My First Career: Being an Educator

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Before I talk about my first career, I’m going to take a moment to celebrate this one: March 2017 marks this blog’s 7-year anniversary. Woohoo! While this is a pretty awesome thing to celebrate, what few of my readers know is that I have a whole other career. I am a special education teacher, and I’d like to share my career journey with you as part of Women’s History Month and the Strength Has No Gender™ initiative from Brawny®.

I graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education December 2001. {I was the first college graduate in my family.}While earning my bachelor’s degree, I worked as a substitute teacher, a private tutor, and a teacher in a small learning center. Here’s an early photo of me at the teaching center. I look like a kid here!

As part of my undergrad program, I completed a partial internship. It was about 12 hours a week, and I was paired with one of my classmates. We were placed at Williams Elementary School, which was in a low-income, rural part of town. The teacher whose class I was in had no clue how to teach fifth grade {her only experience was in middle school} so I feel like I was able to teach her as much, if not more, than she taught me.

To complete my master’s degree, I had to do a semester-long student teaching experience, and I chose distance learning so that I could move to the Orlando area. I had an absolutely incredible experience! I was placed in an elementary classroom of children who were physically-impaired {most of whom had cognitive delays as well}. I learned so much educationally and medically, and the children were just amazing. My favorite day was taking a walking field trip to Publix that I organized. The kids got to see “behind the scenes” at the grocery store, which they enjoyed.

Just a year later, in December 2002, I graduated with my Master’s degree in special education, and I was ready to embark on my teaching career. I knew I wanted to teach children with special needs – They had my heart!

My first real teaching job was at Lee Middle School in Orlando. I was assigned to a classroom of 6th – 8th graders who were cognitively impaired. I was given a portable at the far end of the school, a few rows of desks, some paper, pencils, and 8 students. I had no teaching materials, no budget, nothing. I searched the school for whatever materials I could find, I purchased supplies out-of-pocket, and I figured my way out creatively. Most importantly, I began the first inclusion program at the school. I got the students involved in the agricultural program with typically-developing students. We also took the students on weekly community-based instruction field trips to learn more about how to make purchases, navigate different social environments, etc.

Unfortunately, that was a grant-funded position, and when the funds ran out, I transferred to Wheatley Elementary. This was in a rural, lower-income area, similar to my first internship experience. The students I worked with also had cognitive impairments. I ended up leaving this job mid-year because I was having all types of issues there, but I really did love the children. Next up, I worked with children who had severe physical and cognitive impairments. These children were medically-fragile, many of whom had either genetic disorders or cerebral palsy. This job was physically and emotionally exhausting, but I did learn a lot working with a variety of therapists and other educators.

At this point, I moved back to South Florida to live closer to my family. I got married, and taught for one year with high school students who had severe cognitive impairments, then three years with preschool-age and elementary-age children with autism.

This is when I earned my doctorate in special education from Nova Southeastern University. Why? Because being *just* a woman in a female-dominated field was not enough. I felt like I wasn’t taken seriously, I wasn’t acknowledged for my efforts, and I wasn’t important because I was *just* a teacher. My husband Richard was also *just* a teacher, but you know what? He had so many more opportunities, likely because he was male. Within just a few years, he became department chair at his high school, he was given different clubs to oversee, and he was teaching the exact courses he wanted to teach. He was able to be out-spoken and his voice was heard. When I was out-spoken, my ideas were almost immediately shot-down. My opportunities felt so limited and I was often left feeling entirely discouraged.

Increasing my education was a way to find more career-related opportunities. I wanted to do more than I could in a single classroom. In fact, I simultaneously worked full-time, tutored two afternoons a week, took doctoral classes full-time, and finished my doctorate in just two years {dissertation and all}.

This puts me at the 2007 – 2008 school year, and that’s when I began teaching college courses through the University of Phoenix. This was a really exciting time for me career-wise because I was embracing new opportunities. And I was ready to take an even bigger step. I started making/selling materials to help parents who had children with autism and related disabilities. I even started an LLC and carried business cards around, which brings me to my next opportunity. I was sitting in a restaurant with a stack of these business cards. I looked over, and I saw a girl in a wheelchair with her mom. I boldly approached them and let them know that I provided in-home educational services for children with special needs. This woman told me she was opening a private non-profit school for children with special needs, and asked me if I’d be interested in the lead teacher position, transitioning into a director position the following year. I accepted.

I helped begin a one-of-a-kind school for children with moderate to severe physical and cognitive disabilities fall 2008. I was on the news, in the newspaper, and began to be an important voice for children with special needs within the community. It was an amazing opportunity. I gave birth to Lydia about a year after I started working at Abi’s Place. At that time, I became part-time director and grant writer. I stayed at this school until 2012, shortly after Bryce was born. I really helped to create the foundation from which this school was built. I am still so proud of the work I did there, and I keep in touch with many of the families I was fortunate enough to help.

So today… How do I continue to teach? Well, like I said above, I began teaching college courses in 2007. I also started teaching college courses through Nova as well in 2012. This kept me involved in special education outside of the classroom. In 2013, I began working as a Faculty Supervisor for the University of Phoenix. In this position, I supervise undergrad and graduate students who are student teachers in public and private schools. I meet with the student teachers at the beginning of the semester, observe them four separate times, and provide them with guidance/feedback during each visit. I have two student teachers this semester, and I asked my amazing student Ms. Ruiz if I could photograph her. I’m so happy to be guiding her through the final stages of her education! She will definitely be a wonderful educator.

I’ve always boldly challenged myself to be more, to help more, to learn more, to positively impact my community. When I was frustrated with public schools, I earned my doctorate and began working at a private school. When I was employed at Abi’s Place, I found a way to be a work-from-home mom on most days so I could be there with my young children. When I stopped teaching, I began blogging full-time, and I still found a way to stay connected to schools through my Faculty Supervisor position.

I did not limit my opportunities; I created them.

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About Carrie Wells, Ed.D.

Dr. Carrie Wells is a college instructor, blogger, wife, and work-at-home mother to two children, Lydia {age 8} and Bryce {age 6}. Carrie earned her doctorate in Special Education in 2008. After becoming a mother in 2009, Carrie began blogging as Huppie Mama to share her passions for cooking, crafting, beautifying, and her family. In 2016, she rebranded as Our Potluck Family, and her husband Richard became a regular contributor.

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One Response to My First Career: Being an Educator

  1. Amazing journey. I love that you never settled and you just kept learning and growing. You’re a rock star! #client

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