The Difference between Fate and Choice Holly Mosier’s story as told to Janay Sander
“What is the Medicaid card doing up there on the screen?” In that moment I realized we came from different worlds. And it was a moment for a great lesson, but not just for my students. We were studying state flags. I had no real experience with poverty. Not at the time. I know a lot more now, even if I am always learning.
The emblem of the state of Indiana is on Medicaid cards. That state flag lesson became much more than learning about states. I learned that these kids did not know anyone in their neighborhood or home life who did not have a Medicaid card. My kids could not comprehend how I did not know what the card looks like, or how someone could go to a doctor’s visit without having one. My kids taught me that teachers are different from other adults in their life. Teachers have insurance. Teachers are clean. Teachers have money. Teachers have all this because they are lucky. It’s so ironic that my kids view teachers this way, because from my perspective, this is beyond a doubt some of the hardest work for the least pay. We have such different perspectives – me and my kids. That’s one of my main jobs, bridging the gap.
My job is all about bridging the gap. And it’s not just a job. It’s who I am. I am a special education teacher, a mediator, a counselor, a nurse, a mother, a boss, a social worker, an advocate. And that’s just at work. I have a family at home, too. They help me stay balanced and I am so fortunate. Some younger teachers don’t have that, and this job becomes everything, and if that’s how it is, it’s too much. I’m pushy, and I’m passionate. It’s what is hardest and also most compelling about being a teacher. Sometimes I bridge the gap between where things are and where the kid or family can imagine the future. I put me into this job and it takes a toll. Everyday I show up. I am the link between the school curriculum and what my kids need in order to learn it. I connect parents to resources, kids to services, and rally other safe adults to get involved to offer support for these families. I push parents to dial it up if they need to do more, or dial it back if they do too much. My goal is to be the difference between an outcome of fate and an outcome of choice.
What makes me most happy is when I see the outcomes of my kids making it. Making it across the stage and earning a high school diploma, or having a job in the community. I love it when they see me and show me their successes just by working in a job somewhere. That means they’re making it. The flip side is what crushes me. I see my former students in the arrest log, or listed as runaway, or with some domestic charge. I try so hard to do everything to help each and every one of them be successful. If they don’t make it, I ask myself, what did I not do? Who did I not convince to intervene? What resource did I overlook? Sometimes there is just not enough to go around for everyone who needs help. I don’t want my kids to fail because I didn’t advocate enough. Maybe they need a lot, but I don’t want any of my kids to have a bad outcome just because I wasn’t pushing hard enough to help them or get them more help.
It’s hard to convey how much I love special education, or how much the kids keep me going. I have thought about leaving. I even wrote a resignation letter. But then I just cried. I know for some kids I’m possibly the person making a difference for them. Who would do that if I don’t? Who would help Mikey with his mom? Who would call probation and advocate for services, or call DCS again to make sure this girl is not avoiding baths just to keep her mother’s boyfriend’s hands off her? I know these kids. These are my kids. Every year I think, “maybe when I send this group off, I’ll be done.” But then I know someone’s little brother will be coming in two years. I want to be there for him. Or I know a whole group of kids in the same grade as my own child will be showing up. I just can’t leave them with someone I don’t know. Who will do what I do for them?
They are all my kids, across the wide range of families and situations. I give myself to all of them. Some of them get more of me than others. The ones who need more get more. That’s the nature of special education. It’s all about leveling the field and bridging the gap. Sometimes I do that for a university professor’s child who is headed to college. Sometimes it’s for a teenager who was escorted out of the building by the police for dealing drugs in my classroom, and that one might already be a ward of the state. It’s still me giving what I am to them all the same. It’s so much more than just teaching. It’s phone calls to DCS, it’s petitions and appeals to insurance companies or doctors to help families obtain insurance coverage for a special needs device. For some, I’m there as a mom figure. For others, they have a great mom and don’t need me for that, but they need me to push them just a bit extra as their teacher. So that’s the me they get.
I have been doing this for a while, and I still love learning about disabilities. It thrills me to find a new way to interact, or a new strategy for learning, or a new perspective that can help my kids. When I think about my kids, I feel excitement, caring. Love. I want these kids to make it more than anything. I am doing what I love, and I love working with the kids I do this for. When I look around at the state or legislative decisions, or think about what the public seems to think about public education, I feel defeat. I feel frustration. I feel like I have no voice. I can only fight so many fights. I fight poverty, culture, life circumstance, even parents sometimes, and I fight the disability. I’m so lucky I have what I need from my district in terms of support. And I am surrounded with people in my life who support me as a public school educator. So I’ll go ahead and pick up this next group.
Janay B. Sander is an Associate Professor in Educational Psychology and Director of the School Psychology PhD program at Ball State University. She’s passionate about education for all students to promote lifelong learning.