Interview with special education teacher, Nicole Dixon

Nicole Dixon special education teacher

What do you do?
I am a special education teacher with the York Region District School Board. Specifically, I teach in a Care & Treatment Classroom (formerly known as a section 19 or 23 classroom) in a treatment centre that the school board has a partnership arrangement with. The children and youth in the treatment centre are students that, for a wide variety of reasons, were not successful in special education classrooms in mainstream schools. I have 4 students in my class this year who range in age from 7 to 20. Three of these students have autism, and one has a developmental disability. Academically, they range from pre-school to grade 1 level.

How long have you been in this field for?
I have been a special education teacher for just over 10 years, and have been in my present role for most of that time. Prior to my current assignment I taught in community classes in the Simcoe County District School Board and the Durham District School Board, teaching elementary students with developmental disabilities and multiple exceptionalities. Before becoming a teacher, I was an educational assistant in a community class in a secondary school.

What inspired you to pursue this career?
I’ve always enjoyed working with children, especially those with special needs. I can remember when I was in elementary school, I got permission from my grade 8 teacher to occasionally miss art class so that I could go and help in the community class at our school during their weekly swimming trip to the local pool. The kids in that class were so amazing, and I looked forward to any opportunity to spend time with them. I think that experience is what first inspired me to become a special education teacher.

What was the biggest hurdle in attaining your career goals?
The biggest hurdle in achieving my career goals was hanging in the profession long enough to secure a permanent position. When I began teaching there were almost no permanent jobs available, so I had to move from school board to school board to secure short-term positions. At times, it was difficult to remain optimistic about a career in teaching, and it was tough to not know where I’d be working, or if I’d be working, a few months down the road.

What do you like most about your work?
What I love most about my job is seeing my students learn new skills, that are meaningful to their own lives, and will help them be as independent as possible at the age of 21, when they leave the education system. Most of my students are on an alternative curriculum, so I am able to teach them life skills, social skills, communication skills and self-regulation skills, for example. These are the skills that will allow them to participate in meaningful activities and vocations as adults, and it is so gratifying to see students reach these goals. I love being able to celebrate what others might see as “small” accomplishments with my students, because I know how impactful these accomplishments will be later on in the student’s life.

What do you find most challenging about your work?
Many of the students I’ve taught over the years have very challenging behaviours, such as hitting, spitting, pulling hair, biting or elopement. A certain number of these behaviours are expected on any given day, and dealing with them is simply part of my job. However, on days when there is a sharp increase in the number of occurrences, it can be challenging, both physically, mentally and emotionally.

If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be?
If I wasn’t a teacher, I’m pretty sure I’d be an event planner. I love planning showers, birthday parties and themed events for friends and family. I enjoy making customized invitations and décor, and handling photography during these events. I think it would be a good fit for both my A-type personality and my creative side.

Name one hobby you have that’s not related to your work.
I love researching possible vacation destinations in my spare time, and traveling as often as I can. The bucket list seems to keep getting longer, but I’m off to Iceland this summer!

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
It’s not very exciting, but the first thing I do in the morning is put on CBC News and make the bed.

And last thing you do at night?
The very last thing I do at night is read. It can be anything from a People magazine to a novel, but it’s the only thing that helps me turn my brain “off” before going to bed.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you enjoy your work.

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