Saturday, April 23, 2011

In a Nutshell - Revised Version

I have always been a planner. I am the ambitious person who sets her goals, and then plots out the way to achieve them. Yet, despite all this, my best laid plans scattered like dandelion seeds in the wind three years ago with just a few words, “There’s a 50/50 chance that you have Rheumatoid Arthritis or Lupus.”

Even during my teenage years I knew that I wanted to be a special education teacher. My father is the person who first sparked my interest in learning disabilities. I was, and still am, fascinated by this man who can do anything with his hands. I have watched him take apart everything from a FM radio to a car, fix it, and then put it back together. I wanted so desperately to understand this man who can do so many things, but who could not read or write a single word.

Teaching and advocating for people with disabilities came naturally to me. I remember going to the store with my father as a child and demanding that he buy prizes for me to give a younger girl that I played school with at the babysitter’s home. During my freshman year of high school I transferred to a Christian academy after a long bout with mononucleosis. In this one-room K-12 school house I found my voice. This was the place I first found myself advocating for children who had disabilities.

Growing up I always strove to be an above average student. I was dual enrolled in college during my senior year of high school in 1997. I graduated from Wilkes Community College with an Associate in Arts Transfer Degree in May 1999. Then I went on to Appalachian State University’s Reich College of Education, graduating with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Special Education: Learning Disabilities K-12 in December 2001. I appeared on the Chancellor’s List and Dean’s List while attending both colleges.

I went straight from college into my current position as a Special Education: LD teacher at Twin Springs Elementary School in Danville, VA. I have taught at every grade level during the past nine years as a teacher at Twin Springs. For the last five years I have worked with special education and general education students in an inclusive classroom setting for part of the day and a special education resource classroom for the rest of the day. I have acted as the Child Study and Intervention Team Chairperson for the last four years; meeting weekly with parents, teachers, administrators, and a school psychologist to develop interventions for at-risk students. I love working with special-needs children, and, most of the time, I do not even mind the paperwork that goes along with being a special education teacher. It is the most wonderful feeling when the child who has spent so long struggling to understand a concept finally gets it. Or, when the child who has been labeled the “problem child,” comes to my class and does not get a single discipline referral all year. I still enjoy my job and wish I could go on doing it until I retire, but, sometimes, you just do not get what you want.

As I noted before, the doctor told me I had a 50/50 chance of having Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) or Lupus. Well, I guess you could say that I drew the short stick. At this point you have probably figured out that I am sick. So let us just begin at the beginning. About five years ago I lost a lot of weight without really trying, about fifty pounds gone in less than a year. During this time my husband and I had also decided to have a baby. We tried for a few months and got no results. So I put on ten pounds, and sure enough I am pregnant a month later. The pregnancy was normal. The problems started after our little girl, Kiley, came. I was so tired and sore on a daily basis it was hard to take care of her. By the time my daughter was about fifteen months old I knew something was really wrong. I went to my family doctor and she tested me for pretty much everything. When I returned for the results I was told about the results indicating Lupus or RA. I also had a vitamin D deficiency and my thyroid levels were off. I was tested again for the RA and Lupus, sent for an ultrasound of my thyroid, and given vitamin D. The new blood work was negative, so we focused on my thyroid. Sure enough I had a tumor in my thyroid, and several biopsies later I had to have it removed. After the surgery I continued to have problems. I could barely function because of the fatigue, leg pain, and joint pain. My doctor did the rheumatoid factor test again and it came back positive. This time I was referred to a rheumatologist. It has been three long years and I seem to get a new diagnosis or medication with each visit to the rheumatologist. The current list is: rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren's disorder, hypothyroidism, Raynaud’s Syndrome, anemia, and fibromyalgia. My primary symptoms include: toothache-like pain in my legs and hands, joint pain and stiffness, fatigue, extreme sensitivity to cold, brain fog, myofascial pain, tooth loss, frequent sinus and ear infections, and moderately dry eyes. I take an average of eighteen pills daily and an injection of Methotrexate, a chemotherapy drug, weekly. I have continued to teach despite my health issues, even scheduling the thyroid surgery during a winter holiday so I would not miss any instructional time.

So what does all of this have to do with graduate school? Well, my autoimmune disorders have taken a toll. I fear that, with time, my health issues may begin to impact my students. Little things already come up, like not being able to take them outside for recess because of sun and cold sensitivity. I have to carry a barstool with me to bus duty because I cannot stand for the entire thirty minutes. I have begun to rely heavily on technology in the classroom to accommodate for my weakness. I use my classroom computer and LCD projector in preference to the chalkboard due to joint inflammation in my shoulders. About nine months ago I decided that I needed to make a change.

I have spent hours on the Internet searching various online degree programs looking for the perfect fit for me. I wanted a degree that would allow me to continue to teach without the physical demands and stress of being a classroom teacher. The answer did not come to me while roaming the pages of on-line catalogs. It came to me while sitting in an in-service with a local ITRT (Instructional Technology Resource Teacher). As I sat in this thirty-minute class on how to use the ePAT Launcher, a standardized testing tool made by Pearson that I had already downloaded and been using, I thought to myself, “I would be good at this.” Not only could I do the job physically, but I would enjoy doing it and do it well. I have always been a technology junkie, quick to figure out new tools and applications. I spend hours every month searching out Internet resources to use in my classroom. Why not teach other teachers on how to use technology resources in their classrooms?

So now it is time to make new goals and new plans to reach them. My path may not be the one I first envisioned for myself, but I will not allow my autoimmune disorders to take away who I am a heart, a teacher.

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