Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Lure of Teaching: A Newly Minted Teacher of Elementary and Special Education Recounts Her Long Journey to a Teaching Credential

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Lure of Teaching: A Newly Minted Teacher of Elementary and Special Education Recounts Her Long Journey to a Teaching Credential

Article excerpt

Jillian Stelma was walking through the halls of her high school when a girl touched her back and changed her life.

A girl she did not know was tracing a number on her back, and, when Jillian turned around, the girl just stood there, smiling broadly at her. A teacher quickly approached and introduced Amy, a high school student with autism. Jillian asked a few questions and accepted the teacher's invitation to visit Amy's classroom.

"I didn't know much about special ed students, but when I went into the classroom, and I saw how those students were functioning and how they were relating to other people, I was just hooked. Those students might not be present in a traditional sense, but they are still processing information and understanding. Autism fascinates me," she said.

Jillian concocted an independent study course for herself so she could work in the school's resource room for credit. Eventually, she spent two years as a peer mentor, guiding students through the confusing social geography of high school, accompanying them on field trips, and even to senior prom.

That relationship convinced Jillian that she wanted to become a special education teacher. With a 4.0 GPA in hand, Jillian will walk across the stage at Murray State University in Kentucky in mid-May and become the first person in her family to graduate from a four-year college. She will have dual certification in K-12 learning and behavior disorders and elementary general education. She's ready to teach special education students at any level with a preference for students on the autism spectrum.

"I know this is what I was meant to do. A lot of people don't feel comfortable with these kids, but I feel I've been called to do this work," she said.

That pull and the vision of having her own classroom has kept her going through an often rocky 14-year path from high school diploma to college degree. On her first foray into college, she flunked out after two years because "I just wasn't mature enough for college," she said.

She returned to her hometown and, for seven years, worked as a paraprofessional at every level and with almost every category of special education student. …

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