I have never been, (and still am not), a long-term planning person. Most people get into their careers by planning ahead for it, by getting into the right course in college and applying for a job in a good company. I kind of, stumbled, into my career and was fortunate enough to find that it was something I really wanted to do.
In 1993 I was almost done with college and had to do a practicum course which I ended up doing it at special education school close to where I live. I did not have any background in special education or special needs children, all I had was a desire to work with children. Little did I know how much that experience would change my life.
After that practicum experience, I stayed on with that school for about 6 yearsand eventually left to go to graduate school in the US. I worked for the public school system where I taught a preschool class (3 - 5 years old) for children with autism for nearly 8 years.
Most people are amazed when I tell them what I do and the reaction is always the same “You must be so patient!” or “ The kids must be so lucky to have you as their teacher.” The reactions always made me a little bit uncomfortable and I thought it was kind of funny - primarily because I have always felt so fortunate to be able to do something that gives me so much.
Working with kids with autism is not an easy thing to do, and there have been times I have been (nearly) brought to tears because of the frustration of dealing with different situations and issues. But there is so much more to working with these kids and their families and I struggle with trying to put it all down in writing.
For one, I can truly say that I have never, EVER had a boring day at work. Each day is filled with stories of each child’s efforts to communicate and play, their little behavioral quirks and there is just so much to do (in a five hour class) that I hardly have time to stop and get bored. Being there when a child starts to communicate, whether with sign language, pictures or speech - never gets old :). Being there when a child starts communicating spontaneously - even better. Seeing the pleasure on a child’s face when he /she sees me in the morning or when he/she says my name can still take my breath away (mushy I know, but true). When a child starts showing interest in playing with other kids, I am as proud as can be, and I don’t stop being proud of them - even when they are grown and in elementary school.
I have also been blessed to have been able to work with some of the most dedicated and caring and determined parents I have ever known in my life. These parents may not have all these letters after their names, may not have all these degrees, but they are certainly some of the most passionate, knowledgeable, educated and understanding people I have known. Without a doubt they are the experts in their children and on autism and always want what is best for them. It is difficult not to get emotionally involved when you see how much is at stake for them and for their families. In working with them I found that, I didn’t always have to have all the answers (nobody does) - ultimately they just needed me to do the best I could and sincerely be there for their child and their family.
I have also been fortunate to have experienced working with some of the most dedicated professionals in my field. We may not have had literature published or may not be well known in the bigger world of special education, but we were the rock stars of special education in our school district (whether they acknowledge it or not). We may have, on occasion, been called troublemakers :) - but it was always for the benefit of the children that we served. A lot of hard work and a LOT of heart goes into giving the children what they need to grow and learn.
I may have given a lot of time, effort and love in teaching my students (or “my kids” as I would call them) and in supporting their families. But I am also only able to do this because it has contributed so much to my growth as a person, as a human being, that it is only right that I do so.
The fact that I am passionate about working with kids with autism and thoroughly enjoy what I do - no matter how much it drives me crazy at times - is just an added blessing.
Early Childhood Special Education teacher
February 9, 2011
“Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
Harvey Mackay (this quote is also attributed to Confucius and Jim Fox)