By Josh Duke | April 15, 2019 | Posted in: Blog
Every student who comes through the FSU College of Education has a unique journey. As part of Autism Awareness Month, we reached out to one of our alumni, Amy Booher, to ask her about her journey. Booher, who graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Special Education, currently serves as a Communication and Behavior Support class teacher and primarily works with students who have autism spectrum disorder. We talked with her about her work and what it’s like to work with children with autism spectrum disorder.
Growing up, I never thought I wanted to be a teacher. I didn’t have anything against it, but I always thought I would be in the medical field. In high school, that all changed. I joined the Best Buddies program at my high school and that is where my inspiration came from. Best Buddies is an international organization that works to end the stigmas surrounding individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
One way they do this is by matching general education students with students in special education programs so they can form one-to-one friendships. I was matched with Kenny, a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder who was incredibly socially isolated, partially due to his lack of an effective communication system. I spent every morning eating breakfast with him at school just trying to get him to trust me, and after about three months he started smiling when he saw me and would interact with me by nodding and shaking his head. The joy I got from my friendship with Kenny, and knowing that I could figure out what he was saying (without him actually speaking) was empowering and I knew that I needed to teach students like Kenny. He not only became my best friend, but he also became my greatest teacher.
My title is “3rd-5th grade Communication and Behavior Support class teacher,” AKA I teach students with communication, behavior, and academic needs. My class is full of students that fall under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorders. I have three grade levels in my classroom and I teach them every academic subject.
Typically, my day starts with some pretty high energy from my kids. We have the same routine every morning: they come in, hang up their backpacks, put chairs at desks, and sit to watch the morning announcements. From there the day goes through a whirlwind of academics, special areas, meetings, recess, and lunches. As much as we try to keep the day-to-day schedule consistent, sometimes a student is requiring more intensive behavior support that I have to give my full attention to and our classroom plans change.
My students have worked very hard on accepting changes in our schedule, which makes it a lot easier during testing season! The most important part of my typical day is easily the teachable moments that are constantly happening. Because of the nature of the disabilities my students have, appropriate social and emotional behaviors have to be explicitly taught. When a student is beginning to struggle and have a meltdown, I can easily use that as a time to teach my other students what an appropriate reaction may be.
Teaching is hard. That being said, there are a lot of things that I love about my job. My absolute favorite thing about my job would be the tiny memories I write down and look back at. When my students do or say something that makes me laugh, I write it down so I can look back at it later. I forget the moments easily because I get so wrapped up in the day-to-day of being a teacher so writing it down is the only way I remember things!
One of my favorite memories was when a student of mine stared at me and told me “Okay Ms. Booher, I am ready to sing!” and proceeded to sing “Go the Distance” from Hercules. Nothing we were doing involved Hercules, but for some reason he needed to sing that song right then and it easily made my day. I live for those silly moments!
The best thing that the teaching program at the FSU COE did for me was place me directly in the field for practicums from the beginning. I had an opportunity to apply what I was learning, figure out what ages I wanted to work with, and decide what I wanted to focus on during my masters. I also had the chance to learn what kind of teacher I wanted to be – firm, loving, trusting, motivating, flexible, etc.
The most memorable moment for me as a teacher so far has been a card I received from a family at the end of my first year of teaching. The year was crazy and I was emotional because one of my kiddos was moving on to middle school. The mom of my student that is now in middle school gave me a card on the last day of school with a hug and some tears. The first thing written in the card was “you are part of our family now.” That is the best moment of my teaching career and it will be a hard one to top. I speak to the family weekly and even got to meet up with them for a lunch picnic a couple weekends ago!
Look at the big picture. Panicking over a research project? Take a step back and look at the big picture. Think about WHY you are doing this and what it means to you. Overwhelmed and questioning whether or not you should really be a teacher? Look at the big picture. I am one of those people that sees all the little things that keep dragging me down and I have to frequently remind myself to step back.
When I was a student, I would have to step back and see that overall what I was feeling sometimes was a small part of the bigger picture. I saw myself as a teacher; that was my big picture. Part of the big picture is also looking at everything you have already done. When I step back and look at the big picture now, I see the student that couldn’t read at the beginning of the year but is now leading the class in AR. I hear my student with limited language using a sentence with six words in it, see the student that uses a calming strategy without being told to do so, and recognize the student verbalizing how they are feeling for the first time ever. That is my big picture. Be sure to take a step back and look at yours.
Take care of yourself first. Teaching is a selfless field and teacher burnout is a real thing. You can’t take care of students if you aren’t caring for yourself. Invest in your own well-being. For me, that means venting sessions with my sister (who also teaches), monthly counseling, walking nature trails on the weekends, not checking my work email on the weekends, giving myself enough time in the morning to drink my coffee, etc. Self-care looks different for everyone but it will absolutely make you a better and happier teacher.
Interested in working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder? Learn more about our Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) master’s degree program.