NJ Teachers’ Lounge is excited to continue its Teachers of New Jersey series in 2018. This editorial series is curated by photojournalist, Gregory Andrus, creator of the social media series, Portraits of the Jersey Shore. These stories highlight the joys, struggles, and personal reflections that surround being a teacher.
“I am a speech therapist, and I teach students who are severely disabled, ages three to twenty-one at my school. If the students are causing too much difficulty then they send them to our school, because we specialize in working with them. The district will send them to us when they are too disruptive in their original school.
“I am 53 now, and I have been doing it since I was 21. I love the students. They are my joy. But it is challenging. A lot of them are bigger than me, and they can get physical. I have had five concussions on this job. But I feel like I have become the autism whisperer. I really know how to connect with them in a way that is deeply impactful.
“People who have autism sense the world in a different way than we do. They have extra senses, which is why the world can be too much for them… It is too loud, it is too bright, too noisy, so they have this extra energy. If they sense that you are going to be too much for them, they will reject you. So I have to come in slowly, gently and open my heart and soul to a place where I am completely vulnerable and empty. I cannot have any fear or anxiety myself, or they will sense it. So when they see that I am relaxed, it allows them to slowly trust me and relax themselves. If they feel safe, they will let you into their world.
“I get the most joy in life when I connect with a student that looks like they have never connected with this world. It is why I am on this earth, and I am happy that I can do that with the students come to my school. I know I was born to do this job.”