The Call to Teach
Kimberly Ramirez ‘20 is earning her master’s in special education and a mild/moderate education specialist credential while working full time as a K-3 special education teacher in San Francisco. Initially pursuing a career in psychology, Ramirez found her true calling when she became a paraprofessional. Check out the interview below to learn more about Ramirez’ journey to teaching, and her life as a graduate student.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Burlingame, California and moved to Fort Collins, Colorado when I was 8 years old. I loved growing up in Fort Collins, and am a huge fan of Colorado! I stayed in-state to attend University of Colorado Boulder for my undergraduate. I lived in Colorado for 17 years before I was ready to move back to California.
How did you get into the field of teaching?
I have always known that I wanted to work with children, but I wasn't sure in what capacity. I earned my undergraduate degree in psychology and thought I might like to be a children's therapist. My first job out of college was at Shiloh House, a residential treatment center. I worked as a treatment counselor for 6 months, and then transferred to a paraprofessional position within the school at the treatment center. I realized I really enjoyed being in the classroom, though I had never considered a career in teaching.
After two unbelievably challenging and rewarding years working with Shiloh House, I was ready to make a move to California to be close to my brothers and some of my extended family. I was trying to decide what kind of job I wanted, and I was reminded how much I liked working with people with disabilities. Growing up, I volunteered at a respite care facility by my house, and loved the time I spent with children and young adults that attended the facility. With that in mind, I accepted a job as a special education paraprofessional where I could be in a classroom and work with a population of kids that I had been missing. It might have been one week into that job that I realized I had found my life's purpose - I wanted to be a special education teacher!
Not long after, I found the master’s in special education program at USF. And here we are! One semester away from graduation, one and a half years into my teaching career, and happier than ever!
Where are you currently working and what is a typical day like?
I am currently working as the K-3 special day class teacher at George Peabody Elementary School in San Francisco. I look forward to coming to work every day, and I really miss it over holiday breaks and summer vacation. I am truly happy in this field and have found a wonderful school community.
My day consists of teaching twelve wonderfully bright, funny, unique students core subjects (reading, writing, math, etc), as well as play skills, social/emotional skills, and anything else that is relevant to their well-being and development.
What has been a highlight of your program so far?
One highlight is the incredible guidance I've had from some of my professors. I have gifted teachers that I feel lucky to learn from, who put so much into teaching our cohort how to be the best special educators that we can be. It's inspiring to be taught by people who practice what they preach, offer us unwavering support, and take time out of their busy lives to work with a group of aspiring special education teachers. This field is not for the faint of heart, and we are challenged every day, but the guidance from professors has provided me with strength and courage during my first year and a half as a special education teacher, and for that, I will be forever grateful!
What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew before starting graduate school?
Though I was incredibly excited to start the graduate program at USF, it was accompanied by extreme anxiety about the unknown. I wish I had known going into the program how understanding and flexible my professors would be! I have learned, through this process, that my professors are less concerned with grades and "cookie cutter" assignments, and more concerned with us actually learning on the job, applying our knowledge in our classrooms, and giving us the support we need to manage being graduate students and first/second year teachers. I wish I had known that it would truly be manageable, and that even though it is a lot of work - requires some late nights, early mornings, and long days - with the support of my cohort, mentors, and teachers, it wouldn't just be manageable, it would be exciting, fun, and transformative.