Those of you who know me know that besides reading, writing, and running, I am also VERY passionate about my career. I’m about to finish my sixth year as a special education teacher, and although there are tough days, and I sometimes have to work long hours, it is all so, so worth it.
I wasn’t new to the working world when I graduated from college in 2011. No, I’d been one of those ambitious tweens who started babysitting at 12, dog walking at 13, camp counseling at 14, and running a register at 16. I also assisted at a few law firms, did secretarial work at my college’s HR department, held down the fort as a freshman dorm RA, and I once got paid to decorate someone’s christmas tree.
So I’d had every job in the books when I earned my BA in English and Classics. But I had no idea what I wanted as a career. I knew I was good with kids, though, especially the ones who had been labeled “challenging” or “different.” I also knew that I wanted to do something that felt like I was positively contributing to the greater world. So when a friend suggested I try teaching, an alarm in my head went off ; OF COURSE I should be a teacher. Or, at least I should try it.
In summer 2011, I got accepted to the New York City Teaching Fellows to teach special education in East Harlem, and told myself that if I didn’t like it after two years, I’d go to law school or something.
And here I am.
Nowadays I teach high-school level mild-moderate special education just outside of Boston, and I also help run a summer program for kids on the Autism Spectrum in Cupertino, California. There are a whole lot of reasons why I stuck with teaching , but I wanted to share a few of them with you here.
- Teachers are the best teammates. Modern special education is extremely collaborative; I spend part of each day co-teaching with a general education content specialist, making sure that all struggling students and students with special learning needs get what they need in the classroom. This is a wonderful set-up because a) theres always a second set of hands for when things get cray, and b) collaboration makes for AMAZING curriculum. Leveled worksheets for teaching order of operations, differentiated readings about Dystopian civilizations, and small group intervention sessions? ALL DO-ABLE when you’re working together. Also, you can all dress the same on twin day and it really confuses your kiddos.
- Nothing feels better than sharing your passions with a young person. I’ve loved recommending books, classes, even colleges to my students. Helping connect your students to things that they’ll love that will also help them grow is incredibly special. Even if it means waking up at 4am to go see the re-enactment of the Battle of Lexington and Concord with some history-obsessed kiddos and teachers.
- Seeing things through the eyes of children is magical. The picture below is from a field trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, where I took my class on a field trip a few years ago. I’ll never forget how incredible it was to hear my student’s thoughts and analysis on Van Gough’s Starry Night. They discussed Picasso and Pollock with such wisdom and wonder; it didn’t matter whether they’d been labelled as learning disabled, or whether they’d never been to a museum before, or whether they were still learning English. They all took it in, and shared so many wonderful moments.
- Watching them accomplish their goals is EVEN BETTER than accomplishing my own. Now, I have to be careful of this, because I could spend all day editing my student’s papers and never finish a blog post of my own: teachers- your goals matter too! But the feeling I get when one of my students with learning challenges gains a new skill or gets their diploma is just sheer joy.
- Getting to summer is so damn glorious. Now, I work for 3-ish weeks during the summer, but I still really, really appreciate my time off. Every time I reflect on my student’s progress, clear out my classroom, and finish out a school year, I’m totally filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Some may argue that teachers get too much time off. Those people have never spend an entire weekend writing an IEP that a parent rejects, or stayed up until midnight grading assignments where fewer than half of the students even followed your meticulously designed directions sheet. Those people have never had to choose whether to teach an entire class period with kid-vomit stinking up the room when the janitor is on his lunch break, or clean up said kid-vomit themselves. Those people have never given a student their own snack because that student was hungry as hell.
I earn my vacations. I stay late, I work on weekends, I lose sleep thinking about how I can do more. And I come back from every break and summer recharged and ready to do more good work.
As we near the end of the school year (9 more days!!) I’m continuously reminded of what a privilege it is that my students accept me into their lives each year. I get to teach so many amazing young people each year; sure, they sometimes forget their homework five days in a row, or treat others unfairly, or demand six bathroom trips in one fifty-five minute class section. But they’re growing, and I get to help them grow. And that’s pretty amazing.