Although I have not yet received a letter or pink slip from my school, I anticipate that I will not be offered a renewed contract or tenure at the end of the year. This year has been an incredible mountain of obstacles as I’ve attempted to advocate for my special education students by taking a collaborative, engaged role during lesson planning meetings. The word “passion” has often been used to describe my actions, goals, and value system, but the same word is sometimes equated with “aggression” whenever I attempt to interject an opinion. I have been entrusted to help develop lifelong skills and successes for my students with learning challenges, and yet I feel I am often not given an equal opportunity to share my ideas for effective teaching strategies.
Tenured teachers with no incentive to change have been boulders and windstorms along my path, and I honestly have very few resources in which to seek shelter, other than my faith, my family, my friends, and even this blog, which has served as a great outlet.
Reading through past journal entries often helps me remember past journeys on which I once felt that I would be lost forever, but eventually found a way to make it through. In one entry, I read the words of a woman I interviewed with who worked for UNICEF in Niger at the time. I inquired about any advice she had to pass along, and I remember being stunned by her yogic wisdom. She said that our expectations in life almost never meet the reality of our experiences; thus, the only way to be successful, to feel fulfilled, is to constantly meditate on our intentions.
I became a teacher to inspire, to motivate, to encourage, and to lift up young minds. All year, I’ve attended seminars to gain strategies to empower my students—strategies such as acknowledging their cultural diversity, building their self-confidence, molding their self-efficacy, fostering their love for knowledge, and providing an outlet for their voices in my classrooms. As a teacher, I expected to work in an open environment, one that is accepting of my diverse life experiences. I expected to be supported by colleagues willing to try new creative approaches to teaching and learning to best support our students.
But my expectations this year were far from reality. I felt that my instructional strategies were rejected by co-teachers again and again, a seemingly unified attempt to watch me crumble under pressure.
Last year, I was blessed to work with a sarcastic but charming social studies teacher. We were both first-year teachers and we began working together after a November meeting facilitated to discuss team-teaching roles and responsibilities. We created lesson plans together, developed seating charts together, formed collaborative groups together, and taught together. I’m happy to see how much this teacher has been able to grow and develop independently as a content teacher, but I’m bitter when I think of all my own rejected lessons and strategies.
In times of difficulty, I continually fall back on my faith and trust that my path is indeed the right one for me. I feel deeply blessed to have formed deep and meaningful relationships with the students I’ve taught at this Title I school.
For example, this year a homeless student, well known in the principal’s office, let down his guard on one of his last days before transferring schools. As our school social worker and I showered him with compliments about his growth, tears streamed from his eyes. He finally felt safe enough to reveal that he feared a future without the supportive safety net we had created for him.
And last year, I worked with a student whose moods shifted from extreme withdrawal to extreme anger. She felt safe enough to disclose a past traumatic abuse and I advocated to get her counseling services through her IEP. Her mother, who had gone to the same middle school, who had not finished high school, who had not known her parental rights, was empowered by and grateful for these new services. I saw immense growth in this student’s self-confidence and in her ability to use writing as a means to share her voice. She will forever remain in my heart.
So as I prepare to update my two-year-old resume, I will reflect on my intention: to be a means for change in the lives of young people with disabilities who are just learning how to advocate for themselves.