I was asked my Teach.com to share about how I got my start in special education and how I decided that I wanted to teach students with special needs, specifically those with autism.
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I did not come from a line of teachers (I’m the only teacher in my immediate family), I did not have any family members with disabilities when I was deciding what I wanted to be, but I did have a group of kids that changed my image of students with special needs. When I was a senior in high school, my mom took a job as paraprofessional in the self-contained special education classroom at my high school. During that time, I rode with my mom to school every day. Some mornings I would stay in the classroom as the students came in or I would go in at the end of school. The kids in that class made an impact on my heart. They were so loving and loved having me around to help them. Their teacher was always more than willing to show me strategies that worked with kids and would let me play educational games with some of them, to cook with them, and to just have a conversation. It was then I knew that there had been a special calling put on my life to help students with disabilities. I wanted badly for those students to learn and love. I wanted to advocate for them and teach them everything from academics to social skills. I knew when I chose my major the next year in college that special education was what I was meant to do.
Over the years, students with special needs have taught me so much! Here are the 3 things that I learned that cannot be learned in a college classroom.
1. Each student has a unique story. I have never met two students that are alike, even if they are diagnosed with the same disabilities. There are so many factors that make each child special.
2. Kids just want to be heard. I’ve heard over and over that behavior is communication. I’ve learned through trials and celebrations that each child has a different way to communicate. Some kids can use their words, others signs and gestures, and still others behavior (sometimes undesirable behaviors). This is why a relationship with my kiddos has been so important to me over the years. If I want a student to communicate in whatever way works for them, then I need to build the relationship of trust first so that they will communicate wants and needs in a way that is effective and appropriate.
3. All emotions with a special needs student are strong, but especially love. I love my kids…that is why I do my job. When I get bogged down in meetings, paperwork, behavior plans, IEPS, I have to regroup and remember the love. I think it is incredibly important to show each student love. I make it a point to get to know each student as an individual. I want to know their strengths, their weaknesses, what their hobbies are, about their families, what makes them tick, what makes them cry, and what makes them smile. At the end of a school year, what I what to do the most is that I have touched a kid’s heart, even more so than reading, math and writing scores!
I’m still learning everyday and appreciating each child that I have the privilege to teach and hopefully leave a lasting and positive impression on their life.