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Spotlight on Walden // May 03, 2013

Sharing Her Passion for Lifelong Learning in the Classroom

Irene Barry, a Walden University PhD in Education student, is an educator who has a foot in two countries. Although she is a full-time transition teacher at Aztec High School in New Mexico, she also writes curriculum for teachers who are learning English in Guatemala.

As both a teacher and a student herself, she is also a lifelong learner. Her goal is to not only pursue her own education, but also set others on the same path. In recognition of Teacher Appreciation Week, she shared details about her work, both in the United States and in Latin America.

In New Mexico, Irene teaches high school students who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), have mental health issues, or are otherwise not succeeding in a traditional classroom. Her role in the classroom is to put them on a path of self-driven success.

“These students have real disabilities that affect their learning,” Irene explains. “My goal is to teach them about their behaviors and how to change them. By applying different strategies and instructional practices in my classroom, I hope to ultimately help each student succeed.”

Since the beginning of this school year, two of her students are already on their way out of her transition classroom and will re-enter a regular classroom. One of these students was absent hundreds of times. After working with her, the student now has a 3.4 GPA and is influential among her peers. “Whenever another student is undergoing a problem, she is right there to help,” Irene explains.

The second student suffers from schizophrenia and is challenged by his learning disabilities—but has steadily improved. “His GPA is now over a 3.0, too, and he wants to go to Ohio State University next year,” Irene says. “I’m extremely proud of both of them.”

In addition to inspiring and encouraging her own students, Irene also writes curriculum to train teachers in Guatemala to speak English and, in turn, pass their skills on to their students. This opportunity arose when she met Dr. Douglas Tedford ’08 after a poster session at a Walden academic residency for her doctoral program. “His passion for education inspired me,” she explains. “I asked if he could use an English teacher and became the first volunteer to help.” After designing a basic course, Irene has plans to design an advanced course.

“We started with 40 teachers in the first basic course, and now we have more than 100 enrolled,” Irene proudly explains. She plans to travel to Guatemala in August to meet the teachers and learn how to improve and create courses. She also hopes to partner with Dr. Tedford and other government organizations to expand the program to other countries.

No matter where Irene teaches or develops curriculum, she sees a common thread in every teacher she meets. “They have a passion for teaching,” Irene says. “Outstanding teachers are hardworking and passionate about what they do. They will go beyond the limits to help their students learn. I’m lucky enough to work with quite a few of them.”

To highlight its ongoing commitment to teacher effectiveness, Walden University’s The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership is offering more than $370,000 in scholarships to deserving educators who are making a positive impact on their school or community. The scholarships are available for new students seeking a bachelor’s, master’s, education specialist or doctoral degree.

For more information on these scholarships, visit