Have you ever tried to teach your children? Could you help them complete their homework without either of you becoming upset? Teaching is one of the most challenging jobs and it takes a lot of patience and control of your emotions to complete successfully. As former Turkish president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk says, ”A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others,” (Mahany-Castro, 2012) . The challenges are much greater when teaching a student who has a physical or mental disability. Your heart needs to be full of love and patience. Becoming an elementary school special education teacher has been my goal since I was a young girl – and now, after many years of waiting, I am finally getting close to achieving that goal.
Teaching special needs students has been my favorite job since I was 24 years old. I was employed in the field while I worked at a daycare in Iran. Five children had disabilities there and needed a special teacher and one assistant. I had the opportunity to assist one of the teachers several times. Many of the children that I worked with had physical disabilities, and so I helped them complete classroom activities. For example , I helped them hold their books close to them so they could follow the story that the teacher was reading; on the wall, I pointed to the pictures that would help them with their lesson plan; I also helped them eat and complete every day activities. On those days, I realized how fulfilling it was to help a group of children who are different from other children. The children that I helped didn`t just suffer from mental issues. Their disability was also often physical, but it could even be both. The experience at the daycare was the turning point in my life and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Up to that point, I wasn`t able to find my interest. I wanted to become a special education teacher to be able to teach students with various types of disabilities. I studied hard for one year to pass the entrance exam, and started a four-year special education program.
I like teaching special education students because of the following reasons: First, they are unique and different; in a classroom with five students, the teacher needs to have five IEP (individual education plans).
“The IEP is ongoing and flexible. It is a student-based plan that includes student’s strengths, interests, preferences, needs, and skills. The process of developing the
IEP is a shared responsibility of a group of people who know and work with the
student. The complete team must meet in order for the IEP to be an official
document. The required core participants of an IEP team include the parent(s),
special education teacher, a general education teacher, and an administrator,” (Occupational, 2012).
For example, a student`s IEP may be working on his organization, like hanging his jacket on a hanger; another student’s IEP may be learning about different seasons, and so on. This is unlike a regular classroom where the teacher instructs about one subject for all the students at a time and students ask questions when they need to.
Second, there is a shortage of special education teachers throughout the United States, so there is always a high demand for these specialists, particularly in elementary schools. “Enrollment of special education students in kindergarten, elementary, and middle school grades is expected to grow faster than in high school grades. As a result, employment of preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school special education teachers is expected to grow 21 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations,” (Occuptains, 2012).
The third reason, and perhaps the most important one, is that a special education teacher has a limited number of students in his or her class. That helps the teacher to know his or her students very well. They get to know things like each student’s likes and dislikes, each student’s strengths, how and when each student learns the most, and so on. The relationship between the teacher and students can be much stronger than in a regular class, which has 25-30 students.
I graduated in January 1998, and by end of that year I moved to the United States. I did not have a school transcript because it was not ready yet. I started to contact my school by writing to them and sometimes calling them. I waited and waited, but nothing happened. In Iran, it is extremely difficult to encourage a school to release any kind of official documents, and my case was more challenging because I was not there to go to the school and follow up personally.
After one year of waiting, I started a new career in health care. I completed the CNA (certified nurse assistant) course, and was hired at Shady Grove Hospital. I chose CNA because it was a short program and let me gain confidence at my first job in my new country. I kept trying to get my transcript from my Iranian school while I was working at the hospital, but I was not able to even get close to it. I was told by one of the school’s officials that the best way to it is to go back to Iran, stay for one or two months, and then follow the process step by step, but I could not do that because of my job and my family in the U.S.
In 2008, after waiting for ten years, I finally received my transcript from Iran. It is hard to believe they finally decided to send it after all those years. The next step was to have my transcript evaluated, and I hoped the process wouldn`t take another 10 years. My transcript was evaluated by WES (World Education Services). Then, with my evaluated transcript, I started applying for the para-educator, which is teacher assistant position at Montgomery County Public Schools. I needed to start as a teacher assistant before becoming a teacher because I do not have the Maryland teaching certificate and I also don`t have any school work experience on my resume.
About six months passed and nobody called me from human resources. After doing some investigation, I learned that a para-educator is one of many positions that MCPS hires from current employees and it is only in some cases that they may hire a para-educator from outside the company. A couple of months later I received a job offer from MCPS, which was driving a school bus. I was happy and sad: happy, because I had a chance to get some kind job at MCPS, and sad because I had to settle for driving a bus. They explained to me that the most difficult part is to get into the school system and after that it will be much easier to transfer to a different position. They also explained that they will consider my degree as a Bachelor’s Degree and that qualifies me to apply for para- educator positions, and I will have a high chance at securing a para-educator job in future. That is why I have been a school bus drive since 2010. I drive special education students. My students are autistic and go to a special school. I know every one of them very well, and enjoy driving them. I was so proud when one the mothers of my students told me that I was the first driver to pay attention to every detail about her son’s actions and attitude, and she thanked me so much for being very professional and sensitive to this.
My next step to getting closer to my goal is to become a para-educator, which means applying for all the para-educator positions available. I only apply for elementary schools because that is the age group that I would like to work with. So far I have been to two interviews. This may take time, but I will be patient. Being a para- educator gives me the practical experience that I need, while qualifying me to get my master`s degree, which is also the Maryland teaching certificate through MCPS’ sponsorship with most local universities, including the University of Maryland and Towson. MCPS will pay for my tuition, and my job as a special education teacher will be guaranteed. One step at a time, this is my philosophy right now. In order to be able to apply for a master`s degree, I need to complete the courses which I need for the general education. Those courses are: EN101, EN102, a three credits computer course – such as computer applications – and speech. I am now working on completing those courses and at a same time waiting for more interviews to come. And hopefully I will be hired the next time.
Since I moved to the U.S, I have been waiting for a long time before I could take my first steps towards my career goal. The process has been challenging, especially the time when I had to wait 10 years to receive information from the Iranian school I attended. I have also had to learn a considerable amount about the career in which I want to work. Through it all, I feel that I have grown and a person, and am reader to use the courage and hard work that I have to reach my goal.
The Quote Garden. Teacher Appreciation Quotation, 2012. Web. 28 July 2012.
Mahany-Castro,Christy. Building Transitional Program for Students with Diabilities: How to
Navigate the Course of Their Lives. 2010. Ebook collection. Web. 28 July 2012.
Occupational Outlook Handbook. 2012. Web. 28 July 2012.