From Being A Student To Teaching Students
Every now and then I am in touch with individuals who I knew when they were students and are now young adults. One such person is Megan. Throughout her schooling, I have been amazed by Megan’s determination and positive attitude. Recently, Megan landed her first teaching job in a state away from her family and friends. I’m truly inspired by Megan and hope her story will inspire you as well.
Hi Megan. Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. Please give some background on your diagnosis.
I was born with the birth defect Spina Bifida. It was discovered via ultrasound before I was born which gave my parents the chance to prepare themselves as best as they could. They were able to find other parents who had children with Spina Bifida and could ask them questions. My family is still friends with these people to this day.
I was born paralyzed from my waist down and am not able to stand or walk. Initially my parents used a stroller with me and I began using a wheelchair at the age of four. I used a parapodium to stand in to strengthen my legs and began wearing braces with a walker. I stopped using these after the fourth grade and just continued to use my wheelchair.
Do you have siblings?
Yes, I have one older sister. She is seven years older than me. As we get older the age difference makes less of a difference to us. However, we have often talked about how difficult it was for her to be seven years old and having a new baby sister that required a lot of attention due to medical needs. I can imagine that it would be difficult being an only child for seven years to then having to share your parents!
In school you had a 1:1 aide. What was that experience like?
I had a 1:1 aide in Kindergarten and first grade and then a different 1:1 aide from second grade until high school. She was there for physical reasons mostly, but she often provided emotional support as well. She became like a second mother to me in many ways and my friends got to know her as well. My friends and classmates were used to having her in the class and thought of her as just another adult in the room. She would often help the other students as well so that it did not draw so much attention to the fact that she was there for me. I feel that she was an important part of my learning to be independent because as I got older she allowed me to do more for myself. Once I started high school, I began to feel that I wanted to be on my own. My aide respected my space and was able to find other areas of the school to help in. It was nice having her at the school even though I was on my own because we could still check in with each other and I was able to gradually become more independent.
Your aide was pretty awesome! Did you experience any frustrations during your school years and how did you overcome them?
I have been blessed with family and friends who really never treated me differently because I have a disability. Most of the friends I have, I have had since elementary school. Therefore, my main frustrations were academically related. As a result of my disability, it is difficult for me to process information quickly. Therefore, school was never easy for me. I had to work hard to be able to understand what I was learning. This is especially true for math. People with Spina Bifida tend to struggle with math because it takes so much to grasp each new concept. However, I had great teachers who were patient with me and willing to work with me to help me understand better. My parents encouraged me to do the best I could do even if my grades did not put me at the top of my class.
In what ways did your parents encourage your independency over the years?
My parents are a major factor in my becoming independent. As I mentioned, they did not treat me differently because of my disability and have made me believe that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to. When I was a kid, I was expected to do chores at home that I was physically capable of doing. I was also encouraged to participate in activities that are typical for any school-aged child. I participated in sports such as tennis, softball and even dance class. Not only did my parents support me in these activities, but they were there making sure that I was able to participate and getting something from the experience. My mom was an assistant coach for my softball teams. She helped me receive accommodations in these activities. For example, I had a teammate run for me when it was my turn to bat for softball.
My parents also allowed me to have experiences that many people my age have not had even without a disability. They have allowed me to travel with them to many different places. Being from a small town, I feel that experiencing other places has encouraged me to reach toward higher goals. It has helped me to understand that there are so many opportunities available and that I want to experience as much as possible.
Your parents have done a great job raising you. What are some of your accomplishments?
I believe one of my biggest accomplishments is living my life the way I want to and not letting my disability get in the way. I was able to graduate from school and go on to college and earn my degree. That was a major experience that has allowed me to be independent. I lived in a dorm with roommates away from my family. I earned my degree in Elementary Education from the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. Another big accomplishment has been getting my first teaching job and moving out of my parents’ house.
Yes! Congratulations on becoming a teacher! Have there been any adaptations to your work environment to accommodate you?
I am currently teaching fifth grade in Creedmoor, North Carolina. I have been waiting for about two years for my first full-time job so I was very excited for this opportunity! I was hired in the middle of September (2013) and had to move from Wellsville to North Carolina within a week. It was difficult to pack and move that quickly. It was especially difficult to find a wheelchair accessible apartment so quickly! However, I was able to find a place that works and even though it is small it works well for me!
I have not had to have many accommodations made at my school. I was given a choice of two classrooms; one which was on the second floor with the other fifth grade teachers or one on the first floor. I chose the one on the first floor for convenience and safety reasons. My principal and other staff members are very nice and accepting of me. Also, my students are very accepting of me and willing to help me out when I need it. It has been a great experience so far!
Speaking of students, what advice would you give to high school students with Spina Bifida?
You can accomplish anything you set your mind to regardless of your situation. It is important to set goals for yourself and stick to them as much as possible. I would also suggest surrounding yourself with people who are going to build you up and support you in your dreams.
Any advice for parents?
I would tell parents of children with a disability to treat them as you would any child without a disability. While it is necessary to provide them with any needed medical care, you should encourage them to strive for higher goals. Too many times I have seen parents that shelter their children and make excuses for them. If parents feel the need to make excuses for their children than that only allows the children to make excuses for themselves.
I really appreciate your time and your insight. Lastly, what keeps you motivated and positive?
Right now, my students keep me positive and motivated. They remind me of why I chose this career path and I cannot wait to continue the year with them. Also, my family and friends keep me motivated. They have all been so supportive throughout my life; especially when I made the decision to move away. I am happy to continue this next chapter of my life!
I look forward to see where life takes you! Thank you for your inspiration Megan!