This fall marks 10 years that I’ve been working as an educator. First as a long-term substitute, then as a general education teacher, now as a special education teacher. Next week, I’ll return to the general education setting teaching a 2/3 combination class.
As I reflect upon my teaching career, I’m reminded of the struggles, rewards, and wonderful memories in working with students. It all started when I was at San Diego State University. I have to credit my time as an officer with the Filipino Student Organization known as AB Samahan as well as my tenure on the Associated Students Council. There, I learned to be a leader on campus, communicate and collaborate with fellow students, and advocate for education and diversity.
One event that Samahan puts forth every year is high school conference. High school students from all over San Diego county and beyond are invited to visit the SDSU campus and partake in workshops geared toward social and academic issues faced by the Filipino youth. Suffice to say, being a role model, advocating for academia and leadership guided me towards teaching.
And teaching is not easy nor is it for everyone. Looking back, one has to fulfill a number of criteria to become an educator. Those requirements include but are not limited to:
A certain overall University GPA
Passage of the California Basic Education Skills Test (CBEST)
Pre-requisite teaching classes
Teaching Credential Program
Passage of the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA)
Teaching Portfolio Project
Passage of the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET)
In my first two years of teaching, I had to participate in the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) Induction program. With so many hoops and hurdles, there were times where it felt like I would never reach my goal. Did I have doubts about being a teacher? Yes. I remember feeling inadequate as a teacher. Were my skills proficient enough to have my own classroom? Can I manage student behaviors? Was I well-versed in curriculum? Would my partnerships with parents and colleagues be effective?
In the beginning, it was rough because I was new. My first year of teaching, I taught 4th grade with an RSP cluster. I still remember the names of students who left such an impression. Especially the one that gave me the most grief. As difficult as that first year was, I learned so much. I figured a lot about myself too and how to deal with discipline, class structure, teacher collaboration, school community, etc.
In the years that followed, I taught 2nd grade and would do so for several years. I even went back to teaching 4th grade years later. And I was an effective educator too, thanks to the teachers I had the pleasure of collaborating with. I coordinated the chorus program at my school, participated on the social, and PTA committees, and conducted back to school night, field trips, parent conferences, open house, etc. I loved playing PE and having lunch with my students, teaching them how to be responsible, to be kind to one another, and giving them tools to be successful with their social and academic skills. More importantly, I laughed with my students everyday.
However, during these years, with the economy spiraling, I received RIF (reduction in force) notices (at least 4 times). So imagine the requirements and hurdles that it takes to be an educator (see above), establishing rapport with students, staff, and parents, and then having your livelihood threatened year after year. Devastating doesn’t begin to even describe how that feels.
Without knowing how the economy would turn out, I made the choice to become a special education teacher (including going back to school and earning my special ed credential). Securing my career in my district was my utmost priority. So this would be my new journey. And during this journey, I’ve worked at several schools for two and a half years. As a special education teacher, my role was case managing student IEPs, conducting meetings, and supporting parents and teachers. Yes, I was in the field of education but this was another world. I no longer had my own classroom community. These students that I worked with were not my own. In short, I had to get back into general education. Now, there were some positives in my role as an education specialist. I’ve learned how to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of students I worked with, I’ve gotten to see how other teachers teach and gain insight into best teaching practices. I’ve established positive relationships with colleagues and supported families in celebrating their students’ academic progress. But I missed the autonomy of having my own classroom and building relationships with my kiddos.
I am down to my last week as a special education teacher. Yay! I’m looking forward to finally being back in the classroom, and I’ll always appreciate what I’ve learned from my time in special ed. A lot has happened in the last several years. The Common Core Curriculum is in full swing. I’ll be working with students who need to be academically challenged as well as work with two grade level teams. I’ll be working at a school with parents who are not familiar with my work ethic or teaching practices.
Yes, this school year will have its share of expected and unexpected challenges. But isn’t that what makes life and the journey interesting? I’m excited and I want to thank all those who have supported me personally and professionally in my teaching career over the years. It takes a village to survive the difficult times as well as celebrate those amazing moments. I’m lucky to have more than one village. And mine are top-notch. Here’s to a fun and successful 2015-2016 school year!