Tag: teaching

So Lucky

I love my kids.  Not just my biological ones; the ones I see every day at school- my precious students.  Now, don’t get me wrong, we have our days, but they are what makes teaching in NC worth doing.  Yesterday, I woke up to stomach pain.  Not the run of the mill kind of stomach pain, but the kind that doubles you over.  I went to school because we had Special Olympics bowling and it was our last Friday outing to bowling.  I teach students with Autism but don’t try to tell me that children with Autism don’t have as much empathy, because they just knew… and they responded.  They were by turns kind and attentive and I was getting extra hugs.  A couple of them stayed closer than usual.  One noticed I was not my usual self and asked what was wrong. I was hurting, but also thinking about how lucky I am to have a job where I get to make a difference and I get back as much or more than I even give.

I have this one student who sometimes seems neglected.  She is so sweet and she tries so hard.  She is happy to be at school every day.  One of the biggest treats of my life has been when my preschool grandson runs into my arms when he sees me yelling “BB!!!”  Literally, the atoms fall out the bottom.  But I also get this from her.  Dalia [not her real name] runs off the bus to me each morning and hugs me.  Her face literally lights up to see me.  Doing what other job could I get this?

So today, I am feeling pretty lucky, blessed, and grateful.  I am thankful I am a teacher of students with Autism.  I am thankful for their love, their progress, and the stories and laughter they bring into my life.

Free fall

So, I took the plunge and started my new job.  I’m now an elementary school special education teacher in a 3-5 Autism classroom.  I know, right?  I have 27 years of teaching and social work under my belt.  I have dealt with nearly every special condition, trauma, behavioral set, and taught adults, preschoolers, high schoolers, but never, until now- elementary school children. It’s a foreign world and when I walk down the hall, I still don’t quite feel like I am in the right place.  These children are so little.  I have been teaching high school for almost 18 years, so when I walk down the hall I feel like Gulliver among the Lilliputians. I can’t tell you how it’s going yet, because I am still in free fall- I started January 12 by working to get my room ready for the children who would move down to a new room on January 21, but then Mother Nature intervened giving us a snow/ice day and making Jan. 20 a school day instead of a workday and voila, the children were to arrive a full day early. Egads!  I carried on though-night and day- to make it happen and I have now nine [9] school days under my belt with this group.  As I said, all in a rapid free fall of time that has been a virtual blur of learning names, IEPs, co-workers, & schedules, assessing skills and learning styles, dealing with behaviors surrounding new teacher/new room/new expectations, and finding one computer that will boot up and allow me to access CECAS, let alone project a video onto the front board.  I have three new IAs to orient and team build with who are looking at me like “how long will you actually stay,” but the school is top notch, small, community oriented, and every staff member looks happy to be there. I have had great support and I don’t have time to hurt at all.

My RA is not in remission.  I hurt, I just don’t realize it until the end of the day when I drag out to my car and when I sit down after supper.  You know it’s a lottery of sorts, so this week it’s been my wrists and hands.  Blessedly, the amount of standing and running and walking about that I do seems to be helping my feet and they are feeling okay right now- no bloody stumps.  I can’t open jars, pill bottles, yogurt packages, or milk cartons very well, and sometimes I have to ask for help, but I am super proud of the energy level I have had given three weeks of 12-14 hour workdays and maintaining both jobs.  Luckily I only had 2 plans this month and one revision for the Group Home.

I had to reapply for the state health plan, which sucks and is ridiculous since I only moved one county over and I am still a state teacher, but that meant moving my rheumatologist appointment forward and delaying further the introduction of biologics.  In my imagination, I will get better before the appointment when the Plaquenil finally kicks in and joins forces with the near max dose of Methotrexate to prompt remission, but I know that is not likely.  I am putting off biologics as long as I can since I am now working in a petri dish of germs with kids hacking and sneezing all over me all day long.  I’ve had my flu shot.  Next stop- shingles and pneumonia vaccines.

I have had some really cool stories to tell each evening.  I’ve had some glittery moments where I think I am exactly where I am supposed to be, but I have also had a couple mornings where I put the pillow over my head and didn’t want to get up and go back.  I’m energized when I am learning though, and I grow when I stretch and reach, so I know that’s happening-for sure.

I love my job

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.