Why Special Education?
I could answer this question in one simple statement: Divine Providence.
As tacky as it seems, I feel like special education chose me. Now you’re probably thinking this is just going to be a tacky story about how everything was just handed to me along the way and everything pointed me in the direction of my current profession. I wish it were this simple because it would’ve saved me lots of tears, questioning of my choices and decisions, and many moments of feeling completely lost and confused.
Growing up, I had absolutely no doubt I would end up in the medical field. If you would have asked me throughout my schooling years what I would be when I grew up, you would have received one of two responses: a neonatologist or a pediatrician. And if you asked 8 year old me what a neonatologist was, I would give you a lengthy job description and then go on to explain some of the issues that newborn and preemies face and how they could be fixed. Once I hit high school and the years leading up to college, I was still planning on going into the medical field but was considering other options, such as being a nurse practitioner. Fast forward to freshman year of college, there I was as a nursing major taking lots of really fun and great classes such as chemistry, anatomy, labs, and sociology. Sitting in these classes, I was completely disinterested and could not see myself continuing down this path. After one semester, I sat down with my mom and shed many, many tears and broke the news that the nursing path was not for me. So, in all of my confusion, I told her my next plan: to be a theology and social work major and open a special needs orphanage in Africa. Sounds great, right?!?! That is still secretly my dream! Yet, the practical wisdom of a mother kicked in and she questioned my choices and said I could still do that, but what if I chose a more practical major. That led me to early childhood education. I threw around the idea of doing special education, too, but it was not the most practical idea and would add a year of schooling to my undergraduate. I started my education classes and fell in love with two of my professor, one was new and taught general education and the other taught special education. Both of them opened my eyes to the world of education and the joy that can come in enabling and empowering students. If you would have told me a year before ending up in these classes, I would laugh at you. While some may just say I changed majors, I call it Divine Providence. Little did I know how much of an impact a change of major would have on my life.
I continued my education and stuck to my major throughout college and was very much interested in working with children with special needs. The summer before my junior year of college I decided to get some more experience to figure out if it was what I really wanted to do. I applied and interviewed for an Easter Seals camp in the middle-of-nowhere Illinois and was was offered the job on my phone interview. Call it seeking opportunities or expanding horizons, again I call it Divine Providence. The camp was one of the most rewarding, fulfilling, yet challenging times of my life. It was simply exhausting, yet seeing the children and adults get to things that they would never have the chance to do, such as horseback riding, rock-climbing, and boating, was simply a joy. They had the biggest smiles and the most sincere laughs and you could tell it was the best week of the year. It was so hard leaving, but I left knowing where I was called.
Coming back from camp, I began to seriously consider all of my paths for post-college. I stumbled across this magazine in the student center of my university that had a list of all sorts of service programs. I took the magazine and read through it a handful of times, circling and highlighting anything that jumped out at me. Somehow I knew that my post-college time would be spent in one of those programs. I was really drawn to the programs that included a master’s degree because I knew eventually I would need one. I was intrigued by the UCCE (University Catholic Consortium of Education) programs that are modeled after the teaching program ACE program at Notre Dame. The program consists of community living, earning a master’s degree, and working in a Catholic school. It seemed like a no-brainer to me. I began looking at all of the programs around the country and was hoping to stay close-ish to home and I wanted a master’s degree in special education. Through narrowing my search, only one program met all of my criteria, Operation TEACHat Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore. It was a no-brainer for me and call me dumb, but I put all of my eggs in one basket. I applied, got through round one of the interviews which was over the phone, and then showed up for my interviews with the schools. I was accepted conditionally into the program, contingent on getting an offer from the school. Sure enough, this early childhood education major was placed in a position teaching middle school language arts and religion at a school with an emphasis on gifted education.
My time in Operation TEACH was invaluable. I earned two years of teaching experience, wonderful friends, a master’s degree, and countless life lessons. I learned so much about myself and my aspirations and dreams. At my school, I had the opportunity both years to teach students considered lower academically. These students were my favorite to teach. It was so much more exhilarating and exciting planning lessons because I had to make them that much more engaging for the students to pay attention and when the students finally grasped material, even the smallest of concepts, there was a need for great jubilation. Whereas teaching the more advanced students, I could give them the most boring lessons with complex work and activities, and I could bank on them doing it and doing it well. With graduation quickly approaching and contracts for my job going out, I had to decide whether or not I was going to stay. I enjoyed my job and loved my life in Baltimore, and had every intention of staying up until about two weeks before I had to make my final decision. There was just this constant feeling that I couldn’t shake that was just leading me to leave. I had applied for countless jobs with no success because I was being quite picky. I finally decided to reach out to a teacher I knew in a Catholic school in my family’s town. I got in contact with the principal and she wanted to interview me. I was thrilled! I cancelled a trip to visit a friend and booked a bus home instead. The interview went well but I was hesitant because it was a preschool position and that did not sound appealing, but I had already turned down my current job for the following year so I’d take anything at this point. After moving home, I found out I was not offered the preschool position. I was devastated because I had nothing else. Again more tears flowed, but again my two favorite words (Divine Providence) came into play even though I didn’t know why. About three weeks after finding out I did not receive the position, the principal contacted me again regarding a first grade position. I went in and interviewed a second time and as I was leaving, she asked me if I would be interested in special education. I tried to keep my calm and it took everything in me not to just jump and say “yes,yes,yes, a thousand times yes!”. Again, Divine Providence. A few weeks later, I was offered a position as an Intervention Specialist and almost a year after being offered the position, I am still trying to keep my calm and excitement bottled in, because I truly think I have the world’s greatest job and there is nothing else I’d rather be doing right now. Divine Providence.