Guest Blogger Amy Petrilla: Still Standing

Here at notesfromahappyteacher, we love all teachers (side note we also love guest bloggers). But, we especially love Amy Petrilla. I can’t tell you the amount of times she has pulled me though hard teacher stuff, and reminded me why I am ahappyteacher. She’s done some reflection, and I am proud to share it with you. Her voice is real. Her voice is authentic. Her voice is the future of teachers who are sticking with their craft.


After six years of teaching in the field of special education, I think I may have beaten the statistical odds of burn out. I’m pretty sure that at times those odds were winning, but I find myself still standing. For six years my worlds of special education and general education have collided, and especially after this past year I have continued to learn so many things that I wish I could have applied to my past teaching years.


No I have not been perfect and yes I have made plenty of mistakes, but this past year really stirs up my first major feelings of failure in my teaching career. I was given a brand new age group (and the youngest age group yet), and I absolutely did the best that I could; however my regrets had nothing to do with this particular group of students. All year I called on important people and the best-practice research around me as a guide. By the end of the year I realized how far my students had come. This caused me to remember students from past years. I have recently learned so much from which my former students could have benefited. Again, I know I did the best I could with them and they certainly made progress (and I think some of the best progress was not actually on paper- it was the smiles and acceptance of my students finally into regular education classrooms). Yet, I feel that I had failed those students. That I had made mistakes. That if I had only known what I know now, I could have done so much more for them.


But this is the most important thing that I what everyone reading this to know: fighting through the mistakes is crucial. No wonder why the most excellent teachers are ones that think outside of the box, aren’t afraid of the fall of failure, and who are continuously learning and growing and seeking out the best information- always striving to better themselves for their beloved students.


Every so often my mind slips back to a few years ago when I had my first challenges with the politics of special education and inclusion. Recalling these times instantly renews my fire and drenches any ominous flames of burnout or fears of failure. I have learned so much, but I still have a lot to learn; and I have a whole new group of students waiting.


My job is not done. I am not done. I am still standing.


So, I will leave you with a personal journal entry from those times when I was literally fighting for my students’ rights. My entry is not pretty or even politically correct, but it is real. And I believe it is applicable to more than just a special educator’s life:


This passage is written with the terms “us” and “we” and “they” and “them” because that is unfortunately the language that the world identifies with:


“We have dreams and fears.  We can feel and we can care.  We have talents and intelligence.  We can love, as well as laugh and cry.  But we can be confused because sometimes it is hard to find our ‘voice.’ We are misunderstood, overlooked, swept under a rug.  Convenient? Maybe you only see us if we serve you some particular purpose. Maybe you only see us as numbers and statistics. But we are more than that.


Don’t over look us, but don’t pity us. We are deep and intricate; we are beautiful. Will you be our ‘voice’? What will you say, and what will you do? How will you love us, and what will they know about us because of you? Do they realize that we are real people, not just a CNN news special or a Lifetime movie? This is reality. How will you react? Will you be defeated, or pass the responsibility on to someone else? What is your purpose, and will you help us find ours?


The world is tough enough, so fight as you can. But don’t shelter us. And don’t let them get the best of you.  You see us for who we truly are- and when you remind yourselves of that, your minds become untainted and fresh. Be sharp, but don’t forget about love. Persevere, but take it one step at a time. We are always changing. We are constantly growing. And so is the world. And just like them, we have something to say too. Will you be our ‘voice’?”


So yes, students, I will be your voice. I am eager to learn with you and to experience mistakes with you. I have not given up.

Writerly Life

Guest Blogger- Amy Petrilla- Last Days Journal

Below, Amy Petrilla, guest blogger and amazing teacher, shares her heart with you as she bravely faces her last days of school this year. Feel free to give her feedback below; I’m sure she’ll love it!

Last Days at McVey


“If you can advocate for something- ANYTHING- do it! There are so many who cannot.” A couple years ago, those were the words that a parent shared with my graduate class. Today, I spin the wheels of the Hot Wheels car that was passed out to us by that parent’s son (who has autism), and the words echo through my mind.  Faces, lives, SOULS, flash before my eyes.

This is my fifth year teaching and somehow it is by far the hardest year to say goodbye to my students and their families. Perhaps this is because not only are some students moving on to new districts, but also I am moving on to a new school. Perhaps “the end” is so tough this year because my co-teacher and I worked so well together.  Or perhaps I am still recuperating from proudly crying and watching three of my boys graduate from kindergarten and do an amazing job on stage (when at the beginning of the year they would have been terrified). I could keep guessing and adding in factors- but this afternoon during my drive home, in tears, I realize why I’ve become so emotional.

This is the year that I wrestled and struggled with special education, its politics, and my own “talents” and knowledge. I want to proclaim this and throw down an anchor for this to be known. This is the year in which my heart and soul went through a battle- and I came out on the other side knowing exactly, beyond a shadow of a doubt, why I do what I do. This is who I am. I AM A TEACHER. And I am an advocate. When the seasons and circles of life continue and September rolls around again, I will re-read this journal.  Why? Because I will be so unbelievably stressed! But from this day forward I will remind myself that today- though it may bring tears- will always come. I will always be SO proud of my little guys. And certain parents’ words of thanks and appreciation will wonderfully pierce me to my core.

Teachers are supposed to change students’ lives and drive them towards a direction that causes them to be who they are truly meant to be- even when no one else believes in this. However, today, I say THANK YOU to my students and their families who have given me a purpose. Without them, I’d be lost. When I feel discouraged, I will remember to keep pressing forward because my students have shaped me and helped me be who I am truly meant to be. I can only continue to return the favor and strive to be their voice- encouraging them and their families along the way. I am more than a teacher. I am an advocate- and I will proclaim to my students and the world around them about how important and loved they are until I take my very last breath.

If you’re reading this, I urge you to pursue YOUR passions. Dig deep inside and you will find it.  It is who you were created to be- and somewhere out there, a group is waiting for you to shape and love. Speak up for the voices that cannot speak. Hear for the ears that do not hear, and move for those who are immobilized.  How could you do anything less?