I teach special education at the only high school in our county. The children I teach have intellectual disabilities in the moderate range some with secondary disabilities like autism or visual impairment. I starting teaching this class in the fall of 1997. I had graduated with a teaching certificate in 9-12 English six years earlier, but had my second child one year to the day of graduating and wanted to be a stay at home mom to the greatest extent possible. I taught some contract classes at a local community college, but for the most part, I was a stay at home mom to both of my boys until they started school.
So, in the fall of 1997, my youngest was starting school and so was his Mommy. I was just as frightened as he was. You see, they did not have any openings in the English Department, so they offered me a self-contained EC classroom for which I had absolutely no experience and no formal training. To say I was out of my element would be a ridiculous understatement. I had no clue what I was doing. One of my favorite mottos was born out of this time: “fake it ’til you make it.” I have practiced this sentiment many times in my life to surprisingly great success.
My very first class had, I think, eight children. I had an assistant who was paid much less than me and who knew lots more than I did about this job, these children, and how I should approach this position. I befriended her immediately, and although, she left the classroom about four years ago, we are still friends. If nothing else, I am a survivor and I know how to survive in all sorts of situations. Things were quite different in our school 13 years ago. The EC department was small and as teachers we were isolated. We did not command a great deal of respect about the school and I felt that other high school teachers often looked at us like we were doing some sort of Romper Room babysitting service. Things are so much different today, much in part to the work of Cathy Richmond, who came in and overhauled the Occupational Course of Study Program and spearheaded school-based enterprises which gave our students credibility and visibility and a presence at our school. Today we are a large and cohesive department proud of who we serve and what we do and highly visible and dynamic participants in the larger professional learning community. I had to get the PLC reference in, because since 2008, we are required to say or use the words or acronym PLC at least one time per week as professional educators ;).
My class today is right now at 14 students. I am officially over capacity for one assistant, but so far no one has thrown us any life jackets or sent out any search parties for additional help. We are okay, though, and though we face challenges each year due to changing paperwork and legislation, classroom mix, behaviors, and snowballing bureaucracy, we evolve gracefully and learn to adapt. The title of this entry is ‘I love my job’ because, quite simply, I do. I will tell you why.
First of all, I was born to teach. I am an oldest child who is bossy by nature and birth order. I have been teaching since I was a very small child. My earliest memory of teaching was in the basement of our Dowlais Drive house in Rockville, Maryland. I had a small chalkboard and a couple of desks. Robin, of course, was a pupil. Shana was only a baby in that house, so the remainder of the class consisted of stuffed animals or neighborhood children– Kim and Stephanie White, Jody Riley, Margaret Rigopolis [?]…. I was relentless and Robin would beg to stop playing school. I loved school, and while I looked forward to and enjoyed my summers, I always was excited for fall to come. Autumn meant shopping and new school clothes, fall leaves crunching under feet as we walked to school, and school supplies. I could write an entire essay on my love of school supplies. I was in love with my supply box full of treasures- pencils sharpened to lethal points, the aroma of crayons and erasers, the ever changing colors and names of colors in the Crayola box, tiny sharpeners, clear colored rulers, and don’t even get me started about my lunch box and thermos. My mother packed the most fabulous lunches where the piece de resistance was always a Hostess treat. My personal favorite was the Ho Ho, followed by a close second and third chocolate cupcake with white curly piped icing, and the Twinkie. None of these treats taste today anything like they used to. I am not sure what they have done to them, but I cannot come close to recapturing the joy they induced.
So, I was destined to stay in school for my entire life. I liked college. I did get very weary during grad school, but six years out, I could go back and do it all again. I long for summer, but each August, when it is time to go and shop for classroom supplies, I am hit with the same giddy excitement. I look forward to meeting my new students and I can’t wait to see my old ones [well, most of them].
The children that I teach are truly the centerpiece of what I love about teaching. Each morning, I arrive to smiling faces and greetings and stories and news. I must laugh dozens of times a day at the things that they say and their antics. One child I teach now, we’ll call him Carl, entertains me so greatly, I am not going to allow him to graduate. He coins words and flings them about liberally during the day as he tells everyone else what to do inside and outside of our classroom. Today he told our resident redhead that she was deceasing us. I think he meant ‘disgusting’ us as she was chewing with her mouth open and food was all over her lips. The other morning he was suffering from a malady he called ‘naturtism.’ He never properly defined this for me, so I cannot share the meaning with you. Visitors to my classroom do not want to leave. They fall in love with these vibrant young people just as quickly as I did.
What I love about school in general centers around learning. I have a natural curiosity about the world and people in particular, and teaching requires that I keep learning. In fact, my students teach me life lessons every single day. Some of the things I have learned from my children include:
- Rainy, cold days are just as much fun as sunny and warm days.
- Take each day as it arrives and devour it like a juicy tangerine.
- Being kind and helpful to others makes you happy.
- It’s okay to make mistakes and we learn things from each mistake.
- People, with or without disabilities, want about the same things: to be acknowledged and appreciated.
I go to a square classroom of about 900 square feet each morning. I spend at least 7.5 hours there each day– the majority of the time in that very room. You would think this would be tiresome and get boring. It is not. Every day is an adventure filled with colorful people doing ordinary things in extraordinary ways.