By D.R.

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a teacher. When I was younger, I pretended I was a teacher teaching several elementary school subjects to my stuffed animals. From that dream, I knew I would take this goal and turn it into a reality. I graduated from college in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies early childhood education. I then began the long journey of working at several teaching jobs. I will say that everyone can relate to challenges in their work place. Here’s my story.

Let me start with the positive work experiences first. I loved my jobs, well, most of the time. Teaching gave me so much joy in so many ways. Working with many different types of kids: special needs, inner city, as well as children who lived in my surrounding area, has opened up my eyes. Each place where I have worked, the children have amazed me with their knowledge, as well as curiosity for the world. I have found myself laughing on several occasions at the little things they would say to me.

I have worked for a boss who understood my learning disability, allowed me to use my accommodations and gave me enough time to do my tasks that were being asked of me. The other thing that really worked well for me in the workplace was when my colleagues modeled a new task for me. They showed me how to do things correctly and watched me do the same thing by myself and checked for accuracy. They asked me if I had any questions and then I could do the task without assistance.

However, that wasn’t always the case. The things that were being asked of me and the lack of understanding of my challenges made other work experiences quite the roller-coaster ride. I have experienced several jobs that I have failed at due to various reasons. Teaching involves a lot of multi-tasking, as well as having routine change all of a sudden, both of which are very difficult for me. I had to create weekly lesson plans with other teachers, make creative weekly morning meetings that lasted 30 minutes, as well as write monthly observations on several children and put together portfolios and written reports for the children I observed. These tasks were time consuming and challenging for me.

When I first got hired at these jobs, I told them some of the accommodations that I would need. These included: wanting more time to complete tasks, as well as taking notes to help remember observations of children and the daily routine. They said they would try to help me as best as they could. When things became difficult, my co-workers and my supervisor dismissed my needs and did not understand why I had to use them in the first place. They did not comprehend what made the work so challenging for me, especially the multi-tasking. They did not want to understand that I needed extra support to help me be successful. They did not understand why I asked for clarification and asked questions more than once. Trying to remember what they had asked me to do, as well as keeping up with the day-to-day classroom duties, felt overwhelming to me. My supervisor and colleagues told me that they thought I should have learned how to do these things in three months, and that it should have come naturally to me. Even after meetings with my supervisor, and after I did what was asked of me, they made additional requests of me weeks later and still were not satisfied.

Another example was a job I took as a one-on-one aide for a special needs child. They hired me based on my previous experience with special needs children. However, I was not given complete information about this child; his academic and behavior plan was not put in place until a month after I started. I had to figure out this entire child’s needs, as well as incorporate the physical, occupational and speech therapy he received into his daily plan. This job was meant for someone with many more years of experience than I had. These examples, as well as other jobs I put countless hours of effort into, ended up with my resigning or being let go.

I have now come to the realization that teaching is not my calling and this has given me a lot of sadness, pain and grief. I now know I need to move on from this passion of mine. I am looking forward to and am putting all my effort into working in the field of customer service as a result of the training I have received at JVS.

I can honestly say that my disability has caused me a lot of heartbreak and feelings of failure. My disability is largely invisible. I am a college graduate and have had several awards and honors from my school. This has given a good first impression to lots of employers. I have interviewed well and gotten hired at several jobs. Eventually, that first impression wore off. My employers haven’t understood why it took me longer to do things, why I had to ask for clarification, why I needed to write things down, why I had to repeat questions or why I needed additional training. As a result, the employer has questioned my competence, as well as my fit with their other employees. This has made it quite challenging to fit into the typical work world. I’m neither here nor there – not clearly disabled, but not able to obtain required skills fast enough to suit many employers.

I feel very lucky that I have had the opportunity to work with the Transitions To Work (TTW) program at JVS. I want to thank my instructors, Corie and Alex, for their countless hours and giving me more insight into the job experience. I knew many of these skills before, due to my work with my job coach, Bonnie Glickman, but I now have new insights and perceptions on how to approach work differently. I have learned how to maintain professionalism in the workplace. Previously, I took my co-worker relationships to be the same as friendships. I would want to make plans with them immediately and think that these people were friends. Now, I know that there is a difference between a stranger, acquaintance and friend. I’ve also learned to not add co-workers on Facebook and not to bother people with questions about their personal lives, as well as validating what they have said to me and looking for commonalities in our conversations. 

Additionally, I have learned from the TTW program that solving problems in customer service is being able to use the “3 A” method. The three As stand for “apologize, acknowledge and act.” It is also crucial to use your eyes, hellos and help when looking for a customer who is either confused or wanting your help. You can paraphrase what they have said and recognize that their issue is the most important at that moment, and then either solve the problem yourself or take them to someone who can help them. As a result, this will make sure that the customer is leaving happy, less stressed out and hopefully satisfied. Moreover, this program has also given me insight to stay out of co-worker gossip no matter what; the less you intrude into their personal lives, the better. It is also important to have a healthy home/work life balance and not focus on work too much at home and not focus on home life at work. From this program, I have also learned how to look at body language differently. I think the way your posture, eyes and shoulders look, as well as giving enough personal space between you and others, shows how you communicate to your co-workers, as well as your customers. As a result, this can either leave a positive or negative feeling and impression of how others perceive you.

I feel that I am halfway along my work journey. I have had my ups, downs, challenges, difficulties and successes. I have learned more about what kind of job would be more appropriate for me. I have also received positive feedback about what I am doing right through this program, as well as getting very valuable training that can help me be more successful and hopefully keep a job long-term. I now feel ready and look forward to returning to work.

Thank you again to the generous Ruderman Family Foundation for giving me this incredible opportunity to help me overcome my challenges and look at work in a whole new way.

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