Nine years ago, I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Minor in Creative Writing and no job. I interviewed for plenty, but I got nadda. My husband (then fiance) was hired immediately as an assistant manager at a retail store, so I followed him and kept looking. Finally, after several people told me I was overqualified to work for them (what a joke), I went to a temp agency and got placed at the Department of Social Services as a temporary worker. They liked me so much there that they hired me permanently as an Income Maintenance Caseworker. I started off maintaining a caseload of Medicaid clients. Then, I got promoted to Income Maintenance Caseworker II, taking applications for Food Stamps and Medicaid. Then, I switched over to taking applications for Work First, Food Stamps, and Medicaid and maintaining a caseload of Work First clients. It was a stressful job, I got cussed out a lot, and it was depressing. Super depressing. And thankless. And I was very productive, which meant I got dumped on a lot as people got burned out quite quickly. I went for a promotion as a Staff Development Trainer, which would’ve been significant, made it to the interview process, which was quite significant because the guy was quite picky, and came in second. I spiralled into depression and quit shortly thereafter, realizing that I had hit a ceiling there.
I also realized that what I really wanted to do was impact people earlier in their lives. I wanted to reach children. I wanted to change them and make a difference so that maybe they were educated enough to make it out of the system. When I worked at Social Services I saw entire families of people go through the system. It was disheartening. They knew no different. What if I could be that one person in a child’s life that said, “Hey! You can be somebody!” That’s what I wanted to do. So I took a gamble and I quit my job. I quit, and I took the Praxis, and I applied to be a lateral entry Special Education teacher. And then I prayed that somebody would hire me.
And you know what? Someone did. I mean, there was one douchebag AP who told me to my face that his school didn’t need to take lateral entry teachers because, you know, they were so wonderful. I can literally envision him right now with his nose in the air. He didn’t give me a chance. But two Principals interviewed me. Two offered me a position. One was an 80% position, the other a full time position, and I took the full time position at a very challenging school that students with primarily low socioeconomic status. Out of the fire and into the frying pan. And I went right into teaching kids who really, really needed help. And in my first year teaching, I raised students’ test scores to phenomenal levels. So that douche bag who wouldn’t give me a chance can suck it. I drove kids to succeed, had lots of energy, and always, always, always told them I believed in them.
But, I have learned so much since that year. You see, my youngest son was not yet thought of at this point and my oldest was only a year old. As far as we knew, he was typically developing, and he was the easiest baby in the whole entire world. I could’ve had ten babies just like him. He slept through the night, he was happy, and he hardly ever cried unless he was hungry or needed to be changed. So, you see, going into Special Education was merely a coincidence. I had no idea that I was doing double duty at the time. Life was simple. Easy. I am not brave and I am no hero. This just happened.
But you know what? Fate put me here for a reason. It is exhausting. I don’t get a break. And I get tired of using my calm voice all day long. I’ll be honest, I do not succeed in using it all day. But this happened for a reason. And it’s not because I chose to. It’s because I had to. I had to learn this by doing. I have learned so much about my son through my job and so much about my job through my son. It has been mutually beneficial. I cannot tell you how many times I have looked at the children on my caseload through eyes that I know would be much less understanding than they are now if it were not for my son. Sometimes it is overwhelming. The other day, I was almost brought to tears because of my feelings of sadness for a child whose mother didn’t understand his disability and therefore refused to acknowledge the help he needed. And there are countless times that I get angry at teachers who do not understand that consequences, for some children, are meaningless and that applying the same set of cookie cutter rules and consequences makes no sense.
For the most part, though, being a special needs teacher with a special needs child just means that I not only teach children with special needs, know the strategies to help children with special needs, know the laws and regulations, and know the paperwork, but I have so much empathy for parents who have children with special needs. I’m also able to refer parents out to resources in the community because I use them. And being knowledgeable about the process helps me because it allows me to help my own child. I always know what should go on at an IEP meeting. And I have learned so many strategies to help manage his behavior.
So, does it take a special kind of person? Well, I would be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t tired every day. But, if I didn’t get something out of my life, I wouldn’t continue doing what I do. And I love what I do, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I get to see kids grow and change and do something with their lives. And my own child? Well, he’s doing that, too. What’s better than that?