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This special education teacher, who is bilingual in English and Filipino, shares her career journey and explains how speaking multiple languages has helped her professionally. She also shares how being an immigrant has, at times, made her journey more tedious that others. If you think working with children with special needs is your calling, you will enjoy reading the challenges and rewards that this instructor faces at work.

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A: I help students with learning needs so that they will be equipped with the necessary skills as they grow older and learn to live independently in the future. I teach them basic math, reading and writing skills. I also help parents monitor their kids’ academic progress and work with other school staff in evaluating teaching instructions and materials, analyzing students’ test scores, updating learning goals and finding ways to help students achieve focus and organization as they progress to different learning levels. I work with the education industry and volunteer at community centers where my service is needed. I have been in this profession for 12 years now, and I do enjoy doing it very much. I am patient, child-loving and goal-oriented person.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A: I was born and raised in Asia and my parents are both Asians, so I consider myself very much Asian in terms of looks, beliefs and culture. Although English is the medium of instruction in my country, Filipino is our primary language. I am female and currently living in the States. Being Asian doesn’t affect my views and goals in life, and most of my colleagues treat me well and make me feel at home. However, I did experience discrimination in some ways particularly, in terms of accent. I felt bad one time when I couldn’t do read-aloud to my kids during a state assessment test. Someone came to the room and read the read-aloud portion of the test to them. I felt bad because even if I had an accent, no student ever told me that my words couldn't be understood. At that time, I just told myself that whoever made that decision surely had no intention of letting me feel that way. After that, I tried my best to learn to speak the American way, and so far, after five years, I feel that I have improved a lot. Being bilingual has also helped me in many ways. Since I teach reading and writing to low-performing students, I can easily go down to their level, having had to learn the basics of English myself. Sometimes, people in school come to me for help and translations.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A: I am a special education teacher. My work entails teaching and helping kids with learning needs such as students with learning disabilities (LDs) and mental retardation (MR). I also teach English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). My responsibilities include classroom teaching, lesson planning, grading, after-school tutoring, preparing students’ documents/IEPs and meeting parents and other school staff to update yearly IEPs. I also attend district and school wide seminars and training and parent-teacher conferences. I don’t find anything that needs to be corrected in this kind of work.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A: It’s 9/10. I wish I could say ten but doing the paper work eats more of my time than being with my kids in the classroom. I usually have 10-20 students on my caseload per year. I just wish there was someone who could help us with the paperwork, so I would be able to concentrate more on teaching.

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A: I love this job. I love kids and it feels so great to be part of their lives. I can’t think of any other job that can be as rewarding as teaching students with special needs.

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A: Being a special education teacher is definitely inspiring. If you want to get rich, this is not the right job for you, but if you want to live a more meaningful life where your existence matters a lot to those around you, this job may be the right job for you. When you see your students march the stage to get their diploma, you will know that success is not all about money.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: I wanted to be a journalist but there was no way I could do it due to financial reasons. I got a scholarship to pursue education; so, I grabbed it. When I started teaching, I knew instantly that teaching was definitely my calling. I still like to write, but my heart longs to teach. I don’t have anything to change.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

A: Working with students with behavior problems is a big challenge; plus, working with parents who don’t care much is a huge disappointment. Kids can be kind, but they can be rude and dangerous, too. Prevention is better than cure so, I apply positive classroom strategies to help kids focus on the brighter side. I let students understand specific consequences for negative behaviors and it has helped a lot. I also take time to visit parents at their homes to update them with their kids’ academic progress—whether they are interested or not, I will continue to care for their children.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: It’s hard to find the right job. The job market is getting tough; so, I do my best with what I do, so I can keep my job for life. Although being bilingual helps a lot, some employers still prefer to hire natives rather than immigrants like me. Since I cannot change this reality, I just equip myself with other essential skills such as graphic designing, pottery and basic programming to make my profile more attractive to employers.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A: Sometimes I feel so burned out that I want to quit, but if I can’t teach for a period of time, like in the summer, I will long to be in school again.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: My students inspire me to get up early and start my day. Seeing them every day and helping them learn something new is a big accomplishment.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A: Difficult students' behavior and problem parents sometimes make me want to quit. But, when I think about it, students are just students, they need help, and it’s my job to help them.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

A: Stress sometimes depends on you. If you love your job, stress won’t affect you that much. My job is stressful, yes, because I deal with problem students and parents most of the time and of course, there are learning goals to meet. But, I always have time for friends and family. My strategy is leave work issues at work and leave home issues at home.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: Below 42,000 dollars per year is rough for teachers considering all the things that we do. I think teachers, especially special education teachers should be given a higher rate because we have a lot more paperwork to do than regular subject teachers.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A: I have enough vacation. We have Christmas(10-15days), fall and spring break (3-5 days) and whole summer vacations, in addition to holidays and special school days. I spend my vacation traveling to places and visiting my family.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: Aside from my bachelor’s degree in education, I also finished a master’s degree in teaching, but I still upgrade my credentials by getting some credit hours through special training, seminars and sometimes online education.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: I’m very proud to be a teacher. I help mold the youth and the future generations. Teaching is not easy but it’s very rewarding.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A: I want to establish a non-profit school that caters to the needs of special children and children who want to learn a foreign language. I want to have this done in my country of origin where poverty is a major concern