I have always struggled to describe myself. Whenever I’ve been coerced into “get to know you games”, my mind has always emptied into a vast, wordless black hole. I’m never sure what others might find interesting, nor can I ever convince myself that anyone really wants to know. Besides, those intro games are all just the WORST! As I start this blogging, entrepreneurial journey, I recognize that it is probably important to introduce myself to whoever may visit my page, and provide a background as to why this work is important to me.
My journey to this point begins 8 years before I was born, on the day my sister was brought into the world, traumatically and well before she was ready. A horrible accident and an emergency (anesthesia-less) cesarean, meant that Anna would later be diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, a seizure disorder, and a whole host of other complications. As children, we often believe our circumstances are the same as everyone else. I thought that everyone had a sibling who used a wheelchair. Having service providers in my house, visiting the children’s hospital, and feedings through a g-tube seemed normal, and at times overwhelming; so much so that I balked at ever getting involved in the medical field. In college at the University of Connecticut, I earned my bachelor’s in Communication Disorders. In addition to all my required coursework, I became fascinated with psychology and immediately following graduation, I started an Educational Psychology Master’s program through the NEAG School of Education at UConn and the following summer I was looking for teaching jobs, exclusively in elementary schools.
I had an excellent degree from a great teacher training program, and yet August arrived, and I still hadn’t been offered a job! Desperate, I began to apply at high schools. Two weeks after the start of school, a charter school in Hartford took a chance on me, and suddenly I was a full-fledged career woman, armed only with college knowledge and limited world experience. It was baptism by fire. I was the only certified Special Education teacher in the high school (which was just two grades and growing), and my administrator was “network level” which meant she stopped by for weekly (and then later, biweekly) meetings to check on me. Essentially, I acted as administrator, provided all special education supports, both in and out of class, administrated all evaluations, wrote all IEPs, facilitated professional development for teachers, and I could go on and on. I loved it, I was good at it (my program had the highest level of legal compliance and student/family satisfaction in the entire network), but I couldn’t keep up. Midway through my second year came the dreaded teacher evaluation. They brought three administrators to observe me and two students who were on our fourth day of an entirely new program. My plan for this day was 45 minutes of independent reading using the tablets while I individually conferenced with kids and helped them troubleshoot the new software. The evaluators were less than impressed and I took this very hard. One told me, “…the way I see it, you do two things for us, administrative tasks, and teach. We have no complaints about your administrative work, but as a teacher, you have a lot of improvements to make.” I knew that, while my experience there was invaluable, and I loved the students, staff, and work I was doing, I owed it to myself to find a school where I could work on a team and really focus on improving my teaching. I relocated to Boston and found just that. While there, I was able to maintain some leadership roles and develop programs, but my primary role was to teach, and I focused on improving my craft. I also had my first child during my first semester there. The year and a half that I lived in Boston were full of personal and professional change and growth. I loved my school, and I loved my job. I wanted to stay there forever, but living in Boston was tough financially. Apartments are expensive, babies are expensive, and just as my second year started, I found out I was having another one! We were happy but overwhelmed. It’s hard to be filled with bliss over new life when you are scraping by.
In January, I was contacted by a former co-worker who was working in a brand new charter school south of Boston. They were desperate. Their Special Education program was being run into the ground, and they had a state evaluation coming up in a few months. I hated to leave my school, but financially, it seemed to be my only option. I signed on with a contract through July and got right to work. I was trying to beat the clock, the state visit was in April and the baby was coming in May. I found that the program needed a lot of overhaul from the distribution of staff to the filing of the paperwork. It was exhausting, sometimes thankless, but, when I got it all done with time to spare, extraordinarily rewarding. I loved being involved in decision-making and developing professional development, and working with teachers on how to get the best results from their struggling students. I was in what I thought was the exact place I wanted to be, a Special Education Administrator on track to someday becoming a principal. But, as it often goes, the rug of life was ripped out of me when in October I lost my job. My position was eliminated, and I was heartbroken. I felt defeated, humiliated, and terrified. I had a two-year-old and a six-month-old and I was the primary earner and provider. I was working well above my qualifications and I would not be able to find anyone to offer me that type of work, at that salary level, without going back to school and going back to teaching for several years. I spent many months enraged and filled with hurt and sadness at the betrayal I felt. I had uprooted my family and left a job I loved to only end up unemployed and living in an apartment we could no longer afford.
We spent a month living in my parent’s basement on an air mattress while we saved money and relocated back near our families into a great apartment with plenty of space and a big backyard. It seemed like maybe God was telling us that things were going to be fine, and yet I couldn’t find work. I had all this experience, all these qualifications and no job for the first time since I was 15 years old. I loved being home with my girls, but I felt completely unfulfilled. I was hanging onto my bitterness, wrapping it around myself like a protective blanket. I lost my purpose and I blamed everything but myself for it. Sure, losing my job had very little to do with me when you broke it down, and there were others to blame, but me losing sight of my own power and what I had to offer the world? That was on me. I had all these ideas in my head, things I wanted to communicate. I missed education, I missed who I thought I was.
I am putting all of this in the past tense like it was months ago, but it has only been a few days since I put down the “cloak of bitterness” that surrounded my heart and mind. I posted some of my thoughts on the importance of reading to children on my Instagram story, and all the passion that I have for literacy, all the experience I have in education, filled my heart and mind and it was like something clicked for me. I realized I could use the platform to share some of what I’ve learned professionally, and what I’m going through as a mom with others, as well as build a business offering tutoring and support to children and families impacted by disabilities or, what I prefer to call them, exceptionalities. I want exceptional children, AND their exceptional families, to feel supported and knowledgeable about what their obstacles and strengths may be in order for them to ultimately be successful and empowered.
I’m sure it won’t be easy, balancing everything, but easy is not what I’m used to. Working under pressure, fighting the clock, balancing and compartmentalizing many different projects at once are all a part of the job descriptions I’ve had in the past, and the one I’m creating for myself from this point forward. Right now, as I write, my two children are having a literal screaming match (who can say “Baba” at a louder volume and higher pitch, only time will tell), but no one is on the counter sneaking snacks or hanging from the banister so, I’m letting it go. Feeling totally in charge of this mom thing. Who says women can’t do it all?