Teach Starter’s Little Learners Month continues! In this episode you’ll hear from Ally Lovejoy, a second year Minnesota teacher who has always found joy in working with children with additional needs. Ally currently teaches children with mental health diagnoses such as Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive disorder, giving them a safe and accepting place in her classroom where they can learn and develop at their own pace.
“We don’t always see behavioural light bulb moments as often as we do academics. So that’s why I also like the academic light bulb moments too, because we can kind of get those on the daily. And then when we do get the behaviour light bulb moments, it’s like I feel like I’m really making a difference.” – Ally Lovejoy
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Early Years Special Needs Education – Full Episode Transcript
Bron: Hi, I’m Bronwyn Brady from Teach Starter, and this is For the Love of Teaching. Today’s guest is Allie Lovejoy, our first American Teach Starter ambassador who’s passionate is undeniably and completely contagious, even through photos. You can follow her on Instagram at MsLovejoyTeaches. Welcome Ally.
Ally: Thank you. I mean happy to be here.
Bron: Yes, so great that you could pop in. Could you please tell us a little bit about the role that you currently hold?
Ally: Yes. So I am a special education teacher at an elementary school in the U S Minnesota and I work primarily with kids who have emotional and behavioural disorders actually. So I’m not sure if that’s what it’s called, where you guys were, or your listeners are from. But basically it’s going to be students who have mental health disorders possibly such as PTSD or ODD ADHD. The list could go on and on, but I have 23 students that I teach. I’m kind of a resource teacher, but me and my co teacher actually tackle that together along with six paras (aides). So we have a pretty big team, a wonderful team, which I’m so thankful for.
But we’re basically there to teach math, social skills, reading all those areas that they need a little bit more help with and those 30 minute increments. And then also we’re there as a resource in case they’re a little too escalated to be in the classroom, so.
Bron: Right. Okay. So you have, do you have a separate room that they can withdraw to?
Ally: We do. We are so lucky to have two classrooms for our program. Actually we have one classroom that we call a learning room, so that’s where all of our social skills and math and reading groups take place. And then we also have a problem solving room, which is more when a student’s escalated, they can go in there. That’s the place where they’re allowed to be mad. We always stress that it’s okay to be mad. We all have feelings and if they need to be mad they can go into the problem solving with a paraprofessional or a teacher and we just use those deescalation strategies in there and take a little break.
Bron: Right. That sounds like such a fantastic supportive environment for those kids.
Ally: So we always talk about being proactive rather than reactive. So they’re always welcome to come to our room to take breaks.
Bron: What a great model. I really like that. Okay, thank you. Is that common in in Minnesota, is that a common model of education?
Ally: Yup. So we, all the schools I’ve worked at, at least I was a paraprofessional before teaching. We always try to be inclusive as possible. So if our students are on an IEP, we want them in the classroom as much as possible. Unless they are having a tough day or they have those specific areas like reading, math or social skills that they just need a little bit more help in. So in reality, our students aren’t really out of the general education classroom more than an hour a day hopefully. And usually it’s just an half an hour a day for social services time. But we try to keep it at a minimum.
Bron: It sounds like a really cool way to have the consistency I guess. And the continuity of them having their own room that they can feel ownership of and know where they’re going. Really lovely.
Ally: Yes, exactly. And then when they’re in the general education classroom, they have that paraprofessional support to kind of, if they need a little extra help, they’re in there. So they still learning.
Ally’s Call to Being a Special Needs Teacher in the Early Years
Ally: So I would say the majority of our students would probably be Oppositional Defiant Disorder. A few with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), a little ADHD sprinkled in there too. And then I have a few under the Autism Spectrum Disorder category, which is actually an area I’m super passionate, passionate about. I’ve been passionate about that since I was a young girl in elementary school. I remember always feeling drawn to those students and wanting to make sure that they felt special and included.
Bron: That’s so nice that you developed that kind of calling so early on in your life. Did you always want to become a special education teacher? Even from a young age?
Yes, I did. Like I said, in elementary school I was always kind of drawn to those students. But the classroom that I actually work in today, I interned in in high school, so I got the chance to kind of dip my toes in a little bit. I would go for an hour each day and sit down, sit in on a social skills lesson with the same group of kids. So throughout the year I got to know these kids and really see them at their best and then see them when they were struggling too. So I really, that’s when I fell in love with it. And then when I went to college, I actually worked as a paraprofessional in college too. And I worked mainly with autism a little bit with behaviours and that kind of confirmed it for me. It was like, yup, this is where I need to be. The days flew by, I fell in love with the kids and it confirmed my passion, that’s for sure.
Career Plans in Early Years Special Education
Bron: That’s great, so do you see yourself staying in special education or additional needs education longterm?
Ally: It’s a good question. So this is my second year teaching, so I’m not 100% sure what I’m going to do. I do think that I want to stay in the topic of mental health and special education, whether it be teaching behaviours, teaching with the autism area, or even possibly teaching at the college level and teaching future teachers how to be teachers one day, whether it’s special ed or general ed. I love both areas, but just teaching people in general. So I’d maybe go down that road. I know the burnout rate for behaviours is pretty quick, so my goal is five years, but if I can make it more, I’d like to stay where I’m at as long as possible. So we’ll see.
Bron: It’s so great to see your enthusiasm, and your excitement for your career because it would be a very challenging job, but I can just tell you do love it.
Ally: It’s amazing.
Bron: It’s really great talking to teachers who just ooze that happiness about their job and the joy that they’ve got for their jobs. So well done. We really appreciate teachers like you and yeah, it’s really inspiring. So speaking of passion, what are your three main passions when it comes to education?
Ally’s Three Main Passions In Special Education
I would say my main number one passion overall is building relationships, whether it’s with students or my colleagues in the school, other teachers. I love the fact that I get to build relationships with people all day. I’m not sitting behind a desk. I’m not just an am I computer and doing nothing. I’m around out and about getting to know people and then the students, it’s like getting to know their backgrounds, their parents, where they’re come from. It’s, it’s just so much fun to me, so I, I really enjoy that.
Then the other two areas I would say would be just seeing growth, whether it’s behaviourally or academically. Those are, I think every teacher would say they teach for the light bulb moments. And so that’s another one of my top two passions.
Bro: For sure. Yeah. And those breakthroughs, like they might be kind of few and far between, but it makes them all the more meaningful, doesn’t it, when you finally get them?
Ally: Oh, for sure. Yeah. Lovely. And so speaking of that, because it is a strenuous job and it takes a lot of knowingly brainpower but also takes a lot of heart to do your job because you are invest a lot of your emotions and you take a lot of your kids’ stuff home, I’m sure.
Challenges of Being an Early Years Special Educator
Bron: What is the most challenging part of your job right now?
Ally: It’s a good question. We all know being a teacher is a, it’s a tough job altogether. It can be tough, but like you said, it’s so rewarding so it makes it worth it. But I think for me the toughest part, and this probably comes with being a newer teacher is the fact that I feel like I’m making many split second decisions all day every day and just trying to make sure that I’m making the right decision for the students and not worrying about what other people are thinking when I’m doing. I’m really thinking about my students and those decisions can be the toughest part just to make sure, you know, you have that guilt in your stomach. Like did I do the right thing? And that’s the hardest thing for me, I would say. And I think a lot of first year teachers would probably agree with that. I’m working on it.
Bron: In genuinely would agree with that because we take so much so much baggage home. We take on board a lot of what our kids are going through. And then on top of that we, if you, especially if you’re working with children who had disadvantaged in some way or have a learning disability or a, you know, a lacking emotionally. Yeah, it must be. It must be quite hard. But we need people like you doing that job. So amazing. Just lovely. And I love looking on your Instagram because it’s so inspirational. You share these amazing things that you’re doing with your kids. And another thing that you’re really big on is supporting other beginning teachers who might be having the same challenges.
Ally’s Biggest Tip for New Teachers
Bron: What’s your biggest tip for a newly minted teacher entering the profession right now?
Ally: The biggest tip I would give to first year teachers would be build relationships with everybody. Build relationships with your students. Of course. I mean that first week if you don’t touch academics, so be it. Just build the relationships with kids but not only the kids. Build the relationships with your teachers on your grade level, the teachers outside of your grade level, the admin, the secretaries because they run the school, the custodians because they can get you through you really need just really get to know people and make sure, cause otherwise you’re kind of on an island. You know, if you aren’t building those relationships, you don’t have those people to hold you up and help you be the best teacher that you can be. I would say any person, you end parents, that’s another big one. Build relationships with parents. I know that can be tough, but when you have parents on your side, it’s really helpful. So relationships, relationships.
Bron: Amazing. Yeah, I 100% agree. Have you ever, can you think of a time when a parent teacher relationship that you formed has helped you and with a particular student?
Ally: I would say parents know their students best. I mean, there are many times where we just need kind of like some kind of reinforcer for a student and we often will ask students, so what do you want to work for? If you could have anything in the school day, a prize or something that you could work for, what would it be? And they’re always, you know, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t really want to work for anything. But sometimes just talking to the parents, they’re like going to list off a list of 20 things that they know that their child would want to look work for. So little things like that, it’s just that they know them so much better than anyone else in the world. So parents are key. They can help you out in so many different situations. Definitely.
Becoming a Teach Starter Ambassador!
Bron: Ali, you’re our first Teach Starter ambassador over there in the States. Thank you so much for being on board and all the amazing positivity you spread about Teach Starter.
What do you love about being a Teach Starter ambassador? And would you recommend being an ambassador to other American teachers?
Ally: Yes, I would. I, so I have to share something. Last year I probably brought my work home every single night and usually Sundays were spent planning. You know, like a lot of teachers, majority of my day and year I have not brought work home. One isn’t that exciting and it’s because of Teach Starter. So I use the app and I’ll often, whenever I have time I’ll just favourite different resources that I know that I’m going to want to print off the next day during my prep or whatever. And it’s been life changing because you print them off minimal prep and you have them and they’re ready to use for multiple groups. For me, I could use one resource all week for different groups, so I would definitely recommend it to anyone because it, like I said, it’s life changing.
Bron: Yeah. We just really love your positivity and your vibe and everything that you’re doing. So thank you so much for being on board. Thank you. Just one final question: if you could think of one thing that you love the most about teaching, what would that be?
Ally: The kids. The kids just make it so much worth it. Even on their bad days. Like you said earlier, those make the great days even better. So the kids are what I’m here for.
Bron: Amazing. Thank you so much, Ellie. Thanks for connecting with me this morning, evening, and I hope you have a nice start to your week. Thank you. You as well.