Back in college I competed in public speaking for Oregon State University. I loved the art of crafting speeches. I loved using words to create pictures in people’s minds. In January of my senior year, just a few months before graduation, my speech partner and I qualified for nationals. We were the first on the west coast in our event to qualify for nationals on points. We had every intention of winning nationals. The day we qualified, the coach for USC offered us full scholarships for our Masters Degrees, contingent upon us going to nationals.
Driving home that very same night a 17 year-old kid was seeing how fast his new Dodge Charger would go. The police estimate that he was going 70-85 when he hit me.
I did not go to nationals that year. In fact, it was nine months before I could even open my mouth again. I barely was able to finish college, and I don’t believe I ever gave a public speech again until I was named Teacher of the Year in 2014.
That summer of 14 I had the honor of speaking at the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Washington, D.C. It was the evening of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and I am unable to tell you how it felt to stand in that spot and speak out for LGBT youth and for kids with special needs. It was a small affair, but one that had great impact on me. My only regret was that the event came as a surprise and I did not have a chance to write a proper speech. The kind of speech where you labor over every word and sentence until you have crafted poetry and prose and speech all wrapped up inside each other. I was honored to speak on the National Mall but lamented that my words could have been more beautiful, more impactful, more insightful…
But a dream is coming true. On July 8th I have been asked to give a speech at the Save Our Schools Rally in Washington, D.C. For 5-8 minutes I will have the absolute honor to stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and speak out for teachers, schools, for kids with special needs and for LGBT youth.
I get the opportunity to write a speech that I hope will rise to the occassion of where it is spoken. I want to think of the people who have stood there before me. I want to live up to the words that so many Americans have shared on what I consider to be hallowed ground.
And I weigh again the wonder that is life. I think of 23 year old me seeing those headlights suddenly appearing behind my car. I remember the pain of my jaw being put back together, and my ribs being put back in my sternum. I think back to that Oregon kid who had just qualified for nationals, who had just been given their future in the form a scholarship to USC for a Masters. And I think of the tires screaming and the metal crashing as that future was blinked out in an instant. I mourned for that lost future for a long time but fate gave me a different one that lead me towards the classroom and a husband and a present that I never in a million years would have dreamed up for myself.
That was the first time my voice was robbed from me. The second came when Multnomah Education Service District gave me orders that I was not allowed to say I was gay in public. They threatened me, told me I could not speak to LGBT kids because “meeting with those students has no value to the district”, fired me, unfired me, tried to fire me again and did their best to destroy my career. But their actions to silence me reminded me of a time when my voice was stolen. I refused to be silent and I fought for my right to speak. And because of those obscene actions by my district, my voice grew. The story got out. I stood my ground.
On July 8th I will stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I will give a speech that comes from my heart. I will stand up for gay kids and special needs kids and anyone who is bullied. I will fight for education and I will speak up for teachers and I am going to relish every single syllable that comes out of my mouth.
You see, I had a dream, and it went away for a while. But it came back to me tenfold and I am eternally grateful.
I hope to see you in Washington, D.C.
Hello! I am very excited to announce that I have finished another Ability Guidebook! These “guidebooks” are basic instructions on how to visit community destinations and events. I began writing these books to assist my own students with autism in attending field trips but I realized that I could be doing so much more.
In 2015 I had the amazing honor of being named an National Education Association Foundation Global Fellow. Through this program I was sent to Peru as an ambassador for American educators. I’m the first special education teacher from Oregon to be named a Global Fellow and the trip to Peru gave me a chance to do what I do best: support people with special needs. From that trip came my first international Ability Guidebook “I’m Going to the Museo de Inka!” I’m absolutely grateful to the NEA Foundation for giving me the opportunity to share this project with another country.
In 2015 I also had the joy of going on my honeymoon and from that trip will come the next round of international guidebooks. I have realized that I can make books whenever I visit a new city. I can show the teachers and Autism Specialists around the world of a new and better way to support our students. If our students aren’t out participating in the real world then we haven’t succeeded in our jobs. I want to make sure that I have done everything I can to help.
I am also hoping to find people to translate books into their native languages. If you can translate this into Greek or any other language, get in touch!
I love creating curriculum and sharing it with teachers. Over half of my items on TeachersPayTeachers are free. I just added a free “Welcome Everybody” sign for your classrooms. LGBT students are at a higher risk for suicide and these signs will let LGBT teens know they have a safe place at school.
As many of you know, I have been working on my Ability Guidebooks for years but I had always stuck pretty close to home. It was a big deal to me when I made the book for the Oregon City Elevator and Willametter Falls because they were my first books outside of Portland.
Last week I posted my new book for the Inca Museum in Cusco, Peru and was thrilled to have gone international. Today I am crossing the country and presenting my newest guide: I Am Going To The National Museum of the American Indian.
Since being Teacher of the Year I have travelled over 85,000 miles and visited many different states. I’ve taken pictures for books on every trip. My goal is to get the ball rolling in other cities with the hopes other teachers may create more books for their community.
In February I attended the NEA Gala in Washington D.C. as part of being an NEA Global Fellowand took the opportunity to visit the museum. I’m super excited that students and people with autism will now have this guide on how to visit the museum. I hope it makes their world a little bit bigger and a little bit better.Ability Guidebook Museum of the American Indian
People with autism often have difficulty facing new situations. That is why I teamed up with the Port of Portland to create “Let’s Fly, A Photo Guidebook Tour Through Portland International Airport.” It is a step-by-step guide on what to expect when you use the Portland Airport.
I want my students to have a bigger world. Supports like these can make that happen.
For the past several years I have been creating “Ability Guidebooks.” These are simple books that give a step-by-step instructions on how to visit places in the community. Most of my books have been for the Portland, Oregon area but each time I travel I try to take pictures to create new books.
This past summer I had the absolute honor to be named and National Education Association Foundation Global Fellow. With this honor came the chance to travel to Peru to meet with teachers, students and administrators as well as meet the Peruvian Ambassador to the United States.
I tried to think of a way to thank Peru for their wonderful hospitality and it became clear. My thank you would be a book for those people in Peru who have autism. This is the English version but a Spanish version is coming soon.
Dear Peru, You opened your arms to the 2015 NEA Global Fellows and showed us amazing hospitality. Please accept this token of thanks from an American Special Education Teacher. It is my hope that there will be people in Peru who will benefit from this guide.
Thank you to Kristen Record, the Connecticut State Teacher of the Year and Global Fellow for being a good sport about me taking her picture!
I Am Going To The Museo Inca In Cusco, Peru!
I am very excited to finally have my website up and running! I cannot wait to share projects, inspiration and ways which we can support the teachers and students all over the world.
As the 2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year and one of the 2015 National Education Association Educator of Excellence winners and through my participation in the NEA Foundation Global Fellow program, I have had the honor of visiting schools all over the world. In those travels I have seen how education is the great equalizer. It does not matter what country, what language or what religion a person may be, but it is education that makes them all equal.
It will be my honor to support teachers and I look forward to hearing from you!