Why I Left Teaching to Become an Advocate

Many times I have a little voice in my head that says “who am I?” I am just one individual. I can’t do much to make a difference.

When I graduated from Pepperdine University I was ready to take on my role in the public relations field. I had completed my internship with the American Cancer Society and wanted to peruse the non-profit sector. My father had passed away early on in my life from cancer and I felt this career path was my calling.

That was until I attended a presentation on the lack of teachers in the United States. I felt so privileged as I was about to graduate from a top university and there were children who didn’t even have a teacher in their classroom. On a whim I applied with the Miami Teaching Fellows, a program that recruits and trains people with a non educational background to become teachers, and I was selected to join the first cohort.

Though I agreed to commit for two years, I planned to return to my original career plan. Yet, I found myself enjoying my career in special education and was a special education teacher for ten years.

My world changed when I became a new mom. Everything was a new experience and terrifying at the same time. I didn’t know what was “right” but knew I had a little baby who I loved so much. Mother’s intuition kicked in around five months. I noticed my son would only reach for things with one hand. He would play with one hand while the arm was always close to his body. During his six month check up, he was referred to a hand specialist. They did not find any broken bones or joints so was referred to a physical therapist. Finally, he was referred to a neurologist who diagnosed him with spastic , which means only one side of his body was impacted. Holding my little baby I was told to be prepared for speech delays, possibility of crutches and learning disabilities. As a special education teacher I was fully aware of disabilities and these type of diagnosis but when it’s your own child your heart becomes heavy. I cried and fell into a slight depression.

As we started early interventions and it was time for him to transition to preschool. I was lied to from day one about him being qualified to attend the preschool as well as the assessments that he needed to qualify. If I were not a special education teacher I would have believed the school. Why would they lie to me? Don’t they have my best interest? If I didn’t have my background in special education, I would have believed them and nothing would have been done for my son.

I couldn’t believe I was on the other side of the table. I have been in countless IEP meetings, assessed so many students yet here I was numb, lost and confused. I was fortunate to have an attorney help me through this process.

Yet, in the end a fire was ignited inside of me. I was so livid at how the district treated me. With encouragement of others, I decided to leave teaching behind and pursue advocacy to help other families in similar situations.

That most scary thing was biting the bullet and doing something I had never done. I was so comfortable as a teacher but knew only the basic law of special education. I began reading many books on advocacy, interviewed /shadowed another advocate, and spoke to attorneys. When the first client came I was so nervous. Would I do them an injustice? Who am I? I am just a teacher.

With each client I have crafted my technique. I have helped write due process complaints as well as reached settlements with districts. Something I never imagined I would ever do. Yet here I am, now helping one child at a time.

Note: This post is by a guest writer who chose to remain anonymous.