Living abroad in Europe for much of her early adult life taught Michigan native Cheryl Belhaddade all kinds of lessons about culture, diversity, and most importantly — how we have a lot more in common than we realize. But living in a country where she hadn’t mastered the language and being the primary caregiver for her young family meant she had to put her own educational dreams on hold. When they returned to the United States, however, Cheryl felt a new drive to pursue her goal of becoming a special education teacher, which she’s now within just a few semesters of achieving.
Cheryl, in her own words
On being a nontraditional student. “I always wanted to continue my education, but early on, when my husband and I were starting our family, we were living in Belgium to be close to his side of the family. It was a great experience in so many ways, for both my kids and for us. But it was challenging to think about pursuing any of my educational goals when I didn’t speak the language. So when we came back home to Michigan, I decided I’d start taking classes and see what it all could add up to. I got my associate’s at Henry Ford, and then transferred to UM-Dearborn. It definitely takes you longer when you’re working and you’re a mother and you’re kind of the beating heart of your household. But my dream is to be a special education teacher — I’m a special education paraprofessional right now. And I’m on track to be student teaching in just a couple semesters. So, I’m happy to say the goal is finally within sight.”
On what’s special about special educators. “When you’re a special educator, you have to bring all your creativity and adaptability. In a classroom, you’ll have learners of all levels, and you have to have so many different strategies to figure out what is going to work with an individual student. You really have to be willing to try anything; nothing is one-size-fits-all. You have to understand what a student’s ability is and then adapt your curriculum so they can achieve at the highest level they can. Your job is to help them thrive — whatever that looks like.”
On advice from someone who’s doing it. “I’ve met a couple other women around my age who are also doing this at UM-Dearborn. And I’ve noticed we all kind of feel the same. Even getting started later in life, it is achievable, but you have to have that drive. I remember when I was getting started at Henry Ford, I felt like I would never finish. It was like I was living in this long, long tunnel, and it felt like I’d never see the light at the end — until, one day, there it was. So, you have to keep plugging along. You can’t think about how long it’s going to take, and you almost have to make an effort to stay positive, even when you don’t want to. When you’re a father or a mother and you’re multitasking to the max, there are going to be times when you’re overwhelmed. And at those times, attitude is everything.”