Clay Harville

Western Kentucky University senior Clay Harville (right) works with second-grader Gabe Wilson last month at Bristow Elementary School.

Without a doubt, the most vital quality a teacher needs to be great is an ability to connect with students.

That’s why we believe Clay Harville, a Western Kentucky University student studying special education and graduating this month, has the makings of an exceptional educator.

Harville, who has a mild and high-functioning form of autism, uses his experience of growing up and attending a special-needs school to inform his classroom approach. As a student in WKU’s Kelly Autism Program, the Louisville senior credits the program for helping him succeed in college and prepare for a career in education.

When he tutors students, Harville’s first teaching priority is to make his students feel seen.

“My goal is to make sure that the students are aware that there’s someone always looking out for them,” he said.

From personal experience, he knows that students with special needs have big dreams.

“I want to show them that I can help you overcome the obstacles,” he said.

For students with special needs and those without, teachers are on the front lines of many social problems. They’re often the first ones to see poverty, abuse, homelessness, hunger and mental illness, just to name a few.

This is why a good teacher needs empathy, a concept that is becoming increasingly alien in today’s partisan and polarized world.

Good teachers also need to think on their feet. It isn’t always easy to keep students engaged in learning throughout the school day, and here Harville has also proven himself highly capable.

Harville’s adviser through the Kelly Autism Program, Jonathan Beaty, attested to this, recalling an anecdote where Harville dressed up for students to illustrate the famous feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys.

“He is willing to go outside the box. … He’s just willing to adapt to what the students need,” Beaty said.

Regardless of what the future holds for Harville, his students will be in good hands.

We wish him luck and congratulations in graduating college and not letting any obstacle stand in the way of his dreams.

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