I know I don’t Do It for Money, But Do I Do It for Love?
Seeking, Accepting, and Considering the Value of my Promotion to Teacher
For the few of you who have read my article on entering the Special Education field, Special Education Nation, it will be no surprise that I was pursuing an ascension to a full teaching position. For my efforts and my sins, yesterday, on the 24th of July 2020, I was offered such a job.
I want to put this in some biographical context. I come from a background of physical and emotional abuse, and I mean a healthy dose of both. I live with Depression, though I denied it until my early thirties-I’m 38. A week before I was graduating high school, I walked out and dropped out. I was in chaos. I drifted through a few years of retail work and partying, met and married my first wife, had my daughter and was shocked to realize I needed to grow up and get real. I went into management at the grocery store. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
In my early thirties, the screaming in my head finally overwhelmed me, and I did something about it. I shed a toxic friend, made new ones, moved slowly to psychiatric aid (compelled by divorce), and fought like hell to get through college. I was determined to prove the statistics wrong. I also met my second wife, the jewel in my funky crown. She is my reason for reason, to quote the great Rob Thomas.
Life is funny. Cliché, I know, but it applies here. I left William & Mary with a History degree and some serious debt. My plan to move on to a master’s in Education was set aside. Fast forward past two years of Uber and Lyft, some lost job opportunities, and side hustles, I didn’t have the drive to do work, and I landed on subbing at an elementary school. Oh boy.
Life is funny. I was home. It felt so natural to be there. I loved it. The kids, the staff. Everything. It has its hard days, and those little punks can be little punks. But I’m not running a rat race to make someone a profit or hawk a product I don’t care about. I became a SPED Aide, because of it being the only open position at the school, and there was my passion. My mission. My calling. I would do this job for free.
I knew being an Aide wouldn’t be enough for me, though. I wanted to take the coursework on the path to be a teacher. My wife and I discussed it. I was and am a big-time history nut and wanted to teach and live in the subject. I even secured a provisional to teach middle school social studies. It didn’t matter anymore. I had more important things in front of me. I took the first class, The Exceptional Learner, through the University of Virginia’s online program.
My teacher mentor indulged my endless stream of questions. My countless requests to show me her day to day. To observe, at the detriment of my work, what she does to do what she does. I wanted to soak it in. She taught me the IEP interface; I taught her Windows has a split-screen function. We seemed an excellent pair. I can’t imagine she will ever know how grateful I am to her.
COVID-19, with me as with everyone, threw the world into a big mess. And it took my kids away. In 37 years, I could not have cared less if my job shut down until now. I missed work. I missed the stress, the noise, the colleagues, the sassy lasses in the front office — all of it.
We all jumped in and tried our best to do virtual learning. I attended every grade level meeting. I set up a Google Voice account so parents could contact me. I was willing and ready to go every mile the school needed me to go. Our school had dismal engagement numbers. I won’t go into my theory or anyone else’s as to why, but it disheartened the faculty.
No part of teaching is easy, but Special Education on a virtual platform is a singularly unique challenge. Motivation, know-how, parental involvement, working with, and around whatever educational impairment the student had; it was a trial by fire. But we did it.
Summer came, stuff happened, I passed the time blathering on by writing Medium articles.
My mentor teacher texted me out of the blue.
“Did you apply for the open SPED role at our school?”
My eyebrows raised!
“We have one?”
“We do. I think you should apply.”
I was on the application in a quick minute. Our school transitioned to a new principal who I had not yet met (COVID, again) but heard high praise about her. I was excited to work with some new blood. She emailed me for an interview and my Zoom link, and I spent the next two days a complete nervous mess.
Reader, I watched and read enough content about the function and role of a Special Education teacher in the elementary setting in those two days before my interview I may now write a book about it. Countless hours of IEP reading. I am subscribed to a dozen YouTube channels about Special Education.
The interview day came. I put on my school t-shirt with my name on the back. Mine says, “Mr. Noah.” In my interview was the principal, Vice, the Sped coordinator for the county, and my mentor. No shot nerves here, I swear!
1. Educational Background? BA History, ongoing Education for Masters in Special Education.
2. Direct Teaching Experience? 2 years as a sub and a TA, ma’am. Some time as a tutor.
3. What are the three most significant issues you feel are facing Special Education, and what do we do about it? Ok, so a softball! I tried to talk about funding, but switched gears to time: too many cases, not enough resources. Then I flat out told her I am not well versed enough in the issues of the subject to provide a wise enough answer not to embarrass myself giving it. She smiled. I breathed a sigh of relief.
4. General Educator wants to remove a student with behavior issues from her class, what do you do? Meet with staff and analyze the effect on that student’s right to least restrictive environment requirements.
5. How do you conduct an IEP meeting? This is a long answer and one of the core jobs of a SPED teacher. I gave a passing answer. Be involved, be informed, measurable goals, progress, clarity.
6. Comfort with teaching technology? They don’t call me Mr. Noah from IT for nothing! I am a longtime virtual learner, and the school gave me access to testing software typically reserved for teachers. I’m good here.
The rest I don’t remember. I was mentally exhausted. Did I have questions? No, but thank you for the opportunity.
We had several strong candidates with credentials, I did not have. It was my first time at the plate. I expected we went with someone else. I was fine with that.
Six hours later, HR called and offered me the position. I was stunned. I honestly could not believe what I just heard. Did you call the wrong number? No, do you accept? Yes. we just had so many suitable applicants, I heard. We did, but your principal thought your passion and familiarity with the school made you the best candidate.
I was shaking. I would be a teacher. A Special Education teacher. Let me stress this point: Education is the only thing that makes a person free; it is the only thing that no power can take away once you have it. And I would now give this to others. I felt like I was joining a secret society.
All I could hear was my friend telling me, “remember what you are doing it for.”
I do, and I always will.
I told my wife. We hugged for minutes, she wept. I told her nothing was possible without her because it isn’t.
What’s the value? I don’t know yet, but soon I will discover.