I am a high school special education teacher and this is #MyStory.

Many say that my job is thankless and when people find out what I do, they tell me that I am a saint.

Nelson Mandela once said, ‘education is the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world.’ I happen to agree with Nelson Mandela and I could not be more proud to be a teacher.

Beyond the academic side of education there is a lesser known, but more important, aspect of learning – empowerment. Learning is difficult and challenging for every student at some point in his or her life. These challenges can make one feel incompetent, vulnerable and angry. Persevering through these difficulties and overcoming these challenges can make a person feel strong, confident and empowered.

The majority of students that I work with have been thrown out, ignored and berated for the majority of their educational career. I literally have students who have been advised by guidance counselors to drop out from school.

My school is becoming a haven for students who have not experienced success in other academic environments. Education is this country is presented as a ‘one size fits all’ paradigm and every student is expected to fit in that model, despite potential learning differences or life circumstances. The problem with this model is that humanity is not ‘one size fits all’ and beyond that, not everyone starts out on the same platform with the same opportunity.

Three weeks ago, Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the work she has done championing every woman’s right to receive an education.

As Malala has shown, education is an opportunity, and unfortunately this opportunity is not provided to everyone in the world. In my experience as both a student and an educator, I have come to realize that education is a privilege and not a guarantee.

Circumstances are different in this country. All children are not only allowed to access education but they are required to attend school. Despite these laws, education is still not provided equally to every student throughout this country due to entrenched systems of classism and racism.

Part of #MyStory, especially as a white woman born into affluence, is recognizing my privilege and giving back. First Lady Michelle Obama spoke one of my all time favorite quotes at the 2011 Democratic National Convention when she said,

“And he (Barack Obama) believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”

Michelle Obama hit the nail on the head of one of the most important goals of my life: since I have walked through and experienced success I want to reach back through that door and provide the same opportunities that were given to me. #MyStory is the belief that education is, in fact, the most important weapon with which we can change the world.

Yes my job is exhausting. I have been physically assaulted and called every name in the book. I don’t make very much money and in some past life I must have been a masochist because this nation blames teachers for just about everything. All this aside, as far as I am concerned, I have the best job in the world. Watching a student experience that ‘A-HA!’ moment when a new concept clicks for the first time or seeing a student walk across a stage and receive his or her diploma makes all of everything else worth it.

With each diploma that is issued, that is one less student locked up behind bars or one less drug dealer hustling on the street. More importantly, each diploma issued is one more student in college or one more person entering the professional work force.

#MyStory is rewriting the equation.

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Categories: POP

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4 replies

  1. I’ve been volunteering with kids with developmental disabilities, and now have a profound and immense respect for their parents and educators! God bless you.

    And I thought you’d appreciate this: http://karenwriteshere.com/2014/11/09/special-needs-kids-can-teach-us-a-thing-or-two-about-humanity/

  2. Special education teachers are miracle workers! I couldn’t say enough about our family’s experience and I love reading your story!! Thank you for all you do :)

  3. Awesome story Mia! I feel very blessed and special that I became a part of your story. I have learned numerous lessons from you and hope to learn more in the future!

  4. My school is becoming a haven for students who have not experienced success in other academic environments, great picture & funny see more.

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