This blog is on topics of interest to early career professionals who work with people with disabilities. Blog contributors have diverse perspectives on leadership, professional development, and success in changing systems to better serve people with disabilities and their families. For more information on Early Career Professionals, check out the website: www.aucd.org/ecp

11 December, 2013

Decisively Accepting My Mission

Kenya Spear, AS, BS, MS.ED
Literacy Coach, The Milagro Center
Former LEND Trainee at Westchester Institute of Human Development

My beginnings were humble, survival; having adequate food, clothing and shelter were always an effort. After high school, obtaining higher education was not expected.  My family needed me to locate a job and contribute to my upkeep and their preservation. I was obedient, respectful, docile, even, and knew I would do what was expected. 

But I also wanted a profession, not a job. As luck would have it, a local high school had a nursing program. I applied and was accepted. In nursing school, I was dedicated and competent but family responsibilities and burdens; as well as professional training was stressful. After graduating, I changed paths and obtained positions in the corporate world.   

Financially, I was helping my family and regularly buying myself material things but professionally I was unfulfilled. My days, sitting at a desk, answering phones, move papers about, attending meetings, and such was unrewarding, and unimaginative.  Frequently, I was despondent and I pursued professional help.   
In therapy I worked hard and ultimately started learning and recognizing what was important to and special about me.  I realized I had good writing skills, I kept journals, I loved to read, had a wide-ranging record collection, an impressive art collection, I was an excellent swimmer, a decent photography and had traveled considerable.  And I had an eclectic group of friends.

I wanted to attend college. And beyond all odds, I did. I majored in psychology/sociology and took a few education courses as electives. Studying education, methods of teaching, and such inspired me. And with my miscellaneous and eclectic background and experiences, I though I had the qualities to become an excellent teacher.  

I initially taught Social Studies, Common Branches, grades 1-6, which I loved. I was not certified and had no influence as to what and where I would teach. Therefore, I was transferred as needed, and found myself teaching Social Studies in Junior High and High School.  But in a teacher’s newsletter I saw a temporary, middle of the school year, teaching position in an elementary school in a low performing district.

I applied, was interviewed and hired to teach a third grade class. Unbeknown, to me the class was a Special Education class. (I later learned no qualified special education teacher applied for the job and in desperation, I was hired.) The class consisted of 10 boys and 2 girls, who were American Blacks, Hispanic and African. At least two were foster children, three lived with extended family members, almost all presented with health issues; asthma, allergies, all of the students were language delayed, none were reading on grade level and several could not read at all.  

For the first two weeks or so, teaching was touch and go. The students were problematic, the workload grueling, and I had much to learn.  I did not know what an IEP, Individual Education Plan was, and nothing, no course I took in college, had adequately prepared me for the disrupted behavior, running in the hallways and classroom, fighting and lying I encountered.   But, I was not put off! An avid reader and life learner, I started reading books about Pat Mora, Tom Feelings, Zora Neale Hurston, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Langston Hughes to the students.

I wanted the students to see themselves, to start learning about their cultural and hopefully develop an interest in reading and language. From my collection I brought in records, jazz, folk music, and such, to help enhance listening skills. And afterwards, I lead discussions, encouraged the students to share their feelings and ideas about what they had heard.

With student assisted relevant bulletin boards, about their neighborhoods, families, friends and playgrounds were created. I included the student’s words, names, ages and photos. Along the way, I taught the students, boys included, how to crochet.  A math lesson became the opportunity to measure flour, salt, and sugar in order to bake cookies. Worry free Journal writing, students were encouraged to write, and they were not penalized for spelling and such, was a daily activity.

Slowly, the students started to trust me and I knew they knew that I respected them. I listened, encouraged, and I did not maligned them. Remarkable, I witnessed a slight decrease in some disrupted behaviors. Students lined up when I asked them to and pushing and shoving dwindled. I rewarded, every progress, with stickers, certificates of merits and encouraging, motivating words and smiles.

My AP, Assistant Principal, gave inspiring suggestions when he visited my classroom. The Principal visited and took notes. After about two months, I was asked to attend a meeting with the Principal and Assistant Principal.  Needless, to say I was terrified.  I wondered what had I done wrong, incorrect, poorly.
But in the meeting, I was stunned to learn that apparently I had done things and was doing things well. And I was offered the opportunity to participate in a special program.  It turned out The District had established a tuition free program to train teachers who were willing to commit to teaching special education.   Principal and Assistant Principal wanted to know if I would participate.  The answer was a firm yes!!!   

And so, with guidance, encouragement, and support, I enrolled in a Master’s Program in Special Education.
I completed the program, became state certified and started teaching special education students.  And I embraced my profession and became clear about my goals and purpose in life.

Gathering and hording things are not important aims for me. Self-improvement, self-awareness and self-control are my primary objectives.  Teaching, communicating, sharing and helping people, persons, especial children, notable children who have and are confronting challenging’s are important to me and my purposes in life. 

But, sometimes, I become despondent, angry even when I recall the emotional, physical, social and educational difficulties, disadvantages and drawbacks that seemed to have been discarded on me, my life and living!  But then I remember the words of Mark Twain “The best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer somebody else up.” And I do just that!!!!