Faith at Work in Special Education: Danielle Palm

Getting to Know You.

Hi there! My name is Danielle Palm. My husband, Kevin, and I have been at Antioch Dallas for almost 4 years and regularly thank God for placing us in this family. I am a special education teacher and have taught it for the past 5 years in various settings. Currently, I teach 9th-12th graders in math, science, and daily livings skills. I also work with a peer tutor program that partners students in general education with students in special education for peer interaction and well, tutoring. Teaching wasn't something I always wanted to do, but something I'm so thankful I said 'yes' to. I graduated from Texas A&M (whoop!) with degrees in International Studies (with a track in environmental studies) and French. I was out to save the planet, but life took a different direction and I see now how I was being prepared for this throughout my life. A fun fact about me is that Kevin and I are suckers for traveling and adrenaline rushes. Skydiving anyone? ;)

What do you do on a weekly basis?

I get to work with students who have difficulty learning in a typical classroom, communicating effectively, and doing things independently. The job is stressful, but one of the most rewarding things you can do!

My life during the school year consists of paperwork, data collection, meetings, lesson plans, more paperwork, smiles, receiving hugs bigger than anyone else can give, chasing 'runners', lifting students that are unable to stand independently, helping students eat, laughing so hard I cry, crying because of seeing breakthroughs in a student, discussing personal hygiene & how to use a restroom, grading essays, challenging peer pressure, seizures, high fives, more smiles, more paperwork, hugs from parents, and about a hundred other emotionally significant events. At the end of a week I'm exhausted, and I love what I get to be a part of. The school day is very structured to help my students be more successful. I am constantly monitoring their progress, assessing their comprehension, communicating with therapists and parents, and brainstorming ideas with my team. My goal is to improve a student's quality of life, teach them more independence, and give them skills to be successful adults.

How has your personal walk with Jesus impacted the way you work?

My 5 years of teaching have stretched me and helped me to grow in ways I had never considered. Special Education is challenging and demanding. At the end of the day, I have to really lean into the Father for strength sometimes. Working with any type of student requires a great deal of patience. Working with students with learning disabilities requires even more patience. Co-workers sometimes comment on my patience and calmness in situations, and I’ll be the first to tell you that it is not from me. Sometimes, I get to work with students who exhibit aggressive behaviors and on the inside, I may be screaming, but I hear a voice that says 'don't take it personally', or 'be still.' Jesus constantly reminds me not to get caught up in the little things, but keep my focus on Him. Teachers get stressed, teachers burn out, and teachers take a lot of things personally. I do too, but being reminded of His love for me, for every child no matter their ability, for every staff member, and for every parent keeps me grounded and able to continue.

Want to learn how Jesus fills our work with passion and purpose like Danielle? Download our free Faith Works course here. 

What challenges have you encountered as you walk your faith out at work?

I would say there are two main challenges with my faith that I face at work. One is balancing between walking out my faith and recognizing that the public school system implements limits on this. However, I do believe there is grace in this and God has given me opportunities to share despite these rules. The other challenge is how I interact with my co-workers and the desire/trap of being a “perfect Christian”. I work very closely with other teachers and assistants and am rarely in a room by myself. Many of these people aren't believers, and they see me at my worst. I do get stressed and say things I regret, just like anyone else. It can be a challenge at times to not strive for perfectionism in the work place, or “beat myself up” when I make a mistake. I find myself hesitant to engage in conversations about my faith, because that person saw me at my worst only days before. But that is where the grace of God comes in.

How have you been able to represent or re-present Jesus through your job?

Other staff members comment on Kevin’s and my involvement with people throughout the week. This gives me the opportunity to share our experience with community and how important it is to us. The idea of community is almost foreign to many people and they are truly engaged when I describe what we believe and how we do life with other people. It all points to Jesus- the why behind what we do. I think showing others that Jesus is about love, fun, fellowship, and grace is important. Too many people I know only have a legalistic and moralistic experience with faith. Demonstrating love and grace to them has helped allow for conversations about the Jesus I know. My prayer is that this encourages them to want to encounter the Jesus who loves them deeply and to know that they do not have to be alone in this life.

What are some lessons that God has taught you through your work that could help our blog readers?

God has taught me so much in these past 5 years. God has shown me that He can use me despite the mistakes I make and despite people seeing me at my worst. The reality is that Jesus accepts us as we are and it can break down walls for people who think they are too far removed to be loved by God.

One thing I've come to realize is that it's easy to become consumed by the demands of a job, especially in jobs that directly affect another person. We want to try hard in everything we do, but forget to look at the big picture and recognize that your first priority is not your job. It's easy to get caught up in the negative mentalities of your workspace, whether that is competition, negativity, exhaustion, perfectionism, or strife. As believers, we can walk into the workplace and declare it a place for the Holy Spirit to be felt. We can say 'no' to the temptation to be distracted from our callings. That alone tells the people around us that life can be different and that life was meant to be more.

In a city marked by consumerism and status, there is freedom in following God and choosing to say 'yes' to him even if it's awkward. When we share joy amidst the stress and when we love people even when it isn’t reciprocated, we help stir something in others. I'd rather be someone who loves people deeply rather than someone that focuses on fitting in the workplace, and seeking everyone's approval. My tendency is to be a people pleaser, so this is an on-going lesson God is teaching me.

Any books, lectures, mentors that have been inspirational to you in your field?

Though they don't all have to do with my specific field, the blog "Cloistered Away", author Shauna Niequist and the book "One Thousand Gifts"  by Ann Voskamp have all inspired me by their simplicity in living your faith out in all different areas of life. I also like any books that pertain to families with children with special needs (and those do pertain to my field ;) ).

Want to learn how Jesus fills our work with passion and purpose like Danielle? Download our free Faith Works course here.