When I tell people what I do, I get a lot of appreciations or wow’s, but the most common phrase I hear is, “You must have a lot of patience”. They wonder I”m sure as well as I have wondered over the years, why I stay directly in the line of fire every day. Frankly, there was a time when I wasn’t actually sure why, and it was not that many years ago now. But since that time, I’ve come to a very clear understanding and I’m happier because of it. Here’s why I stay:
I’ve always been an advocate of people with disabilities.
Even though I would consider my advocacy to be a quiet one versus the loud brash advocacy we’ve all witnessed with different movements of late, that doesn’t make my advocacy any less important or real. Through the iterations of jobs I’ve done since college, it’s been for the same purpose, to provide compassionate support without pity, and to develop understanding and empathy in others. Through college, I worked at an afterschool care program, a family support center where I did respite care for families, and at a group home where I supported residents on the weekends doing their daily self- care and recreational things in the community.
I grew up with a grandparent who had mental health issues and was in and out of group homes, hospital programs and such. She lived with her parents(my great grandparents) because she was not able to live on her own. I watched her have good days and bad ones. I saw the work that went into her support and care, through my dad, my uncle. and my grandparents
And when I needed a break from teaching in schools, what did I do? I went to work for an autism project as an educational consultant for families. I took on a different role in my school district as a diagnostician.
I enjoy the unique challenges the job brings
As a newly minted teacher, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but as I’ve put a few years behind me, I realize that my temperament fits this job very well. At the end of the article Do you Have what it takes to be a special education teacher, the author lists 10 personality traits that pretty much line up with what I view as crucial attributes for success in this job. Creativity, dedication, good humor, organized, thick-skinned, optimistic are some of the traits that stand out to me as being necessary. Though I will say, I feel like these traits make you a better human being, not only a better teacher.
The challenges are vast. My job is to bring each student farther along on their path to success in school whether that be academic(instructional levels in reading, writing or math), organizational(developing systems for staying on top of work), social(getting along with teachers and peers), behavioral(attendance in classes, staying out of trouble) or functional(feeding, toileting dressing, communicating, motor skills). It all matters. The whole child.
Frankly one of the biggest challenges is keeping everyone going on the positive track when students have tough behaviors. Teachers and other parents do not have the same thick skin or the same level of patience while change is happening so I get to hear a lot of frustrations. This is where optimism, good humor, creativity, and thick skin come into play. Change is hard and there will be bumps along the way. Trust is an important factor in making this challenging part of the job work.
Every kid deserves to have a teacher who believes in them
I love kids and I develop a healthy appreciation for the kids on my caseload. We are not friends, but they know I care and that it’s a real and true feeling I have. Because I take the time to get to know them, understand what makes them tick and do the work of building solid relationships with both them as individuals and with their parents, I am able to appreciate who they are as people in the big wide world. This allows me to think deeply about what they really need not just today and this year, but what they will need moving forward. And that helps me formulate goals and plans and thoughts about how I can meet those needs.
If that means I have to go outside my comfort zone, so be it. If that means I have to ask for things we don’t have currently, I will ask. If that means they need more support than they are getting I either ask for more or ask for how we can be more creative with the support we have. If that means we have to do a little bit more hard work or take 5 times to meet before an IEP, so be it. It shall be done.
I believe kids are worth it.
Do you teach for the same reasons? If not why do you teach? Leave your response in the comments below.