DADD Student Representative
Things don’t always work out the way you’ve planned. Five years ago I would have told you at this point I would be working as a special education administrator. Ten years ago, I figured I would be in Prague, fluent in Czech, and working somewhere interesting and exotic. Twenty years ago I prepared for a future in architecture, medicine, or film. Today, I am in my third year of graduate school working toward a Ph.D. in special education. I have not yet been an administrator, had an address in Prague, nor have I diagnosed anything beyond my own lack of sleep. And I honestly could not see it any other way.
The events and experiences that have worked to lead me to my current place in life once appeared unrelated and inconsequential. However, in retrospect they are interconnected and have served to shape my understanding. One of my first experiences with individuals with disabilities came from a summer camp in Michigan. The camp was not geared for students with special needs, but instead had adopted the practice of inclusion. A support team was available to meet the unique needs and challenges of the individual campers to participate fully (lodging, meals, activities) in life at summer camp. I witnessed kids getting dirty for fun for the first time in their lives. For many of these kids and their parents this was a really big deal and a reason for celebration. My experience at camp helped me to understand that sometimes something as seemingly natural as inclusion often requires intentional effort. In high school I learned you could opt out of study hall by volunteering in the special education classroom. I tagged along on, what I later learned to be called, community outings. I observed a teacher advocating daily for her students, expecting them to make choices, have preferences, and become more independent. I discovered teachers function best when they act as an independence-enabler for students. During my work as an elementary teacher for students with moderate and severe disabilities, I found teachers are required to be a jack-of-all-trades. In addition, I realized how important a peer support network is to both professional development and personal sanity. As an assistive technology consultant, I learned students should be given a chance to surprise you with what they know and are able to do. Now, as I am writing, I realize I have been a student all along and will continue to be. The only difference now is the label on my tax form and my shared windowless office.
I am certain your story is as varied as mine. If you have made it with me thus far, you’ve probably already started to think about your personal journey and the people and events that have shaped it. I encourage you to take a moment and write it down- the connections and shaping events, while likely unplanned, may surprise you. I look forward to the year ahead acting as your student representative in DADD and working toward increased student involvement and membership within this great community. Please feel free to contact me with your concerns, ideas, questions, or stories. I’d love to hear them. (Jordan Shurr, firstname.lastname@example.org)