John Coughlin was diagnosed with auditory processing disorder as a child, but wasn’t deemed eligible for special education services, so he and his family had to figure out strategies on their own to help him succeed. He worked with tutors and attended private schools dedicated to serving students with special needs. Mr. Coughlin earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Colby Sawyer College and his master’s degree in special education from American University. Early in his career he worked in Boys and Girls Clubs, helping students after school. He found himself asking students about their teachers and what services they were receiving in school, and wondering how he could help them beyond just working on homework. He would even call their schools to better understand what resources the students needed. Part of his work with the Boys and Girls Clubs was teaching students participating in the Intel Computer Clubhouse to become producers—not just consumers—of technology. Students learned how to create art, music, movies, and more using technology.
Understanding that he wanted to be more on the front lines in helping kids, Mr. Coughlin became a classroom teacher, first in private schools and then public charter schools, focusing on special education. He is passionate about universal design for learning, a philosophy that makes use of a variety of technologies and tools to enable students to learn at their own pace.
Mr. Coughlin has learned the value of staying true to oneself as he emphasizes personal connections with students. Because he is a mild-mannered, quiet teacher, people would often tell him that he should be louder and more forceful to control a classroom, but he knew that wasn’t the right strategy for him. He has learned that quiet is a resource and he teaches that to his students.