Dear Parent(s) of child with an IEP, As the District Special Education Director, I want to say...
This week’s feature is Seralina McCormick Danielson, an English and English support teacher at Centennial Middle School. Seralina became a teacher because of the belief in her from those she worked with when she was a para educator. She loves watching her students as they progress and getting to know them. Here is what she wrote about teaching.
Why I Teach…
by Seralina McCormick Danielson
As a child, I enjoyed school. I had teachers who were invested in their classes, and I knew they cared. As I moved into middle school, that sense of overall worth and teachers’ investment seemed to diminish greatly. Maybe it was because class sizes were bigger, maybe it was because there were way more students, and it was too hard for teachers to deeply connect to all of them. I don’t really know, but it was obvious to me which teachers really made an effort and made me feel excited to attend their classes as opposed to the other teachers who just lectured, made us take notes I did not understand, and then give a test that I would bomb.
(Essay continued below video.)
Years later, as a single mom without an education and in desperate need of an income to support my family, I got hired as a para-educator for an elementary school in this district and which my children happened to attend. I also worked two other jobs to support my family, but I was grateful to have an opportunity to have my own children nearby in all my jobs. Within a few years, our school received a new facilitator and mild moderate special education teacher. She was amazing! Her efforts and understanding and connection with each one of her kids and her teachers was phenomenal. She mentored and molded me in my job, made me feel valued and gifted at what I was doing with our students. She and other teachers at the school told me constantly I was a natural and should become a teacher. I scoffed at them and joked that I had no time or energy for that and reminded them of what a lousy student I would make anyway. This facilitator and these teachers persisted. I even randomly joking said someday I would go to school, to which my facilitator created a hand made document stating she was a witness to my statement and made me sign it with her so it appeared as an official document! It was so hilarious in the moment, and I still have that document to this day (nine years later).
One day, I and two other paras were informed that we needed to attend a training meeting during work, and they would cover our classes. As I walked into the meeting held in another teachers room, there sat four or five of the teachers from the school, with two or three district administrators over special education. The “meeting” ended up be an informational presentation on how paras could become teachers. I remember laughing inside, saying to myself, “yeah right! I am not doing this.” When the presenters put it in terms of money however, I realized a first year teacher made almost as twice as much as I did working three minimum wage paying jobs. The fact that another para had the same epiphany, made it easier to commit to going to school because I had someone else jumping into the same trench I was. It was a rough, long, hard road. I had so many challenges along the way, but I began to recognize the truth these others had been telling me for years: I work well with students with special needs because I could understand many of their challenges. I loved seeing their growth and development as a para and realized I truly wanted to be an instrument in seeing these students, whose learning disabilities make it seem like they are so far behind where everyone else gets to start, succeed. Helping these students recognize they can achieve just as much in different ways and that by learning to work harder would help them get farther than others in the long run, made me feel exhilarated! I knew I wanted to be a part of that. I will never forget my first “team” and the powerful impact they had on me through their examples, encouragement, and support. I will love those people forever for the gift they helped me discover.