Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Confessions of an Early Childhood Special Education Teacher

Sorry for being a little absent lately. The New Year rang in with lots of self-reflection for me.  Nothing major, probably similar to some of you, I am resolving to find more balance in my life in 2014.  As I have written before, finding time to dedicate to each of my personal & professional roles continues to be a challenge for me.  Finding the time to fill my roles of mom, wife, daughter, sister, teacher, mentor, friend and self is a constant internal battle!  

The biggest struggle is having enough time and energy for my two boys. Emmitt, a six year-old who is just trying to figure the world out himself, wondered this week why are we always the last ones to leave school.  My 2 ½ year-old, Payton's favorite phrases right now are "Sit with me mommy!", "Play with me mommy!",  "Lay with me mommy, PLEASEEEE!".

And then there is my husband...WOW! What an amazing man!  I remember when we first got married and he quickly realized that my students were his students too.  They were our first children!  Without naming names, I would talk about them, brainstorm with him and ask him to create things like benches, safe places, tables, and lots of other classroom must-haves. 

Things have not changed in that department. He still makes all sorts of things for my students and our boys including a cardboard battleship, a helicopter, and Beyblade stadiums!!  On the hardest days, he continues to be my biggest supporter.  A great big hug and a reminder that I love what I do and I am good at what I do is all he has to do to make it better.  His support is amazing and I wouldn’t be who I am without him. 

On the tired nights when I can barely keep my eyes open for one sitcom after the boys go to sleep at 8:00, he always understands and admires my professional dedication. (Okay, let's be honest...I am usually asleep by the first commercial break if I am not multitasking on my laptop or assembling a classroom activity.)  

My teaching career may have played out much differently if not for my husband.  He pushed me not to settle and take the first job opportunity that came my way.  Instead of taking the first out-of-town kindergarten or second grade position offers, I landed a wonderful job in Head Start where I learned so much and found my passion for special needs kids.  I love him for having confidence in me before I had it in myself.  You could say he led me to my life's work!
Bringing me to my third struggle....being enough for the students and families I serve. No one gets a book on how to be a parent making it challenging for all parents. But being a parent of a special needs child is more challenging than there are words to express.   I watch what my families and their children go through every day and I am in awe.  

(I actually looked up the word "awe" in the dictionary because the three letters don't do justice to my feelings for these families.  Awe is defined as "A mixed emotion of reverence, respect, dread, and wonder inspired by authority, genius, great beauty, sublimity, or might"...yet, still not enough.) 

These parents inspire me.  Most of the time I watch them and think who am I to tell them what to do.  They know their children best and are doing what they feel is best for them.  I don’t know how they do it.  They have so many day-to-day/moment-to-moment struggles. I know I will never truly understand what they are going through and feel I can never offer them enough support.  I just hope that I can give them what they need from what is usually their child’s first classroom teacher.  I want to offer support and be there for them in a way that makes them comfortable enough to confide in me and trust me with their most prized possession. . . their children.   

No wonder why I am all sorts of tired and feeling like I am not enough....This is a huge job!! I love what I do and would not change it for the world but sometimes I feel like it consumes me and makes me think "What is it all for? Is it worth it?".  Then fortunately for me, all those questions and every period of self-doubt are erased by the progress of a student.

This week's answer came to me in so many ways.  The first answer came by watching one of my students walk by herself for the first time as her peers clapped and cheered. Then later in the week, I witnessed her walk independently to give a friend a hug. WOW!!...A huge accomplishment for this little lady!!

Then, a genuinely concerned student asked why can't his classmate talk.  This question, I must say, I would not have been able to answer two years ago.  For those of you who are wondering, I responded with a quick "um" followed by "Well, you know how you wear glasses to see better? Well, your friend uses this book to speak.  The muscles in his mouth aren’t as strong as yours yet. So instead of talking, he is able to use this book to talk.  Kind of like a superpower!! Did you know he can read?!"  

With some hesitation, I then asked the non-verbal student to show his friends how he used his book.  He has only been using the book for a few short weeks so I was worried about putting him on the spot, but he nodded eagerly with a huge smile on his face.  I presented him the book and he pointed to “More to say”, followed by “Let’s do something different” and then pointed to books.  I asked, "You want to read a book?"  I quickly got out some highly motivating seek & find books that his class had not seen yet.  

They were a hit and the non-verbal student was a super star! His friends were so impressed and in that moment, he learned that his communication book had power.  HE HAD POWER! He had language which would lead to a bright future of making friends, sharing his opinion and expressing his needs. 

Here is a pic of the one he uses. You can learn more about PODD books on Gayle Porter's webpage or by going to my earlier aided language post.   

It isn't always the students who remind me of my purpose.  Sometimes, it's a parent like this week when a single mom shared with me that she does not know where she would be without my support.

With all this amazing progress, I realized IT IS SO WORTH IT!!! The fact of the matter is my students need me, but also as importantly, I need them. I need them to stay inspired, continue to improve, and just keep me going each day.  They have all endured so many hardships in their short lives from seizures the day after birth, to physical and emotional pain, to more surgeries, medications, doctors, and therapy appointments than I can count.  Sure, my job is a challenging one. But absolutely nothing compared to the challenges that my students and their families go through every day.   

I learn so much from the determination, dedication and love my students offer in each moment.  I was given a gift to serve children with special needs and I will dedicate every moment of my career doing just that. They deserve my best.

Therefore, my New Year's resolution plan is each time I get stuck in a "poor me" funk, I am going to support myself in remembering something I learned from Lee Stickle at OCALICON 2013- IT IS NOT ABOUT ME!  It is about those I serve both families and children.  Working late into the night on an IEP or having a to do list the size of the Nile River doesn’t matter.  What matters is me being present to those around me.  

Now back to my plan for 2014.  I have some motivation & inspiration visual reminders that I will see every day.  Several of them I placed earlier in the year.
This one is on the door as we go out to get students each day. 

This one is on the back of my planner/to do list binder.

(It is going to make its way to the front of my binder this semester.  Being on the back was fine but being on the front will be a constant reminder.) 

This one hangs on the mirror in our staff bathroom.  

A special thank you to Teri Berkgren for sharing this with me. It's perfect!

This one is on the door to our hallway. 

It is a dry erase board where my staff and I write up inspirational facts or quotes about life.  Mostly, ones I find on pinterest.  Join the fun and help us add to it by sharing your favorite ones here.  

And lastly is this 365 day Conscious Discipline calendar to keep me and our staff on target. 

We keep ours in our staff bathroom on top of the paper towel dispenser as a consistent reminder of how we want to discipline ourselves and our students.  

WHEW...that was a lot of emotional drainage!  I promise not to be so dramatic next time. I really do have some great things in the works for the Considerate Classroom family.   I just felt like it was time to be real and if I am feeling this way someone else may be too.    

You might ask why do I keep spending time blogging as I have showed you evidence of my shortage in that department.  Well, I do it because of all of you!  As I get emails and other correspondence from around the world, I realize that the world is not so small after all. We all need a few ideas here and there to keep us going.  Yes, sometimes I wonder if it is worth it but then I get an email like this one.
I have been following your blog and YouTube channel for more than a month now and it really is a treasure for us teachers. Special children hold a special spot in my heart and I have always wanted to teach them, but I feel like I am not prepared enough. Your blog has given me so much learning and insights towards my future goal. I can't thank you enough for sharing. Or comment like this from a parent in my classroom, she referenced something she read on my blog and stated sorry I am a bit of a groupie. I have been stalking your blog.   
WOW!  I'm always amazing and honored to hear that my idea has helped your students. A big thank you to all of you for helping me realize that and a big thank you to Sasha over at The Autism Helper for giving me the courage to share this with all of you.  I read her post from January 14th and it made me realize that we are not alone. We are a whole community of educators who want the best for those we serve.  

I'm honored to be a member of this community.

Best Wishes,



  1. Wow. This post is incredible, and puts into words exactly how I feel so much of the time. Thank you for writing it!! People ask how I do it, and some days when I am wiped out and pysically, mentally and emotionally at the end I just think I can't. But then one of my kids will do or say or achieve something and it just makes it all worthwhile, and reinvigorates me. Those battles were worth it. Those hours were worth it. And the cycle continues! x

    1. So true! We get those little moments from the kids as a little reinforcement and motivation:)

  2. I must state, the blog compositions are ethereal.