I’m Not Special, But My Major Is – Perspective from a Severe Special Education Major

By Caitlin Donnelly, SED 2015

“Good for you.” “What a noble profession.” “You must be so patient.” These are only a few of the responses I receive after telling someone I am majoring in severe special education. At first, I appreciated these comments. Who doesn’t like being called a good person or told that he or she has the patience of a saint? But as I started to realize the subtext behind these responses, they quickly became frustrating. I could tell that I was being viewed as humble and sacrificing, giving up the chance to have a rewarding, lucrative profession to work with challenging students

Sometimes there is no subtext and I am met with total honesty. I have been asked why, with such good grades, I am not becoming a doctor, or if I realize what a difficult and unrewarding career choice I am making. In all of these instances, people blatantly imply that I am wasting my potential.

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

It’s disheartening, year after year, to be met with either undeserved reverence for my so-called humility or disgust for my wasted potential. To imply that I am self-sacrificing is to assume that I pity my students, and that is the last thing they need. They need my high expectations and undivided attention. They need every ounce of my potential so that I can help them to meet theirs.

When students do overcome obstacles and succeed at even the smallest tasks, there is nothing more rewarding or exciting. I will always remember the time I observed a student grasping a life-changing skill for the first time. He finally understood the American Sign Language sign for “more”, and I watched as he signed over and over again with the widest smile on his face. I have never felt so proud, so fulfilled, and so excited about my career choice.

So the next time you meet a special education major, understand that we are no more special than any other education major. We have high expectations for our students, the desire to help them learn, and the drive needed to succeed. I am not humble; I am proud of my major, and I am not wasting my potential; I am using every bit to do something I love for students that deserve it.

*Caitlin Donnelly is a junior at Boston University School of Education, studying severe special education.


Mier Chen posted on February 20, 2014 at 2:12 am

Hearing that I am going to have a education major in a foreign country, many people including my parents think me crazy. They don’t value my choice because I will spend such a large amount of money that I may never earn back if I work in China. Education is about love and hope, instead of simply investment. We will never know what kind of miracle that we will make in the long run. I do understand and respect your choice. However, after recognizing the brainwashing educational system and some other social problems in China, I decide to change my major to Business. I still keep my dream, of course, but I have to change the system first. If I become a teacher in a Chinese school, I will either lose my faith or be kicked out of the sick system. Now, I am determined to build a non- profit organization that helps people get equal opportunities to receive education and start their business. Education is a powerful weapon to fight against destiny and inequality, and also, spread love and ideas, to gather more like-minded partners.
It is so nice to see your thoughtful ideas.
We are fighting together.

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