Teacher Appreciation Week: Honoring Our Education Specialists
Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week, an opportunity to recognize the stellar group of education specialists here at ERC and Pathlight working with children and teens in our centers to keep up with their schoolwork while in treatment. It's a job of notable collaboration; they work with the kids, their caregivers, treatment teams, teachers, guidance counselors…the list goes on. Thank you, ERC and Pathlight educators, for the vital work that you do!
Here, we spotlight Rachel Doyle, Education Specialist in the West, to share more about this important role at ERC and Pathlight.
What patients do you work with at ERC and Pathlight?
I work primarily with adolescent patients in RES and PHP. I also consult with adult patients on occasion who are looking to go back to school or switch careers.
What's one reason you went into education?
I believe education is one of the best avenues to creating a more just and equitable world.
What has been the most surprising part of your work here?
No matter how many students I've taught over the years, I'm always surprised by just how unique and wonderful each individual is.
One of the reasons why Education Hour is so valuable is because it allows the adolescents time to develop an identity outside of being a "patient." I am amazed by students' talents in art, music, and writing. I love working with students to find a dream college or internship opportunity that gets them excited about the future again.
When I first started here, one of the hardest adjustments was going from spending ten months with a class to only 4-6 weeks with a revolving group of patients. I wondered how I could ever build relationships so quickly. However, I've learned how to quickly build rapport with patients, and I really appreciate the unique role I get to play. Instead of being responsible for teaching to a set of standards, I get to meet each student where they are. For some students, that means advocating hard for them to get the services and accommodations they need to succeed. For others, it means helping them buy more into treatment by reassuring them that their academic trajectory won't be completely thrown off course by the time they spend here. And for others, it means just giving them some consistency and laughter in an otherwise extremely challenging treatment program.
What is something you'd like others to understand about your job?
I am completely sincere when I say that I love collaborating with other teammates at every opportunity. When a patient arrives with an Individual Education Plan, I always read through it and send out key points to the staff, so they know how to modify content accordingly. I love going through a lesson with a program therapist and figuring out how we can add a visual or make it more interactive so the skills being taught are more accessible to all of our patients. With primary therapists, I work a lot on getting patients ready to go back to school. School is the number one source of stress for many of our adolescent patients, so learning how to apply the coping skills they've learned at Pathlight back at school is essential.
The biggest source of stress in my job is keeping up with so many different schools and their individual policies. Often, a policy at one school contradicts what is required at another school, and the amount of flexibility and ability to give accommodations varies so much.
It's also hard when a school is under-resourced and isn't able to meet our patient's needs. As the pandemic has gone on, I've noticed that more and more schools have been less flexible and try to un-enroll students. I've had to talk with the district and quote state law to make sure that all of our patients receive the educational support they deserve.
Anything else you'd like to add?
One of the teachers I was collaborating with to support a patient asked me for advice on how to emotionally cope with working with students going through such intense mental health struggles. One of the things I said was that these kids would be going through a rough time no matter what, so I'm grateful that I'm at least able to bring a little joy and normalcy to their life in the interim.
I feel so lucky that I get to be in a position where I can teach my students actual life skills: how to find motivation when it's hard, how to re-assess personal expectations, and how to self-advocate.