NJ Teachers’ Lounge is excited to continue its Teachers of New Jersey series in 2017. Due to the overwhelming popularity of the series, it now comes out twice a month. 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.

Teachers of NJ: Teach Them That They Belong – A Teacher Reflects on Raising Two Special Olympians

“I teach at Communications High School in Monmouth County in Wall Township. The school is a college prep for students interested in communications, graphic arts, journalism, filmmaking, radio and TV broadcasting, and other courses such as those. They also have the core courses, and that is where I fit in, teaching them math for 9th to 12th grades. This is the start of my 16th year.”

“Because of the nature of the school the students are very invested in their learning. What means so much to me is that on an almost daily basis, at least one student will thank me on the way out of class. It can feel like a thankless job sometimes, so it can mean a lot to a teacher when a student says, ‘Thank you.’ I just really appreciate the students and the teachers at the school.”

“The happiest times of my life were giving away my daughters in marriage, both within the last year-and-a-half. It was amazingly happy because it was something we were not sure would happen. As they grew up, they both had some social and academic ways in which they would struggle. It was difficult for us to see them struggle like that. We were so proud to them, and they made us very happy, but over time it became apparent how they would not be considered ‘normal’ in the worlds eyes.”

“They didn’t have a specific diagnosis, though they did for some of the physical aspects which they corrected to an extent through surgeries. But for the social and academic levels of disabilities, no, there was never a diagnosis given. Clearly they had developmental delays though. We never pursued a diagnosis, though we sometimes wish we had.”

“We honestly wondered if one or both of them would be with us for the rest of their lives. They would struggle with things like having one of them go into Wawa to purchase something, and seeing that they were slower than most people, and sometimes I would watch them and honestly cry. It is hard for a parent to see their kids struggle. Their mother and I were unsure if they had the ability to handle life on their own and be independent.”

“One of the things being a teacher does, is it gives you time. I would be home by 3 O’ Clock on a good day after school, so their mother and I would do our best to experience life with them. Like taking family trips, going to Niagara Falls, just doing things with them. Just experiencing life together was really important to us all.”

“One of the things that became important to us was the Special Olympics. They found other kids they could really relate to, that they could fit in with there. Our first experience with Special Olympics was one I will never forget. The girls were participating in swimming at Penn State University. We were in a huge aquatic center. There were a lot of people there cheering on their children, but there was one particular girl who was in the pool racing against the others. The others had finished the race, but this one girl had only a partial arm and partial use of one of her legs, and she was coming in last. And every person in the entire aquatic stadium stood up and cheered for, helping her will herself to the finish line. And I am like, ‘This is amazing. The last place finisher is getting a standing ovation.’ From that point on we fell in love with the Special Olympics. One of the proudest moments for me as a father was being able walk into the stadium for opening with my two daughters. That was something I would never forget. The Special Olympics has helped our daughters to feel like they belong.”

“When Katy and Hannah got married and left home, it was incredibly happy and sad at the same time. Now we are readjusting to them not being home. I think when you are a parent of special needs children, your lives can become so enmeshed, and it is hard to picture your life without them. So for them to get married and move on, life is now very quiet. Even the dog moved away. We are still adjusting to an empty nest.”

“Having experienced what I have with my daughters has helped me as a teacher, in that it has made me more aware as a teacher that my job is to invest in the lives of my students for the 85 minutes I have them for 85 minutes every day. If I can show them beyond the math, that I care about them, then I am doing my job.”

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