Typically I find that conferences are good for making connections and gaining new insights and information regarding our careers. But this time, the conference doubled as a support group and strong reaffirmation that no matter what is happening in our government, no matter how many pink slips are given out, no matter how many meetings we have to endure just to continue to serve our students and families, we are still here. Special educators are not going anywhere.
There were more than 6,000 people in attendance. I met new teachers who were just interning or completing their student teaching, teachers who had been in the field for 10 years, and teachers who had retired but were returning to the field because they felt pulled back to their calling, their passion. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan keynoted the Opening General Session, emphasizing the importance of education to a nation if it wants to thrive, and how each of our students deserves a “world-class education.” What a force we teachers are.
But I felt right at home at the CEC conference. It was so refreshing to be surrounded not just by special educators and therapists/specialists in the field, but by their conversations. It is nice to have stories to compare and share, and to have people completely understand where you are coming from.
A special educator’s job is so hard to define. We don’t just teach; we are team managers, family advocates, and sometimes even part-time nurses, depending on the students. We have an emotionally and physically challenging job that is nothing like a desk job. We are caretakers who must be firm while still demonstrating the love we have for our students.
Our kids need us, our schools need us. In a way, what is happening with our districts resembles what we go through on a daily basis. Our jobs, like our classrooms, are being interrupted by unexpected challenges that need to be met with logic and patience. Our career planning, like our lesson planning, needs to be open-minded and flexible—now more than ever. We have to advocate for ourselves, just as we have taught our students to advocate for themselves from day one.
People who work in the field of special education don’t walk away when things get difficult. We push through and turn to each other for suggestions, support, and help. We are a tough breed and I personally feel that my training didn’t just prepare me for the classroom; it prepared me for the field as a whole.
This conference came at just the right time to provide me with much-needed encouragement and a reminder of just how strong we are as a community. I had a fantastic time, and I walked away with much more than I had expected.