I want to be a special education teacher.
When I tell most people this, I usually get raised eyebrows and a response along the lines of, “Wow! You must have a lot of patience.”
Yes, patience is definitely a requirement of all educators, especially special ed teachers. But to me, this doesn’t even begin to cover it. I believe there is at least one magical superpower involved, too. Let me explain.
Finding My Calling
My journey to being a teacher is a bit different than most. When I was little, I wanted to be an author and illustrator of my own books. My mom would tell me she could see me as a teacher, and I’d deny it every time. I never thought of myself as confident enough to stand in front of an entire classroom and instruct students.
Fast forward to my 20s, and I’d just earned a BA in mass communication with an emphasis in journalism. I took my first job out of college working for a publication company, but I felt like something was missing. A few months later, I applied for and earned a position as an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) teaching assistant in an early intervention classroom. Ahh—it just felt right to be working with kids!
Not long afterwards, I became a teaching assistant for the special education department and I was hooked. Being able to witness all the amazing milestones of special ed students made me want to learn as much as I could about the challenges they faced. Along the way, I worked with a wide array of kids, including those with autism spectrum disorder and students at the School for the Deaf in the Bronx. I knew I’d found my calling.
As every teacher knows, there are good days and bad. Perhaps my toughest (and also most rewarding) situation happened while I was working at a preschool for children with autism and behavior disorders. I was really drawn to this 3-year-old boy—I’ll call him Frankie. Unlike the majority of his peers, Frankie’s disorder was on the extreme end of the spectrum, primarily because he did not speak. His communication was limited to various instances of frustration, which led to spontaneous screams and erratic body movements.
It was difficult to work with Frankie. I felt so drained each day I was with him. Yet I never wanted to give up. I knew it was possible to reach him.
To be honest, I can’t claim to be incredible or extraordinary in any way, but I will say that I never gave up on Frankie. I went to work each day, hoping and waiting for progress. And eventually, it came.
It was just a regular day, and I was working alongside Frankie when he reached up and pointed at something that he wanted. This was huge! Up to this point, Frankie had never expressed himself like this. He might scream, yell, babble, or hum, but he’d never been able to tell us what he wanted just by pointing. I cheered him on and hugged him, which probably confused him a bit, but I was so excited! I will never forget that blissful day when he told me what he wanted by pointing.
My Future Self
I’ll soon be finishing up my graduate program and embarking on a teaching career with my own classroom. While I know my future as a special ed teacher will be filled with challenges, I also can’t wait.
My goal as a teacher is to create a classroom that is viewed as a learning community by all my students. Despite students’ differences—physical, intellectual, cultural, etc.—I want each one of them to feel like they are important and that they matter.
How am I going to do this? Patience for sure—that’s a given. But you know those superpowers I talked about earlier? I have a feeling they’re going to come into play, too. After all, anyone can be patient. But to maintain it day after day, for every single one of your students—this is definitely a superpower only a teacher can possess.