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My Unexpected Career in Special Education


Sindy Liu '18
Sindy Liu '18

In the middle of my junior year, I made the decision to drop my concentration in computer science and concentrate solely on sociology. This decision was not made lightly. I worried about job prospects after graduation. As a first-generation college student from an immigrant family, I knew that my education was an investment and there was an unspoken assumption that I would have a job after college. Yet, I also knew that I wanted to work somewhere where I could be passionate about what I did. The problem was that I had no idea what I was passionate about.

All I knew was that I wanted to make a positive change in the world with my work -- which is incredibly vague. So what do you do when you’re about to become a senior and have no idea what you want to do with your life? Well, I decided to use the next few months to dabble in as many fields as I could and hopefully find my passion. I applied to as many different jobs as I could and registered for courses that I thought would provide inspiration for my future career path. 

I had two incredible experiences in the fall of my senior year that led me to where I am today as a special education teacher. 

The first was Professor Madden’s Issues in Education class.

I had originally signed up for Professor Madden’s course on a whim. I heard many great reviews from my friends about the course, and I thought, “Well, education sounds like something I could be interested in,” and so I signed up. This class made me reflect on my K-12 experiences in New York City’s public schools and the “rat race” that I and so many others had to go through to get a good education because we couldn’t afford private schools. Yet in some ways, we were the lucky ones. There were other kids on my street that didn’t test into a “good school,” and went to schools where they didn’t have the privilege of worrying about a failing grade in physics because they were more concerned about not getting shot on the way to school. Professor Madden helped me realize what an opportunity it was to be sitting there in her class, and that I should use my privilege to make a change and provide others with this opportunity. I realized what I wanted to do after Hamilton was to give back to my community.

The second experience was my job as a campus campaign coordinator (like a recruiter) for Teach for America (TFA). 

Prior to working for Teach for America, I had zero interest in becoming an educator for several reasons. First, I assumed that to become a teacher, I had to attend graduate school after college, which would be impossible for me to fund without taking out more loans. Second, I had no experience in the classroom or even working with children. However, my time with TFA cleared up my false assumptions. Yes, I need to go to graduate school, but there were alternate ways to fund graduate school, such as working for an organization like TFA or with a charter school network. In addition, these organizations like TFA or charter school networks expected many prospective teachers to have none to little experience in the classroom. What they looked for was coachability and a driven personality. I concluded it wouldn’t be impossible for me to become an educator.

With those two new realizations, I decided to apply for teaching jobs in the city where I grew up and that brought me to South Bronx Classical Charter Schools. Currently, I am in my third year as a teacher and second year as a special education teacher. Like many say, teaching is a demanding profession, but it is also rewarding. Every day, I am excited to see how I can help my students improve, academically and personally. There are days when I feel like a failure -- like none of my lessons got through to my students. Yet, those days drive me to try harder, to innovate, because I know that at the end of the day, my students need me.

I certainly didn’t expect to end up in the classroom. And I certainly don’t know where I will be in five or ten years. I’ve come to realize that life can be surprising and that there are always paths hidden in places you wouldn’t expect. Don’t be afraid of exploring the unknown. Even if you have the smallest interest, go for it! You never know what you might learn and what paths you might discover.

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