May 8-May 12 marks Teacher Appreciation Week! We can’t wait to honor Laradon teachers and staff who are building the bridges of opportunity for our students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
What better way to kick off our celebrations than by sharing a story of one of our most impactful teachers? Meet Cat Sells— one of the Laradon School’s incredible teachers.
This upcoming August will mark Cat’s 3 year anniversary with Laradon. She began her Laradon journey as a paraprofessional and worked hard to earn the position as lead teacher in classroom 3. Cat has made a tremendous impact on her students’ lives and continues to inspire them to reach for the stars.
In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, we had the opportunity to sit down with Cat to talk about her journey at Laradon.
What brought you to Laradon?
Cat: When I was looking for a job, Laradon popped up as a suggested place. When I read about it I thought it was a really interesting organization. I had never worked in a non-profit, but had always been working in special education— my mom is a special education teacher too. The more I read about Laradon, the more I loved it.
I applied for a paraprofessional position and did my first interview while I was still in Michigan over the phone. The day after I got into town, when I moved from Denver to Michigan, I had my in-person interview with Laradon. It was one of the first in-person interviews they had held after COVID. It was nice to be in person with someone after being quarantined and living through COVID.
During the interview, it was a welcoming and warm environment. I liked how within the school there wasn’t a hierarchy of people- it felt like we are a team and we are all in this together. That really stuck with me.
So, when I was offered the position, I was like, “oh’ yeah’ TOTALLY!”
How would you describe your work day to people who aren’t familiar with the work Laradon does?
Cat: It is such a hard job to have people understand, because if you’re talking about the physical management portion or some of the behaviors people just don’t understand.
How I always approach it is I work with kids who are intellectually and developmentally disabled. My classroom is high-functioning, so there is a lot of trauma, and a lot of our students have severe behaviors. It’s not because they are malicious or they want to hurt you. It’s more so how some of their processing is coming out. We help build skills and shape them in more appropriate and safer behaviors. It can take a long time but eventually we see those small growths that are really big wins.
Sometimes I will give examples of day to day… we work on art, science, math. We really try to create a safe space for people to talk about their feelings.
Sometimes it’s not academic focused. It’s more so on the foundational, care-giving things or the hierarchy of needs. We need to make sure you feel safe and your needs are met, before we can work on the academics.
What do you want your colleagues who aren’t a part of the school to know about teachers or the school?
Cat: The biggest thing is that every decision has a purpose. Sometimes for people on the outside looking in it’s hard to rationalize why somebody isn’t stepping in or why someone isn’t stopping a person from doing this behavior. We do a lot of waiting and meet kids where they are at.
For teachers, we are doing a lot more than teaching. It’s a lot more than just lesson planning. It’s making sure they feel safe and working through trauma. Rather than just academics or teaching IEP goals.
Do you have any encouraging words for other teachers?
Cat: The biggest thing is when you need help advocate for yourself and ask for help.
Especially at Laradon, we have people here who are here to help you and can help, and are happy to help. You just have to take that first leap of saying, “I need help, I don’t know what I am doing.” It’s a collaborative environment at Laradon. Advocate for yourself. It’s okay to not know an answer. It’s an ongoing learning process.
Also, I really couldn’t do this without my team. The success of our classroom is not because of a teacher, or one single person. The collaboration is every staff member, it’s our whole team. Kendra is the best. Our speech, our OT, other para’s, … it’s a team effort of people that make a difference in the school.