Who wants to be a special education teacher?

Not me! Or so I thought in 1973 after visiting a special education classroom as part of a senior high school college visit. My best friend and I had decided that we would become teachers, specifically special education teachers. After the visit, she walked away determined to follow that dream, but I left shaking my head in search of a new one. I just knew that I did not have the grit to make special education my life's goal.
Fast forward to 1989. I had gone to college, but dropped out to be a barber. My parents gently guided me toward a trade. Well, actually, they signed me up and then told me that I had to have some type of career. Since I had been cutting all of my friends' and family members' hair anyway, it seemed to be a good choice. I never could decide what I wanted to 'be,' so cutting hair made sense. Most of my friends exuded such passion about their career choices, but I never felt that "lightning bolt whammy" of inspiration.
Eventually after barbering for several years, I went back to school. I was a single parent and the hours were grueling, so I decided to become a teacher. Again, no lightning bolt, but at least our schedules would coincide. So, I looked at my past transcripts and remembered my favorite classes: health and psychology. Four years later, with a Masters in health education and a minor in psychology, I taught my first university health class. I absolutely loved the experience and spent the next four years teaching at the collegiate level.
Unfortunately, due to the late 1980's farming crisis in the Midwest (I lived in Illinois), I lost my position. Reduced enrollment meant a drastic decrease in non-tenured associate professors, so I decided to try my luck on the east coast, specifically Pennsylvania. Double whammy - my teaching certificate was not transferable and health education was not mandated in schools. I took classes, became certified, and started substituting for an Intermediate unit as health positions were impossible to find at any level. At that time, the intermediate units were responsible for all special services in the public schools in PA.
So now you're thinking, "See, she really was called to teach special education!" Wrong again! Still no zap from the skies. They paid almost double the per diem salary as the public schools and had enough work available that I could work every day if I wanted. Most of the classes were self-contained and I observed and learned a lot, not so much about teaching, but more about behavior. My background in psychology and the multidimensional aspects of health gave me a strong foundation for relating to the children. Soon, I fostered a reputation for being able to handle even the most difficult classes. Who knew?
I got an emergency call one week before the 1990/91 school year started. A teacher was diagnosed with late stage cancer and her unbacked 'new' classroom in an elementary school needed organization and a teacher. I visited, took one look at the room and materials, and politely declined. I had no training in phonics, math, and other academics, and truly no clue what an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) involved.
Didn't work! They called me the next day and literally begged me to take the assignment. I have always been a sucker for the underdog and I couldn't refuse. I spent a week unpacking, decorating, and writing lesson plans for subjects that I had no idea how to teach. Luckily, I speed read and the other special education teacher was a saint. She taught me more in those first weeks then I ever learned in subsequent classes.
The lightning bolt never really hit me, but the stormed raged. Over the next semester, I learned the meaning of grit, respect, and pride from those kids. Every day they got off the buses with smiles on their faces, even though I heard one general education student call my room the 'dummy' room. They tried to master content that was as difficult to them as climbing Mt. Everest. They learned to replace negative behaviors with socially acceptable ones. They eagerly faced their peers seeking acceptance over and over again despite repeated rejections. They became my heroes.
Teaching special education is a hard, sometimes brutal job. You are not only responsible for educating the children, but often the parents and general education teachers as well. Emotions run high and it takes a certain type of personality to weather the storm. Am I patient? Maybe, but I truly feel my gift is being able to hate a behavior, yet still love the child.
So I never felt the "lightning bolt whammy" of career choice, but the steady drizzle was beyond comprehension. I got to spend 20 years helping my heroes and their families learn, laugh, and succeed!