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Part of Western Governors University

June 22, 2018

Teaching & Education

SPED teacher's disability bonds her to students.

When WGU special education graduate Julie Young heard an exasperated teacher apologize to her for needing her help recently, she realized one of the greatest barriers teachers face in the classroom is themselves.

“I really wish she hadn’t felt she needed to apologize for asking for my help,” said Julie, recalling how she helped the teacher’s autistic student overcome a meltdown. “Because someday I’m going to be that teacher hoping someone will help me—that’s just the cycle of how things work.”

Julie already went through that cycle when she woke one morning with permanent hearing loss in her left ear, the rare result of a viral infection.

“I realized I had just become like my students,” said Julie. “But it was so hard for me to ask others for help.”

Julie’s job depended on reaching out for help. She asked her principal to petition local vocational resources to reconsider providing Julie with hearing devices, since without them, she wouldn’t be able to do her job. The agency responded with hearing devices for Julie, and now she hears from both ears. Most importantly, she has overcome the disabling belief that she cannot ask others for help.

If you’re afraid to ask for help, here’s Julie’s advice:

1. You're not alone.

Let go of your struggle to admit to yourself and others when you need help. Julie said the idea that reaching out to colleagues and administrators signifies failure is a stigma, and the belief that teachers must succeed with every kid in every situation is not realistic.

“This is not a profession that can be done on an island,” said Julie. “Every teacher struggles with worrying what will happen if others figure out we have challenges because there is that pressure to look like you have it all together.”

2. Remember that your work is not about you—it’s about your students.

Since every student, every year, is different you can’t prepare for every challenge you’ll face.

“Every teacher got into teaching because they want to see kids succeed,” said Julie. “And there is a lot of power in saying I have your back, and you have mine."

3. Use the resources available to you.

When Julie lost her hearing, she looked for as many resources as possible that could help her. She joined a Facebook group who banded together to send her thousands of dollars’ worth of used hearing aids to help her until she could obtain her own hearing device.

  • Build relationships with positive and encouraging teachers so they can be your advocate when you need them.
  • Before a personal or professional challenge hits, learn about the resources that are available to you from your state department of education and administrators. Discuss the support you can expect from them if the unexpected happens.

“If I had to do it over, I wouldn’t have waited so long to go to my administrators,” said Julie. “I didn’t want to bother anyone, but when you’re a valuable part of the team, they will want to help you.”

4. Pass it forward

After Julie received her own hearing devices, she passed the devices from the Facebook group on to another special education teacher in the group who faced the same challenges that Julie had to overcome. After you receive help for something, offer support to another teacher before they ask you for it. That’s the full cycle of team work.

Julie said teachers spend most of their time working as advocates for their students, so it may be difficult for you to think of yourself as your own best advocate too and ask for help when you need it. However, she said, being an advocate for yourself is the most important key to your success and your students’ success as well.

“Just like some students, teachers might feel incredible shame when they feel they’re not succeeding and then give up,” she said. “But the trick is to have someone there ready to help you when you need it, and then return that help when it’s needed.”

Do you know someone who could make a huge impact on the lives of others? Click here to refer them to WGU!

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