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June 26, 2013 / maxpproductions

Janice Erickson- Special Education Teacher

ImageJanice Erickson

There are some people who are simply meant to be teachers. They have a kindness and warmth about them that makes students and fellow teachers alike gravitate towards them.

Janice Erickson is one of those people. I first met Janice several years ago when I became a teacher assistant at a school specializing in educating students with Autism and emotional disabilities. On my first day I was wrecked with nerves. I had never worked with students with disabilities and I was terrified that the students wouldn’t like me or that I would do a poor job. Janice, with her bright smile and kind voice, instantly took those nerves away. She was, quite simply, the kindest person I had ever met. It is that kindness that she bestows upon her students that makes her one of the most amazing teachers I’ve come to work with.

In addition to the warmth she shares with others, Janice is such a brilliant educator because of her love for reading and learning. When one walks into her classroom, there are shelves of books. And similar to the goals of Max P. Productions, Janice chooses literature and lesson plans based on helping students understand their worth and value. We were so excited to interview Janice because she shares many of the same goals we do: to help young people understand that with appreciation and the right attitude, absolutely anything is possible.

Tell us about when you first knew you wanted to be a teacher, and, in particular when you wanted to work in special education as opposed to regular education.

Teaching was always something I thought about doing, but never thought about doing seriously. After high school, I went to the local community college in pursuit of a Liberal Arts Degree to buy myself some time while figuring out what to do with my life. Throughout my years there I took a lot of classes in early childhood. Turned out, I loved them! I left college with an Associates Degree and during the next couple of years I earned my bachelors degree in Elementary Education and Special Education, and eventually earned a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. I did three semesters of student teaching while earning my degrees. The first semester I student taught in a general education third grade classroom. It was then that I knew general ed was not for me. I gravitated towards the students who needed extra help, and found that I was bored most of the other times. I craved the constant action and interaction that I was used to when working with students in special ed.  My next two student teaching placements were both in the school I was working in, where I slowly began to climbed the ladder and got closer to my new goal of becoming a special education teacher.  In time, I reached my goal. I am now teaching special education and couldn’t imagine my career being anything other then what it is now!

How do you incorporate literature into your classroom? What literature do you find has the most impact on your students?

Literature is a huge part of both my personal and professional life. I am constantly looking for the next best thing to read, so naturally, my classroom has a small library set up with books and bean bag chair.  Students have access to books on various reading levels and topics. Many times I will begin a lesson, or introduce a new theme with a book.  I try to find a book that will engage all of the students and their various levels of learning and interests. I use the computer to make pictures that correlate with the book and have the students match the pictures to the book. I usually read the book aloud and when I am finished I leave it out for them to look at during their free time.  I find that simple and concrete literature has the biggest impact on my students. Things they can relate to, and with pictures that aren’t too abstract.

One of the events the school you work in likes to hold is a day where companion dogs are brought in and the students have a chance to pet and spend time with those dogs. How do you feel the students respond to those companion dogs? Can you give a few specific examples of students interacting with those dogs?

Overall, the students really look forward to visiting with the companion dogs. My class specifically would eagerly wait their turn, and then run into the library (where the dog interactions take place) to get the closest spot possible to the dog. I have noticed that students who are typically full of energy, seem to relax a bit when playing with the dog. They hug her, kiss her, play with her paws and even lay down on the floor next to her!  Students who don’t socialize very easily are calm and focused on the dog, and will say hello and pet her. A specific example of a student interacting with the dog often comes to mind. The young man is about 12 years old, and not a fan of animals. He frequently tells us that his brother is afraid of dogs, but I have a feeling the fear is mutual! The first time he met the companion dog, he sat across the room, and wouldn’t look at her. He got upset with us for suggesting that he say hello. The next time he met the dog, he still refused to say hello to, or touch the dog, but he moved his chair closer. We met the dog three times this past year, on the third visit this young man waited for all of the other students to leave the room and then moved his chair close enough for me to take a picture of him and the dog! What a great accomplishment!

One of our top priorities at Max P. Productions is educating children on the importance of self-empowerment. What do you do as an educator to help your students feel empowered?

This is such an important thing to teach students. It is also such a difficult thing to teach students. In the school where I work, the students display severe delays in cognitive abilities as well as behavioral problems. I believe it is important for them to be heard, even if just in their own every day lives. I want all of the students in my class to know that when they speak, people are listening. On a very basic level, I teach them that if they don’t want to do something they need to tell me. If they don’t want to work they need to say “No work” or “I need a break.”  One student with limited speech has pictures symbols on her desk. One says “yes” and the other says “no”. When it is clear by her behaviors that she doesn’t want to be doing what I ask of her, I prompt her to hand me the “no” symbol. As soon as she does I remove all work from her desk, and place no demands on her for a few minutes. Eventually she has to go back and complete the task she was working on, but the hope is that she is learning to be self-empowered, that she has some control.  I have another student in my class who often walks with his head down. I am constantly reminding him to keep his head up, and walk with pride. I tell him to be proud of himself, and by walking with his head up, others will know it too!

What are some of your goals as you continue your career in education?

My goals as I continue my career in education are pretty simple. I never want to stop learning and gathering new information. I want to continue to learn from my co-workers, from my students, from classes and trainings, books and websites and from all of the education magazines that are out there. In addition to learning new things, I want to know that I am making a difference in a child’s life. My goal is to reach out to as many students as possible. Most importantly, I want to remain happy in my career. I love my job, and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I often say, the day I start to dread going to work, is the day I need to find a new job!

A huge thank you to the lovely Janice for this interview! Max P. Productions is so inspired and hopeful for the future of children because of educators like you!

Max P. Productions is a children’s book publisher focused on empowering children through story. The information in this interview is copyright 2013 Max P. Productions. Use of this interview in part or in whole must be granted by Max P. Productions. Please contact us at cs at maxpproductions dot com if you wish to use the content in this interview. Thank you.

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