Interview with C.j. Foster
High school special education teacher-Santa Susana HS
I met C.j. about 3 years ago at a women’s social club. I was fascinated by what she takes on every day in her role as a high school special education teacher. I thought her interview would be very interesting to people who have little knowledge of this very specialized field. She has graciously agreed to give us a peek into a day in her life as a special ed teacher.
Q – Ms. Foster when did you first become interested in this line of work, and why?
A – When I was a kid I would visit my father. Across the street there was a kid who was Deaf. I really wanted to talk to him so I went to the library, checked out a sign language book and began learning the ASL alphabet and a few words. We were able to communicate a little bit through finger spelling. It wasn’t too long after that when my father moved to another city and I never saw that kid again but now I had a love for sign language. That experience set the stage for what I do today.
In high school I became involved in a club called “Future Special Educators”. This club paired students with their interests. My interest was sign language so they let me visit a class with deaf students. After visiting that class I knew what I wanted to do. After graduation I volunteered in that class for the entire summer. I learned a great deal that summer.
Q – How much schooling is required for your credential? Was it difficult? Was the process fun and interesting?
A – Before you get your credential you first need a bachelor’s degree, then you can enter a credential program. My college years started right after high school but I flailed around for a while taking a couple of classes at a time. I was also working during this time. Eventually I dropped out and just worked for a few years. Then a friend talked me into going back. I finished my AA at Moorpark then went on to complete my BA at CSUN. I took one semester off then began the credential program at CLU. All the while I was working full time as a teachers aide. Was it difficult? At times yes it was. Working and going to school is not easy especially when you have class till 10 at night, drive home, wind down, then work at 8:00 am. Ah let’s not forget homework. I spent a lot of time in the library. Thank goodness I worked in a special education classroom or I’m not sure I would have made it.
Q – Can you describe some of the various physical, developmental disabilities that you deal with on a daily basis?
A – All of my students have some level of intellectual disability. A few are pretty profoundly affected with their tested age being between 0-4 months, while others tested age is between 11 months and 4 years. The tests cover various domains physical (sit up, roll over, crawl, walk, etc.), language both receptive and expressive, and social/emotional. My student’s physical abilities range from fully dependent for all of their needs (feeding, toileting, positioning, dressing etc.) to fully independent. My team and myself are responsible for care for all of the needs of the students feeding (oral and g-tube), changing diapers, toileting, positioning (getting students in and out of their wheelchairs).
Q – I know that you work with a team of people; can you tell us a little about that team? What they do? Explain the dynamics of what makes your classroom a success?
A – My team includes 7 instructional aide I’s, 1 instructional aide II (medical procedures), a speech and language pathologist, an occupational therapist, vision therapist, orientation and mobility specialist (mobility and cane use for person with visual impairment), physical therapist, behavior therapist, ATAC specialists (assistive technology/augmentative communication), workability program, and other outside agencies. I also coordinate with a wheelchair repair company, lift equipment companies (we have two types of lifts one mobile and one stationary), and a bicycle company. Several of my students live in group homes so I have to communicate not only with their parents but also the group homes regarding any issues the student’s are having. All parents want what is best for their student. Occasionally what the teacher wants and what the parent wants differ, so we try to find that happy medium.
Q – Can you walk us through a typical day in your work life?
A – The day begins with 2nd period at 8am. First period actually starts at 6:55. The special ed students begin arriving on the buses at 7:45 followed by the peer tutors. The peer tutors help get the students in wheelchairs off the bus. The instructional aides begin the morning restroom routine. This usually takes about 45 minutes, rotating the students in and out of the restroom. 2nd period students usually work on a computer program and on IEP goals. 3rd period is Adapted Physical Education (I do not teach this class. I have prep time.) During 4th period the peer tutors take students to classes: choir, orchestra, and ballet). The remaining student’s work on their IEP goals or get out of their wheelchairs and in to various equipment. 5th period some students go to theater, orchestra and dance classes while others get out of their wheelchairs. Lunch- all students go to the cafeteria. I eat in the class or with the students, occasionally I eat with the other special education teachers. 6th period students go to choir and theater; also the students use the restroom. 7th period students do classroom jobs such as: paper shredding, pencil sharpening, paper hole punching, dusting, sweeping, and watering plants. The student’s go home at 3pm.
Q – What do you feel is the most frustrating thing about your job?
A – The most frustrating part of my job would be the paperwork. I just want to teach but there is so much paperwork that has to be done. Even during the day between staff issues, student issues, emails, and IEP’s it’s hard to actually be with the students.
Q – Which part of your job do you find most rewarding?
A – The most rewarding part is when the student understands what I’m teaching or they meet a goal. Watching a student do something independently is very satisfying. I show a lot of videos about persons with disabilities to the peer tutors. A couple of student’s have told me that they want to be an aide or a special ed teacher. That is pretty damn rewarding.
Q – If you could give advice to someone who wishes to enter this field what would it be?
A – If you want to be a teacher you first need to be an aide. Instructional Aides have the toughest job and if you want to be a successful teacher you need to understand what it’s like to be an aide. There is a high turn over rate for special education aides and teachers. People get burned out quickly because of the physical and emotional demand. My advice to people interested in teaching is talk with other teachers about the job and work as an aide.