Being an Elementary-level Special Education Teacher is both the easiest and most difficult job of my career.
The easiest because it is what I am meant to do, my niche, my calling. My transition from a high school/middle school teacher to my “Littles” was like coming home in the best possible way. For the first time in my career, I am genuinely happy and excited to go to work every day.
It is the hardest job because there is no such thing as “just” a special education teacher. At any given time during the day, sometimes simultaneously, I am called upon to be an educator, referee, nurse, social worker, secretary, supervisor, auntie, Grammie, friend. To use the term multi-tasking is somewhat of an understatement. My day can go from elation: “Jimmy remembered his sight words today!!” to exasperation: “No, you carry the 10’s column” (for what feels like the bazillionth time), in minutes. It is never, ever boring!
So I am touched by last year’s United States’ Presidential Proclamation of National Teacher Appreciation Week, recognizing the contributions of teachers to kids’ lives.
Every single one of my students is “my kid” after they have been in my room. I have worked with some students who can’t wait to invite me to their high school graduation or wedding. I have had phone calls from kids who I haven’t seen for years, who need a helping hand and trust that I will be there for them. I’ve received satellite phone calls from Iraq from a “kid” who was scared and knew I would (somehow), find the right thing to say.
There have also been times I have been yelled at on a random afternoon while walking into the library downtown, by a kid who I wasn’t able to help, and was still angry about it. Or the times I have hidden behind the toilet paper display in the grocery store to avoid what could be an awkward public interaction with a kid or family who I was unable to reach.
In her TED Talk, Every Kid Needs a Champion, Rita Pierson says that every student needs a teacher who believes in them. Champions them. Loves them. The ones who need the most love are usually the ones whose trauma make them the most difficult to reach. But when you do reach them……That is magical. And that is what compels me to come to work every day.
I wouldn’t trade any of my kids for the world. Every one of them has taught me, in some way, to be a better teacher and person. On the tough days, when I leave work feeling discouraged or in tears, I know that tomorrow is a new day, with limitless chances for me to teach and reach my kids in a meaningful way.
By Leora Byras
Teacher, Lewiston Day Treatment Program