Nail details pursuit to make a difference as Camdenton special education teacher

Joyce Miller
Michelle Nail.

The Future Depends on Teachers

One year ago, the unthinkable happened — our nation’s schools had to shut their doors. The COVID-19 pandemic hit our K-12 teachers hard. Yet despite incredible challenges, our teachers are innovating and rising to meet this new reality head-on. One of the lessons that really hit home as a result of the pandemic was how critical teachers are to our educational and economic recovery.

Missouri is facing an historic shortage of teachers, which may be compounded by the pandemic. Our schools are struggling to find enough teachers to fill their classrooms. In the 2019-20 school year, there were just over 6,200 open teaching positions in Missouri. Of those positions, 145 remained unfilled and 308 positions were filled with inadequately qualified teachers. Educator preparation programs at institutions of higher education, with a decline of over 25 percent in teacher candidate enrollment over the past six years, are not producing enough new teachers to fill our classrooms.

Over the course of this week, the Lake Sun will feature stories of teachers around the lake and the importance they hold within their districts.


Michelle Nail’s daily routine is a bit different from teachers who teach things like algebra, geometry or communications. As a special education teacher, Nail works with smaller class sizes and focuses on teaching skills to students with cognitive disorders. 

For Nail,  the job goes far beyond teaching skills, it’s about knowing her students' needs and finding ways to get them involved in learning the skills they will need for life after high school. Nail does not teach academics but actual life skills. It’s a job that requires patience, dedication and most importantly, a teacher willing to go the extra distance to make sure students get every opportunity to succeed. 

Nail was recognized this week as Camdenton School District’s Teacher of the Week for her efforts going above and beyond to ensure students and her team receive quality instruction, support, and learning opportunities to be successful. 

Nail describes her position as a high school functional skills teacher.  She works with a group of seven students. 

“ I work with students with significant cognitive disabilities.  We teach student academics as well as give students opportunities to practice job-related skills and independent skills for life after high school,” Nail said. “What I enjoy most about teaching is seeing my students every day. They bring so much joy to my life. Watching the excitement on their faces when they complete a task or learn a news strategy. It’s all about the little successes.”

While not the same as being in the classroom with students, during the COVID-19 shut down Nail kept working with her students over Google Meets. 

“At least then we could see how each other was doing and complete some group activities,” she said. 

The decision to pursue a degree in the special education field was an easy one for Nail when was shopping for her career path. She had worked at a camp for children with special needs. What she experienced there, made a lasting impression. 

“I saw the potential they had in learning and I wanted to make a difference,” she said. And how does she know she is doing that? It’s in the success stories of each individual student. 

“I have one student that hates fire drills.  Any time he would hear the word "fire" or "drill" he would run from the building.  This year, we have been working on using these words during lessons and practicing more often what it looks like when we complete a fire drill, etc,” she said.” Now when we have our monthly drill he will tell other students, ‘we are practicing a fire drill’ and lead them out of the building.”

Nail also oversees the Pass Program at the high school, in addition to organizing and working with getting students involved in Special Olympics. 

Her advice to graduates considering a career in special education is simple. Remember lessons don’t always go as planned. Reflect often and be flexible to make changes. 

“It’s all about the little successes,” she said. 

What to know about Michelle Nail.

Nail moved to Camdenton three years ago from Ankeny, Iowa.   She received her teaching degree from GrandView University in Des Moines, Iowa and a Masters in PK-12 Principal/Supervisor of Special Education from Viterbo University in Des Moines, Iowa.

When not teaching, she and her husband love to travel, boat and camp. Nail has two grown daughters who live in Iowa.