This year’s Teacher of the Year is Paul E. Ziring, the Special Education Outdoor Education Coordinator for the Great Neck School District, in Nassau County, on Long Island.
Paul Ziring has made it his life’s mission to create a better life for his students who are members of the Special Education program of the Great Neck School District. This mission incorporates a special emphasis on the fire safety and the wellbeing of these young, often vulnerable students.
Identifying and inventing unique methods that can effectively teach survival and other skills to severely disabled students, Paul Ziring created, honed, re-tooled and virtually perfected the fire-safety curriculum to provide the students with the training to stay safe in the event of a home or other fire. The effectiveness of Paul’s program has been recognized by area educators who are advocating for its widespread implementation.
Mr. Ziring, currently serving as the Special Education Outdoor Education Coordinator for the Great Neck School Distric has worked in the school district since 1995. He began as a health education teacher and in 2005 took the helm for the Special Education Outdoor Program. Since his appointment to this position, Paul has expanded the program to include 15 groups of special education students throughout the district, working with students K-12 and a transition group which is made up of older students. The program teaches more than math and social studies; Paul implemented field experiences outside of the schoolroom to successfully help build students’ self-confidence and expose the students to a wide range of stimulating, life skills activities.
As part of the program, Paul Ziring brought his classes to the Nassau County Firefighters Museum & Education Center to learn about fire prevention and safety. During one of Paul’s many visits to the Firefighters Museum, he explained the curriculum’s benefits to Museum instructors and recommended its expansion. Paul then helped Museum instructors adjust the program and develop a new curriculum and reservation guidelines to improve teaching classes for all special needs children. He spent countless hours at the Museum, developing curriculum and fine-tuning them with his classes. After each class, he would debrief and analyze what worked and what could be improved. Paul got everyone involved with the project, from his superintendent, principal, local fire departments and even the art classes. It was a group effort, but began and ended with Paul.
Paul has presented to numerous organizations about the program he began at the Museum, including local SEPTA groups. He has also as presented it as a STEM field trip.
Earlier this year, the Museum and Paul were recognized for his teaching curriculum as they were featured on WABC-TV’s annual Operation 7 Save-a-Life program which provides news and education on fire safety to television and online audiences in the Tri-State area.
Through Paul’s efforts, awareness has been raised about fire prevention in general and for students with special needs specifically, and their most effective ways to prevent and survive a fire.
Paul Ziring is an exemplary teacher. Not only does he care about “his” kids, he treats them with respect and dignity and helps them see their own self-worth. While that particular achievement may not be quantified in dollars or as numbers on a spreadsheet, it is a priceless accomplishment, as Paul works with severely disabled children and gives them the gift of hope. He safely and smartly pushes their limits and allows them to do things they didn’t think were possible.
On any given day you may find Paul interacting with his students on the bus, taking field trips and in the class room. His passion for his students is evident; he is their advocate and it is clear that they appreciate his efforts. Paul Ziring is most deserving of FASNY’s Teacher of the Year Award for his tireless dedication to fire prevention and life safety for his special students and their families. He has done so in a very creative fashion and in collaboration with volunteer firefighters from Nassau County, NY.
By honoring his efforts and accomplishments by selecting him as the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York’s Teacher of the Year, it is hoped that those who may benefit from this special needs curriculum will have it brought to their attention. Parents and educators should know that Nassau County has awarded a grant to the Nassau County Firefighters Museum & Education Center in order for all special needs students to visit the museum free of charge.