Janalyn Duersch knew as a teenager that she wanted to be a Special Education Teacher. She began her career as a staff assistant 22 years ago and after 4 years began her journey to pursue that dream. “I knew what I wanted to be when I was 14. My family friend was a special ed teacher at Logan High School and encouraged me to get a job as a staff assistant while I was in college so that I could garner experience. He helped me to get a job at Logan High. I did my degree at Utah State University and worked at Logan High simultaneously.”
Janalyn is a teacher in the Adult Transition Program in the Ogden School District in Ogden Utah where her primary job is teaching students with moderate-severe disabilities ages 18-22 in a community based post high school program. She determines student needs to create plans and instruction for independent living skills, vocational skills, post-secondary education, community skills, social skills, hygiene skills and functional academics. She also delivers instruction, advocates for and links students and their families with community agencies such as Vocational Rehabilitation, Division of Services for People with Disabilities and The Utah Independent Living Center. Janalyn supervises staff, completes requisite paperwork (“Oh so much paperwork!”), collaborates with agencies, coordinates and creates job placements with local businesses, teams with other teachers, collects and analyzes data and disseminates information to the community.
When asked about collaborating with agencies that serve people with disabilities, Janayln states that she has collaborated with multiple agencies throughout the course of her career. “Vocational Rehabilitation has been critical in my students’ future successes. Most of my experiences with Vocational Rehabilitation have been positive. The counselors that I have had the opportunity to work with have attended all the IEPs for the students that they serve. They are in constant contact with me, the students and their families. Fortunately, I see this relationship that I have enjoyed becoming more and more common.”
When reflecting about the challenges in her work, Janalyn says, “I often receive students who are ill prepared for a community based setting, such as my program. I would like to see students accessing the community and being integrated into community settings far earlier than the current norms. Other challenges that present themselves are hygiene and social skills issues. These two areas of concern are also two of the largest impediments to forward progression for my students. “
Working with her students to seek employment as they transition to adulthood often comes with barriers. “One of the most crucial issues that I have seen my students contend with is that of community perceptions of people with disabilities. When assisting my students with seeking employment, doors are often closed when business owners understand that the student has a disability. This is not implicitly stated, however, and both the student and I have watch the cloud cross employer faces when they understand that a person has a significant disability. There are so many misconceptions regarding what a person with a disability can and cannot do. Overcoming these mis-perceptions is a massive challenge but one that I am willing to undertake. “
Janalyn says there are may influential moments in her work.”The most significant moments for me are when students make progress, or reach a goal. I love watching them learn things they never thought they could or work independently in a vocational placement for the first time. The most positive things about working in Transition are watching students achieve goals that they never thought possible and becoming independent and productive citizens.”
Reflecting about the field of Transition work with students with disabilities, Janalyn pauses and says: “I believe that the most important development in Transition has been the movement towards looking at transition at an earlier age, The impetus to view transition as a fluid and ongoing entity rather than a future phenomenon has enabled students to find more success and independence than previously experienced.”
Janalyn can be reached at duerschj at ogdensd dot org.
This is the Spotlight on Transition Series which features people working and living in the area of Transition to Adulthood for people with disabilities.