From the time she was about six years old, Wendy Ross knew she wanted to be a teacher one day. Her teachers were her inspiration—the inspiration she aims to be for her students at Kennesaw Mountain High School.
Mrs. Ross has been living out her dream in the classroom for 25 years.
“I got into education because of my teachers. When I was in, I'll say, first grade, that's when I just fell in love with my teacher, and I wanted to be just like her. I wanted to have the power to impact kids because she had such a great impact on me. I wanted to do that same thing when I grew up,” Mrs. Ross explained.
Another one of Mrs. Ross’s teachers helped her discover her calling to teach deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students. That has been her role in Cobb Schools for 14 years and at Kennesaw Mountain for almost a decade.
“I learned sign language when I was in high school, and I listened to my sign language teacher talk about her deaf son and how he was not able to read on grade level. He was struggling,” Mrs. Ross recalled.
That teacher’s story spurred her to channel her own love of reading, writing, and sign language to prevent other DHH students from falling behind.
“She's a fantastic teacher because she's always trying to help us achieve our goals and succeed and to learn new things,” praised Kennesaw Mountain sophomore Jeremiah.
Jeremiah credits his veteran DHH teacher for helping him improve his vocabulary and helping him prepare for a contest he was participating in. In fact, Jeremiah recently won the districtwide DHH Oratorical Contest.
Thanks to Mrs. Ross, Jeremiah also learned to communicate more clearly as the only deaf person in his family. However, her impact on Jeremiah does not stop there.
“She helps me get caught up on my work and study skills. [She] really helps me to stay caught up with my studies. She helps me figure out how to set up interpreting services and contact others for various requests,” added Jeremiah.
Mrs. Ross is more than just a teacher for many of her students. She is an advocate, friend, and inspiration.
“She's always advocating for us and always teaching us and always encouraging us to try even when we feel like we are not able to do something,” Jeremiah explained. “She's really helping me prepare for college and the challenges that that will offer.
Jeremiah’s classmate Alejandro also points to Mrs. Ross’s bubbly personality, which comforts and motivates students not to give up.
“Mrs. Ross helps you when she smiles. It makes me feel so good. It makes me feel happy,” Alejandro said. “If I'm feeling stressed or maybe I'm having a bad day, Mrs. Ross always makes me feel better just by her pleasant expression.”
It was Mrs. Ross’s smile that Alejandro remembered from third grade when she first taught him during summer school. He did not see her again until his first year in high school. Even though the class was online that first year, he still recognized her. He remembered her smiling face.
Seeing Alejandro today and how he has grown and progressed since elementary school is one of Mrs. Ross’ great joys.
“To see all the work that all of his teachers have done, and now here's the result—a wonderful, wonderful person. So, that's why I do it,” Mrs. Ross explained.
Alejandro watches how Mrs. Ross interacts with others and aims to be more like his teacher, who he describes as always being positive. She’s the “fantastic” teacher who helps him understand the difference between nouns, verbs, and adjectives and makes Alejandro feel more comfortable coming to school.
“It’s amazing being in this class,” Alejandro applauded. “I feel like I'm really making progress and that I'm able to practice in our class.”
Mrs. Ross’s students are not the only ones who have recognized that she is always busy working hard to advocate and support those in her class.
Viewers from across metro Atlanta recently voted to name Mrs. Ross the winner of the High 5 for Teachers contest. As part of the FOX 5 and Montlick and Associates contest, Mrs. Ross won $2,500 to benefit Kennesaw Mountain High School. She was awarded $500 when she was first named a finalist for the contest.
The High 5 teacher views herself as a representation of all the other deaf and hard of hearing teachers in the county.
“I just feel like I'm representative of all of them because there's so much that we do to make sure that our kids are prepared and to make sure that they're ready to become independent and happy members of society. That's what we all want,” Mrs. Ross said.
Her praise for other teachers goes beyond Kennesaw Mountain High School.
“Cobb County Schools has been the best program for deaf and hard of hearing students,” the Kennesaw Mountain teacher declared. “They are constantly challenging themselves, finding out what other people in other counties are doing and trying to bring those same things here if they're successful and things that are not working, getting rid of those things. So, it's been wonderful working here. I love it!”
Whether they are in Kennesaw Mountain’s American Sign Language class, afterschool club, or part of the school's DHH program, some students are being inspired by what they are learning and want to follow a career path similar to the one Mrs. Ross chose.
“One of the students who graduated from the deaf and hard of hearing program here at Kennesaw Mountain is actually coming to be a deaf and hard of hearing teacher here next year,” Mrs. Ross added.
Another is already working in an afterschool program with students who are deaf and hard of hearing.
One day those former Kennesaw Mountain students turned educators may have a student thank them for being a fantastic teacher who never gives up and, even more importantly, someone they consider in their circle of friends. That is precisely how Mrs. Ross’s students describe her and why she has no plans to stop living out her dream as a teacher.