****Kim was interviewed in August. Hillcrest’s current practices around COVID19 may differ from those mentioned in the interview.******
Name: Kim Mutz
Title: Teacher RBT (Registered Behavior Technician)
Former Positions: Teacher’s Assistant (TA)
Campus: Hillcrest Academy
Year Started: 2017
How did you learn about your current position?
I actually applied to Hillcrest as a driver because I was a bus driver for 21 years and I was in the middle of my human services degree. So when I was moving to Massachusetts, I decided to get in the field. So I was gonna drive special ed kids. But Hillcrest said, “Hey, do you want to be a TA since you’re pursuing your degree?” It just kind of worked out. I was in Russell Hyde’s classroom—the classroom that I teach now, and he said, “Have you ever been interested in teaching?” I had just earned my degree, and he wanted to move up to an assistant program director position. And it just all fell into place.
So which kids are you with?
The day ASD students.
How has COVID affected teaching?
It was really difficult and great. Because, of course, we shut down the Academy [when public schools did]. So I was a TA for a couple weeks at Highpoint. They had moved all us Academy staff over there. So then I took on a teaching position at Highpoint. That’s actually where I initially applied because I was interested in the boys and outdoor education. So it was a good opportunity even though I was really out of my element as I’m a severe disabilities teacher.
I got the opportunity to teach the boys at Highpoint. I loved learning about the population, but it was a really difficult situation because I was trying to teach my Academy students remotely, which is very difficult, AND teach the Highpoint kids in person. Every week was a change, such as moving from the classroom to the dorms to minimize exposure.
What with distance teaching like?
It was difficult. It was really more of reaching out to the parents. We would try related services, and then add the teacher into the situation to try to make a connection with the kids. But it was really just sticking with the parents and trying to help them help their child and get them to engage. It was really really difficult.
So are you back in the classroom now?
We did summer school at the Academy for the month of August and we just ended yesterday. So we brought back 12 or 13 kids from the three classrooms we have up there and it worked out really well. Actually, the kids did really well. We were really happy with the program.
Are you so you back to the school year now?
We’ll start September 2nd. Full day for the ASD kids, and I think the downstairs for the Academy will go hybrid.
What are the happiest or more rewarding moments for you?
Successfully transitioning the students to their adult program. And thinking that they wouldn’t be able to, then working with the staff and then being able to successfully transition them. I work with the older kids, so they’re 18 to 22. Those kids are going to transition. It’s the saddest moment of my life. “Oh my god, I just worked with this with this kid for this long” and feels like we just got them to this place, but so happy that they can continue building on whatever skills they were learning [in adult services.]
What are the hardest moments for your job?
Yes, seeing the kids transition. Change for me in my job is really, really hard. Even if staff are leaving me and they’re going to a different program. I work with staff that are choosing to stay at Highpoint, which is a like, “Oh, not another change!”
What surprised you the most about the job?
How much I enjoy it and how much I can learn from it. I didn’t even know what autism was when I started here, honestly. I knew it was a special development need. I actually like doing this work with these kids. A big thing in this job is learning how I am going to communicate with a nonverbal kid?
Who is the most influential person in your work life?
It’s probably my wife. When I have hard days and I come home crying and thinking I can’t do this anymore, she actually says, “Yes, you can.” With the support of her and my staff that I’ve worked with this whole time, they’re my biggest cheerleaders saying, “Yeah, you can!”
Do you have any advice for new employees?
Ask a lot of questions. Be positive. You can do it. Even though you look at the students and think, I can’t do this. You can do this. You actually can if you stick with it.
What kind of person do you think succeeds as a teacher or a TA at the Academy?
Somebody who is open to criticism. Somebody that can take criticism and just build on it. Just have a positive attitude. All the kids just want us to help them, no matter which kid it is in the agency. When you start out, there will be criticism. It just is what it is.
Do you have any favorite stories?
Students who can suddenly communicate, a kid who we didn’t think would ever be able to [verbally] communicate, and suddenly they’re asking for something to drink. To the kid that we didn’t think that was gonna transition and then we actually transition them, and they know they can succeed just like any other kid.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m still at Hillcrest because of the staff at Hillcrest. I’m most proud of the staff of helping me understand this environment. From my TAs to the related services, I lean on all those guys every day.
*******This interview has been lightly edited and condensed*******
We’re looking for dynamic, compassionate people to join our team! Check out our career openings. We’re waiting to hear from you.
Don’t forget to read our interview with Greg Sacchetti.