creative guru because he could solve problems.

“During my time at the detention center, I really started hating my job. If I’m going to be honest about this, I was burned out,” Woodard said. “I saw a lot of stuff that I shouldn’t have seen. It was time to make a move.”

So when the opportunity to help plan for the Summit Academy presented itself last year, Woodard jumped on it. This year, he’s back in the classroom as the special education teacher for Summit, which has brought up some old baggage.

“In detention, security is first, so you do basic things to make sure that all your bases are covered: doors are locked, pencils are counted. It’s a different mindset [here] all together,” Woodard said. “My transition has been difficult because I want to constantly count pencils. And that’s not necessary because I don’t fear for a kid shanking me. Some of those things were ingrained in me and I’m trying to break free of that.”

At the detention center, Woodard was responsible for everything from teaching math to GED remediation to special education help- skills he plans to carry to his work with Summit. His time at the juvenile center also left him with an important sense of perspective.

“I find myself doing the same things here [teaching-wise], except they’re on this side of the walls of the detention center,” Woodard said. “My focus has been more on trying to prevent these kids from getting in trouble and inspiring them to be more than they believe they are.”

Woodard thinks his strengths lie in classroom management, something he thinks is essential to facilitate learning. In addition, he prides himself on his ability to connect with and motivate students. This can be hard though, especially because of his stature.

“I think people are misled because I’m a larger guy, but I don’t like appearing large,” Woodard said. “I mean, I’m six two, 325 [pounds], so I try to appear 200 pounds as much as possible. I don’t want kids to be intimidated, nor do I want anybody else to be intimidated by a big fat guy walking down the hall. I’m very understanding. I’m patient. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

As Woodard continues his work with Summit, he feels the environment here has allowed him to realize his full potential.

“I have nothing but positive things to say about anyone I encounter [here], and it’s just full of support. I’m waiting for the environment to start caving in and this cloud to hover over,” Woodard said. “Through it all, there’s this belief that we can, and that you can and I can.”

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Woodard transitions from teaching at juvenile detention center