I met her and attended to her medical needs when she was still a baby. Then she grew up and I lost track of her.
Until recently, with the power of the internet, I virtually met her again. I think I befriended her sometime on facebook, so I get to read her stories in messenger.
One day, she wrote that she is a Special Education teacher. I engaged with her right then and there and asked her if she would be up for an interview about her career.
And she agreed!
So here goes Ms Rica’s story on Special Education teaching and how she faces challenges, thus becoming better at her job each day, and feeling fulfilled with her career.
How long have you been teaching?
“I have been in the field for six years and counting.”
Have you been teaching special kids all these years?
“Yes, I am currently a certified Special Education (SPED ) teacher here in the US since August 2016 and I handle students with moderate to severe Emotional Behavior Disorder (EBD), Specific Learning Disability and Developmental Delay.
In the Philippines, I taught for three years students diagnosed with mild to severe Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Developmental Delay, Mental Retardation, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ( ADHD ), and Attention Deficit Disorder ( ADD ). “
Who motivated you to become a Special Education teacher?
“My mother is an elementary school teacher and even as a kid, I already envisioned myself to follow her footsteps. I would play as a “teacher ” with kid neighbors and relatives as my “pupils”. I loved teaching these small kids and it was always a happy time for us.
But it was my Aunt Mariza, my dad’s sister, who encouraged me to become a Special Education mentor. She said it is a fulfilling career.
My aunt’s influence, coupled with my childhood dream, the example that I saw in my mom, and my reflections on my future all contributed to what I am today. I believe my love for children, be they normal or special also inspired me to follow this path.”
What is your typical day like?
“Everyday ( from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM ) I teach all 24 of my children with special needs with ages ranging from 5-13. With the help of six teacher assistants, I handle the kids from 30 minutes to one and a half hour long depending on their disability, some in groups of 2-4, but I also do “one on one” if with severe impairment.
From 3:00 to 4:00 PM, I do paperwork and meetings. These include checking of worksheets, Individualized Education Program ( IEP ) meetings and helping my teacher assistants do their service logs.
After school, I try to connect online with my family and friends back home. On weekends, I explore beautiful places with local friends.”
Any struggles or big challenges on being a SPED teacher?
“Yes of course, and there’s a lot. Every day has its own story, such as adjusting to your students’ mood swings, pacifying different kind of outbursts and temper tantrums, etc. “
How do you handle a very difficult child?
” There are three major factors that I consider in dealing with a difficult child.
First, is building a connection with the child. I really have to let them feel that I care and want to help them .
Second is identifying the best calming technique that is suitable for that difficult child. Would it be a massage therapy, art therapy, play therapy, the use of behavior charts, chunking method of providing the activities, etc.
Third is to always make sure that you are firm and consistent in implementing the rules or agreement you have with the child because this difficult child may just be testing your patience limit.
Once I have established the good connection and authority as a teacher towards him or her, then I can eventually de-escalate the behavior problem and divert the situation into something positive. “
Do you involve the parents in teaching their kids?
” Yes, this is really important and should not be overlooked.
I am dedicated to helping my students improve their academic and behavioral performances, but when the parents are not doing their part in implementing the suggested IEP goals that I have created for their child, for most instances, there is no progress.
On the contrary, when the parents are doing their part, it is very evident that there is improvement in their child’s overall performance.
Having a strong parent and teacher partnership is essential in the special children’s progress. “
How do you feel at the end of a school-day?
” Like a typical teacher, I feel exhausted after school. However, I really feel happy when I am able to control my students’ daily outbursts and help them make a difference in their lives despite their disabilities.”
What makes you happy or fulfilled on a certain day?
” Seeing my students enjoy the tasks given to them and witnessing their progress are the things that truly make my day happy. No amount of money can satisfy that kind of feeling. “
Any advice/s on those who plan to pursue a career as a Special Education teacher?
” Being a SPED teacher is a challenging but a fulfilling job. You need to have more patience, 100% dedication and a big heart for children with special needs.
You must be ready to experience the worst case scenarios. I have been bitten, slapped, spat on, punched and kicked.
I learned my lesson by being alert all the time.
As long as you are truly passionate with your career, it will feel as if you are just doing your “purpose” and not being paid to do a “job”.
How do you de-stress after a difficult day?
” I always communicate with my family especially with my mother and my sister.
I also try to socialize with my friends after work and on weekends.
I make sure I leave work on time and schedule things that I love doing, like hiking, baking, and trying new food and restaurants. “
There’s a point in our career that we realize we made a difference in someone’s life, in your case a special child’s life. Please share your story with our readers.
” When I receive flattering comments from the parents, that’s when I know, I am doing my purpose.
I will never forget that time when one of the parents of my students in the Philippines told me that she wanted to adopt me as her daughter because she really likes my attitude and dedication in my chosen career.
In addition to this, a lot of the parents of my former students, and even my tutees in the Philippines were encouraging me to build my own school in the future.
With God’s grace, timing and requirements, I can probably do that, but of course, I need to consider a lot of things and pursue further studies.
Hopefully I will build my own school in the future because it is my dream.
I would really feel exultant and be the happiest person in the whole universe once I achieve that goal. “
Lucky for Ms Rica because she has studied something that she loves doing leading to enjoyment in her career, thus she is now so passionate in teaching her students with special needs.
This only goes to show that if we love what we do, struggles become challenges and we can overcome these with acceptance in our hearts that this is just part of the package.
We also welcome these challenges because through them, we learn and become better in our craft.
We hope we can be triumphant with you Ms Rica when that time comes that you will become directress of your very own school for special children.
We wish you all the luck in your future endeavors.
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