Holy Family University - B.A. Elementary Education + Special Education, Cum Laude
Private Special Education Teacher Lindsey Lehman describes taking her current job as "the bravest thing I've ever done."
Lindsey was fitful and seeking more, but wasn't sure what that "more" was. She saw a posting for a job in Bermuda and applied; never stopping to question why she was drawn to a place she'd never even visited. Five days later, she'd accepted the position and was researching her soon-to-be new home.
As a private special education teacher (also called a para-educator), Lindsey focuses her attention on special education for one student, creating their paperwork and training and maintaining relations with the various adults in her student’s life. It's challenging work, but Lindsey says she's fueled by her passion for helping people with disabilities. And, as she says, "when a student accomplishes the only thing everyone else told him his whole life he could never do, that’s when you know you picked the right profession." That’s quite the reward.
The drive and passion are what will keep the midnight oil burning, even when everyone else says to stop.
What prompted you to leave your job as a special education teacher in the United States and move to Bermuda – without ever having even traveled there before?
I wanted a real chance at a life change. I was restless and fitful where I was in my life; seeking more, but not exactly sure what that was. I went looking online for jobs and saw an advertisement for my current post in Bermuda. I didn’t even hesitate to question fate. I just emailed my resume and within minutes was corresponding with my current employer. The timeline from that day -- to the day I accepted the job -- was five days.
I spent the next few months wading my way through lists of things to do while I spent most evenings searching blogs, reading articles and spending a copious amount of time in the Barnes & Noble travel section. I had a gut feeling that this was meant to be. Even though I didn’t own a passport, didn’t know anyone in Bermuda or had never even been to the country, I didn’t hesitate. My mom likes to say to my sisters and I that she was, “born with her suitcase packed.” So, taking that advice, I packed three suitcases and got on a plane. Two hours later, I was in my new homeland, sight unseen. It was the bravest thing I’ve ever done.
What does your job involve? What are you responsible for, and what types of responsibilities fill your day?
My official title is private special education teacher, also referred to as “para-educator.” “Para-educator” basically means I am a special educator for one student. I'm responsible for creating and maintaining all educational and behavioral paperwork. I also train the various adults involved in my student’s life in all educational and behavioral techniques in order to maintain constant contact and a fluid repertoire. These individuals include, but are not limited to, classroom teachers, specialist teachers (music, art, physical therapy), outside therapists (speech, occupation, etc.) and even after-school activity teachers (ballet, after-school clubs, etc).
Was there ever a moment in your career where you’ve thought, “I made it!” What was it?
The day my previous boss, the head of an extensive facility for people with disabilities, including a school for ages 4 to 21, described me as being, “someone who will be a force to be reckoned with within the special education world.”
I had just finished a presentation to the entire educational staff at my school during a professional development day when I overheard these words. These words, as well as the success of running my first in-service at a school, where I was more than 10 years younger than any other staff member, fueled the passion in me to continue my work with people with disabilities.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
Properly training and maintaining relations with the various adults in my student’s life. I aim to provide these adults with the tools to emulate me when I’m not there in order to maintain consistency for my student. This translates to different models of plans and copious amounts of training for everyone involved.
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
I strive very hard to always have a firm grasp of what's necessary to maintain a proper balance. I work hard at possessing the ability to turn off work when I leave so I can concentrate on the people who are important in my life outside of work. That being said, in my downtime I often come across items that are work-related and spend time researching them. I see this as a reflection of my passion and genuine interest in what, and whom, I teach.
What are some of the rules you live by?
I've always told my assistants, “You have a choice; you either laugh or you cry." Sometimes you’re laughing through the tears, but you’re still laughing. It’s a tough job that sometimes causes frustration, anger, annoyance and even fear. But that moment when a student accomplishes the only thing everyone else told him his whole life he could never do, that’s when you know you picked the right profession. That’s the reward.
What qualities does it take for someone to be successful in your line of work?
Patience, empathy and fantastic organization skills. Students, especially those with a disability, expect you to be consistent in your interactions with them. This aids in lowering any surprises or transitional issues a student might experience. I always try to maintain a constant work flow throughout the day. This doesn’t always happen, but it’s the goal.
What advice do you have for women who aspire to walk in your shoes?
Find the passion first. That is what motivates me to keep at it. The drive and passion are what will keep the midnight oil burning even when everyone else says to stop. Find the courage to seek people out. Immediately after I had graduated and began looking for a job, I called or emailed everyone I knew to help me out, then I sent them handwritten thank you notes to let them know that I truly appreciated what they did, even if it didn’t lead me to a job.
It’s cliché, but true: it’s all about who you know. Network, network, network!
Would you recommend this type of position for a recent graduate?
With all jobs, there has to be a starting point and a delicate balance of your knowledge base. While this job came a little over five years into my career, I do feel that having those years of classroom experience under my belt is a point of reference for me. Since I don't have a multi-disciplinary team to converse with and bounce ideas off of, I have to be able to provide most of the answers and make the tough calls when it comes to my student. This knowledge base wasn’t just achieved in a college classroom, but in the field every day for five years. So, while taking off after college seems appealing, I would make sure you have the knowledge to be the type of teacher you have dreams of being and maintain those contacts made during all those years. Believe me, you’ll need them.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Professionally, as a director of a community outreach program for an organization that works with people with disabilities.
My passion is working with people who have disabilities. A college professor once told me that you’re an advocate even before you realize you're one. I definitely was an advocate from day one, but I found my stride in my second year of teaching. I spent a lot of time advocating for my students within the classroom and within the community. Friends always joke that I’ll sign any petition that benefits people with disabilities; I think that’s pretty much accurate. I have the right people skills and public speaking skills to make real change in the way the public views people with disabilities and I plan on making good use of that.