William (Bill) Palmer
William (Bill) Palmer is currently a special services teacher at Barrington High School
working with at-risk students. Ironically, this is the same high school he dropped
out of in 1969. For the past 24 years, his objective has been to prevent young people
from making the same mistakes he once made, such as working below their academic ability
and dropping out of school. He draws upon his own experience as a way to relate to
his students and encourage them not to make the same destructive choices he once made.
Bill understands the struggles his students face all too well. He dropped out of high school in his senior year, after struggling with family issues that created tremendous barriers and led to chronic underachievement in school. It wasn’t until he met Jeanne, who would later become his wife, that he was inspired to go back to school to earn his GED. After passing the GED exam, he went on to earn his associate’s degree from Harper College in 1974, followed by a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northeastern Illinois University.
Bill credits Harper College with giving him the opportunity to learn how to be a learner again. “The more I learned in school, the more I learned about myself,” he says. For the first time, he was working to his potential. Bill became an honors student at Harper and again at Northeastern.
After earning his degrees, Bill enjoyed a successful 14 year career in commercial real estate, where he climbed the corporate ladder to become a vice-president at his company. However, he felt his true calling was in the classroom. He returned to school to complete the teacher education program at Roosevelt University. Soon after he began his teaching career, he went back to school yet again to pursue a master’s degree in special education at Northeastern.
Today, Bill is in his 23rd year working with students at Barrington High School who are at risk for dropping out of school due to social or emotional challenges. Though Barrington is a nationally recognized top-tier high school, there are a significant number of students who face challenges that are difficult to navigate without support. Bill teaches interpersonal communication resource classes and incorporates cognitive behavioral strategies that will equip students with the skills needed to reach their potential. He is also the program advisor for the night school at Barrington High.
Bill has had a profound impact on many young lives during his 24 years at Barrington High School. He firmly believes that if it were not for his own life experiences, he would not be able to bring an authenticity to his teaching that gives him credibility in the eyes of his students. When asked what he considers to be his biggest success, Bill doesn’t hesitate. “My ability to connect with my students and keeping many from dropping out of school.”
At the encouragement of colleagues and students, Bill shared his story in his recently published book, Dropout to Teacher: Overcoming Fear and Failure. The book serves as a motivator for troubled youth and a guidebook for parents and educators.