A Special Person; A Special Story
By Sarah Wareham
District Autism Consultant
Office of Special Services
MSD of Wayne Township Schools
Indiana State University Doctoral Student
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
When meeting someone new or catching up with friends, often the question, “How are things going at work?” comes into the conversation. For those of us whose work is our life’s calling, this topic is one that we are proud to embrace and will talk for hours when given the chance. We embrace the occasion to share our experiences with those around us, informing their understanding through our lens, and at times, asking for theirs. Yet how often do we ask ourselves, “What is their take-away?”
As educators, we have a special opportunity to tell our story each time the topic comes up, not only our story of our week, but also the story of education, itself. Education is the one profession in which everyone in our country has experience, and an opinion, as we all have attended schooling of one form or another. These experiences have made all of our current professions, livelihoods, and even our abilities made possible to provide for family, friends, and loved.
Have we considered that we can use this to our advantage when telling our story?
Dr. Brad Balch in our Department of Educational Leadership probably articulates this best in the Bayh College of Education, the need for educators to become more active in defining the realities of our current profession for inquiring minds who want to know. We believe that telling our stories allows us to better connect with those around us, forging bonds to each person’s K-12 experiences through the emotional connections we have felt, either positively or negatively. For this reason, K-12 educators have an obligation to leave lasting impressions on our friends and family by telling the stories of our experiences. Yet do we take these opportunities when given?
Currently, a disconnect exists between the portrait of education painted through the media and the reality of what is happening in our schools. If we had no direct experience in schools, we might think that the future of public education is dismal and further, that society is crumbling because of it. Unfortunately, this IS true in isolated instances of abject neglect for student learning, and for students in these circumstances, we need immediate and effective actions taken to provide them better for personally meaningful lives that are economically productive and socially responsible.
However, for most students in our country, the K-12 system of education is moving along quite well -- the need for a systemic overhaul simply isn’t pressing, despite the haranguing of pundits and pontificators. Often unshared in the mainstream is the fact that there are many great things happening for students in our schools, YES, in the traditional, public schools that have been around for many, many years.
Take for instances the partnerships with the orthopedic industry and the efficacy in leadership at all levels in the Warsaw Community Schools under the stewardship of a dynamic, new, and innovative Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert; or the leadership in school safety and academic intervention in the Vigo County Public Schools, led by Superintendent Danny Tanoos, his fine staff, and local law enforcement officials. Consider further the work of Dr. George Van Horn, Director of Special Education in Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation, and CAST who are working to imbed the principles of universal design for learning across their entire school corporation.
Incredible people are doing special things for students, families, and communities, some shared and many not. What is our obligation?
Amidst the sensationalized bludgeoning that is currently en-vogue with many desiring election to office, from the PTO President to the local school board to state and national positions, it is our duty as educators to step out of the victim role and stop whimpering about how the media and politicians are bullying us. If in moving through victimhood we can access the openness though which to envision another role for ourselves, we can then begin a path through resourcefulness and persistence in sharing our message – our special stories.
In doing so, we will then recognize that each time we speak of all the special stories happening with teachers, children, paraprofessionals, and parent volunteers, we very much have the ability to change the way others think. Our stories are emotionally compelling. More than that, our stories are honest, regaling feats of heroism in the face of adversity – Of that special teacher making a positive difference above all odds, serving as the parent, the coach, or the confidant desperately needed in a given situation.
We bet that you have more than a few of these very special people in your school building. How can we tell their stories?
Consider the power in the fact that when we tell folks that we are teachers, and DO IT RIGHT, the number one response really isn’t as much, “I’ll bet you love your summers,” rather it is more genuinely, “It takes a special person to do that! I could never be a teacher!”
Again, that’s when we do our job in telling what is actually special about when the buses drop-off children, each and every day.
Let’s capitalize on this sentiment and take those around us from where they are to a better place in understanding why our educational system is making a positive difference in a civilized society’s challenges, with its bottom line that special people, well-trained to supplant what society unintentionally abrogates, are working incredibly hard for students sent to us by parents who with few exceptions, are simply “doing the best they can with the hands in life they were dealt.”
Their stories then become interwoven in our partnerships, and in our lives – very special, indeed.
Sarah Wareham is a Doctoral Student in Educational Leadership in the 26th Ph.D. Cohort Residency at Indiana State University, studying Human Relations in Educational Administration with Ryan Donlan, Assistant Professor in Educational Leadership. If you would like to share a story of your own with them, please feel free to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com. They would love to hear from you.