“Oh, you work with kids with special needs? You’re such a good person. I could never do that!”
In the past two school years of working with children with special needs, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the sentence above.
I know that each person that has said this sentence means well, but every time it is said, it makes me squirm a little.
It makes me squirm because, frankly, it’s wrong.
I’m not a better person because I work with special needs children.
If I’m honest…sometimes I feel selfish in my job. I feel selfish because I get to work with some of the most brilliant, creative minds I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to – and I get paid for it.
I get to work a school year schedule – weekends off, holidays off, breaks in the summer, no late nights.
And don’t even get me started on how absolutely entertaining and hilarious these kids can be – I can swap stories for hours with coworkers and friends in the same field.
But more than that, every day that I go to work, I learn something new about myself. In the past two years, I’ve grown so much as a person from working in the special education field.
Today, I’m going to share some of these life lessons.
[disclaimer: I’ve only worked in special education for 2 years. I know that there are other people who could give much deeper and profound insight than I ever could. This is just my two cents worth]
1) Roll with the punches.
(Yes, sometimes in this job field, it is literal rolling and literal punches but that’s beside the point).
I’ve learned that you can work and plan and prepare and last minute everything can change. And that’s okay. I’ve learned to let it go, lay down my expectations and just enjoy the ride.
2) Celebrate the little victories.
I remember a couple months into starting as a classroom aide, a student slapped me in the face and knocked my glasses off. I took his hands and told him that we don’t hit and he said, “Sorry.”
You may be thinking, “ok, what’s the big deal?”
This student was non-verbal. He didn’t talk. But he said sorry. I remember tearing up and my heart jumping with joy.
Working in special education has taught me to celebrate those small wins, at work and outside of work. Any win in life that may seem insignificant. Celebrate it. Allow yourself to be filled with joy.
3) A bad day is only one day.
There are days that are great. There are days where we celebrate huge victories and tiny victories. But there are also days that I feel like I’ve failed and should leave and go find a different job. There are days where I lose my patience with a child and immediately regret my burst of frustration.
But it’s only one day.
I’ve learned to take that bad day, go home, curl up in bed and binge watch netflix for a couple of hours and then get up and move on. I’ve learned it’s a choice. I have the choice to let that bad day define me as a person and employee or I can get up, put a smile on my face, fill myself with patience (and coffee…lots and lots of coffee) and take on the new day.
So, no. I’m not a better person because I work with kids with learning disabilities.
But working with these amazing kids does make me a better version of myself.
As Pastor Lee, an amazing man from South Korea who has an incredible ministry and there is a beautiful film telling his story, said about people with special needs,
“God sent them to earth with their disabilities. They’re not the unnecessary ones. They teach people. They live with smiles on their faces.”
I get to see this lived out everyday at my job.
I am abundantly blessed.