Teachers of New Jersey: Dina Mercier, Special Education Teacher for Grades K-2 at Scotch Plains-Fanwood Public Schools

I knew I was going to do teaching since I was very young. I discovered I had a passion for students on the spectrum when I started working with a family in 1992/93, when I was 19. I saw an ad in the newspaper about a family who was looking for respite care with their son with autism. I was curious, I didn’t know much about it. At the time, there wasn’t a lot of awareness about autism spectrum disorder. I met the family and we immediately connected. I stayed with that family for about 10 years. They provided training because they created an in-home program and had consultants coming in from California to train me and two other girls who were helping. I couldn’t have asked for a better learning experience and training experience. They paid for everything. We had a consultant coming in through UCLA two to three times a week in the beginning. So, that’s how I decided to specialize in special education.

While growing up, my parents divorced when I was very young. I saw how hard my mom had to work as a single mother and watched how she did whatever she could to provide for my brother and me throughout the years. I think I’ve always been very independent, and I think that was because of seeing my mom struggle. I wanted to always be able to provide for myself, which I did as soon as I was 15 and I could get a job. I wanted to help my mom as soon as I could.

I don’t have children of my own. And it’s interesting. To this day, my mom’s like, “I can’t believe you don’t have any of your own.” But I never wanted my own children. I love what I do all day long with the kids in my classes. I don’t know how teachers do it, how they balance school life and come home and have a family. I still have no regrets because, to this day, I love the kids who are in school like they are mine. I think what’s unique is I have a lot of time to give to the parents, too. I share my cell phone with the parents because I just feel like sometimes you need to connect outside of school. My world is working with students and their families. I taught, I did early intervention after school, and then I did consulting because I was like, “I need to reach as many people as I can because I just wanted to help.” So, I think that’s what made me become so dedicated to my career and why I am so vested in helping those in need.


Interview by Gregory Andrus 

Portraits of the Jersey Shore 


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