I’ve often looked at life as a tapestry of possibilities. I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Detroit. My friends and I played make-believe games that took us from space travel to the wild West. At the time, I didn’t believe that there were limits to what I could achieve. I still live that way.
I began my professional life as a special education teacher—the career I had been passionate about ever since I was a Future Teacher in the fourth grade. By the time I graduated from Wayne State University—1975—perceptions of special education and special education students had evolved greatly. It was the year of Public Law 94:142’s passage; a law requiring that children with disabilities be provided a “free and appropriate public education,” based on the same landmark cases that established the civil rights movement! These children, who had been separated from general education populations, were now to be integrated into the least restrictive programs.
I gained an international perspective of special education programs in 1976. I was a participant in the Bi-Centennial Ambassadors in Education, an educational exchange program involving a select group of educators from Wayne State University and Great Britain to collaborate and gain a better understanding of American and British educational curricula.
This experience fueled my desire to inspire, champion, and motivate students. I wanted to bring the best educational experience to not only those in traditional classrooms, but to homebound and hospitalized students as well. I have served as a teacher consultant, kindergarten collaborative teacher, classroom teacher of students on the autism spectrum and those with developmental delays, mentor teacher, and instructional facilitator for district interns with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
My teaching strategies have involved inclusive models and have motivated administrators and other teachers in addition to children. I became a National Board Certificated Teacher (Exceptional Needs Specialist) in 2001 (renewed in 2011).
In the midst of my education trajectory, I became intrigued by how to motivate students with film. After interning with a local PBS station in Detroit, this passion grew. I became an award-winning writer-producer. A few of my accomplishments as a screenwriter include the scripts for Homebound, for which I was a finalist in the Independent Feature Project/West’s first Writers’ Workshop and the script for Curl Up & Dye, which won the Audience Choice Award in the 168 Film Project. My production credits include ONE DOWN, a co-produced 35mm feature that won the Charleston WorldFest’s Silver Award and placed second in the Lansing Film Festival.
These successes in filmmaking and writing were incorporated into my classroom, and I saw my students’ interests improving with the addition of classroom plays and filmmaking. While teaching a kindergarten class, one student with autism created a short film that won a local award!
As a mentor teacher and instructional facilitator for district interns with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), I was able to share what I’ve learned over the past twenty years with those who were just beginning their educational journey.
When I became a program specialist for special education with the LAUSD, I assisted the district in achieving one of my life-long dreams: integration. I was part of a team that successfully assisted disabled students in obtaining a fair, public education when my teammates and I moved classes from special education centers to general education schools on their co-located school sites. The children of both sites were able to become one school; sharing selected classes and enjoying recess and lunch together.
Using my twenty-seven years of teaching, writing, and filmmaking I have developed The Happy Little Garbage Truck instructional program to both entertain and inspire children to succeed in reaching higher levels of achievement.
Josan Callender graduated from Wayne State University and California State University, Northridge, and holds a master’s degree in education leadership and education administration. She is a member of the Writers Guild of America West.