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.
The following edition of Teachers of NJ focuses on an interaction between Lisa, the parent of an autistic student, and his teacher, Mrs. Agathangelou.
Lisa (Left): “My son Emerson is five-and-a-half. When he was three he was given a diagnosis of autism. Emerson is considered non-verbal. So his challenges are anything to do with communication. He understands what you are saying, but he cannot get out what is in his head. And as a parent, that really breaks your heart. “
“He was placed in an autistic program at 1144 Hooper when he was three. When he finished the program, I got this letter that he was going to go to East Dover Elementary for pre-school. I was very nervous about him going there. It was a much bigger school. 1144 was much smaller and I was more comfortable with it. When I got that letter, I was so scared. His first day of school, I cried so much. My baby was going to be going to this huge school with hundreds and hundreds of kids, all the way up to 5th grade, and I was so nervous for him. But he had Mrs. Agathangelou as his teacher, and that has made all the difference.”
Mrs. Agathangelou (Right): “When I first started I worked at a private school in Monmouth County, and, at the time, I was an elementary special ed school teacher. This one kid that I worked with was non-verbal. And every day we would do verbal exercises with him, and we got him to say ‘Hi,’ for the first time ever in his life. And that was it. I knew right then and there I wanted to have a career working with special needs students. “
“After having my own two babies, I knew that I wanted parents of the kids I taught to feel like I was a part of their family. It is a huge responsibility. I see the struggles parents of students with special needs face, and I really care about them. I feel like, when you take this on, it is not just a teaching job. You are there to help these kids and their families, and it is a huge responsibility, and it goes beyond just the 9 to 2:30 class time. I talk to parents after school, on weekends; I will even go to their house. I just feel for the parents, and I feel so deeply for the kids in my class.”
Lisa: “Mrs. Agathangelou is amazing. Anytime we have needed her, she has been there for us. I can text her when we are having challenges with Emerson at home, and she will give me pointers on what has worked for her in school. She has even offered to come to his outpatient occupational therapy sessions so she can see what is working for them with Emerson. She just does not stop at the 2:30 cut-off. She is totally making a difference in his life. She is so invested in these kids.
Mrs. Agathangelou: “I always want to keep learning how to work with kids with autism. I always want to learn from the best. Like from Mrs. Burak from Cedar Grove Elementary. She has been a huge influence and help for me. She is selfless in sharing all she knows, and would even have me come to her house to help me set up my class when I first started in East Dover. “
“You have to be in this for the right reasons. I do this because I love seeing their milestones and being a part of their successes. I love being able to help the parents find ways to help their child make progress. I want the families to know that they are not alone in their struggles, that I am there for them.”
Lisa: “I am so happy she is Emerson’s teacher. I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher. What she has said about Mrs. Burak, and her being so selfless, has completely become a part of who Mrs. Agathangelou is. She is so selfless, and she gives everything she has to her kids and their families. She is an amazing teacher. The level of patience you have to have with a room full of kids that require so much, and a lot of them can’t even tell you what they are thinking, and it is a constant guessing game. Mrs. Agathangelou is an amazing, amazing person. She has become more than her being my son’s autism teacher. She is a part of our family now.”