Her students know her as Mrs. Marelle, but her followers on Instagram know her as @Mrs_SpecialEducation. Chelsea Marelle is a special education teacher based in Atlanta, Georgia. Her Instagram account, dedicated to her work, has amassed over 10,400 followers – making Marelle a micro-influencer by social media’s standards.
Marelle’s Instagram account details the life of a special education teacher – from pictures in her classroom to pictures of her supplies and classroom activities. And when she’s not at the front of the classroom, Marelle can be found on the tennis court or playing with her dogs!
This year marks Marelle’s fifth year as a special education teacher. In an Instagram post she shared, she told her followers, “I’m at another new school this year and will be teaching ASD level 3. I can’t wait for all of the fun experiences and memories that will be made with my new babies!” Her enthusiasm shines through in every post, proving her true passion for teaching.
We asked her a few questions about her experience as a special education teacher, and she even shared a few tips for parents preparing for their child’s return to school. See what she had to say:
Q: Did you always know you wanted to work with kids with special needs?
Chelsea Marelle: I have known that I wanted to be a teacher since I was in the first grade. I grew up with a significant amount of exposure to people of differing ability levels, which is where my passion for special education started. I was always very interested in working with children and education; so much so, that I started taking courses and volunteering to work with kids any way possible at a young age. Throughout high school, I took every opportunity to work with the special education program at school and fell in love with the students and staff. I went to Valdosta State University and studied for a degree in Early Childhood Education, even though the thought of working with special education students was still tugging at my heart. However, it wasn’t until I applied to graduate school at Vanderbilt University that I really decided to follow my heart and jump into special education. Once I was accepted to the Early Childhood Special Education program at Vanderbilt, I never turned back, and I fully emerged and dedicated myself to becoming the best special education teacher that I could be. During my years at Vanderbilt, I knew that I somehow ended up exactly where I was supposed to be all along.
Q: How did you start your Instagram account, and why do you think it has been so successful?
CM: I started my Instagram account during my first year of teaching because I was so excited to finally be able to apply everything I studied at school and wanted a way to compile it all in one place. The purpose of the account was to have a place where I could store my ideas while also checking out what other teachers were doing all around the world. I never imagined that my instagram would be something that other teachers would use for inspiration or assistance in their classrooms. I absolutely love that it has become a platform where I can share my passion for teaching and special education as well as spread awareness and acceptance for the amazing people that I work with.
Q: Do you have any tips for teachers in inclusive classrooms that you wish you’d known when you started teaching?
CM: I have quite a few tips that I love to share with new teachers. First, build a solid relationship with parents because you are all on the same team and working towards the same goal, which is to prepare and equip the student for a successful future. Second, take the time to get to know your students, have conversations with them, and find things that they like and don’t like, and really try to make a connection with them. My last piece of advice is to be bold in everything you do; be bold and ask questions, be bold and speak up, be bold and wear tutus to school.
Q: What is the hardest part of your job?
CM: The hardest part of my job is never having enough time in the day. I have so many goals and educational experiences planned for my students that it is truly difficult to fit them all in our schedule, especially with testing and other school or district based requirements. My goal as a special education teacher is to work on grade level standards, IEP goals, and social-emotional skills, all while implementing memorable learning experiences for my students. It is a very daunting task and I am constantly coming up with innovative ways to integrate goals, standards, and experiences into the short amount of time I get with my students.
Q: What’s your go-to stress-reliever after a long day at school?
CM: I’m a “busy body,” so my go- to stress-reliever after a long day or busy week at school is anything active. I love playing tennis, exercising, and attending sporting events (Go Atlanta United!). I also enjoy spending time volunteering in anything that involves the special education population; currently, I am volunteering as a team captain in a tennis program for athletes with disabilities.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
CM: The most rewarding part of my job is to not only see my students achieve academic goals independently, but to be able to witness them being included with their peers and becoming independent from my support. Don’t get me wrong, we celebrate like crazy when a student meets an academic goal, but when I look across the crowded cafeteria and see one of my students fully engaged in a conversation about video games with his peers or a student making their way down the hallway in line with a general education classroom without even acknowledging me, I suddenly find myself fighting back tears of joy. Nothing makes my little special education heart burst with pride more than watching my students become independent learners.
Q: What’s your best advice for a parent preparing for Back to School season?
CM: My best advice for a parent preparing for Back to School season is to start prepping your student for the change in schedule with visuals and conversations as soon as possible. I also would advise meeting with your child’s teachers face-to-face to ask and answer any questions, create a comfortable means of communication, as well as provide support for the teacher. I always tell my parents; you are your child’s best teacher, advocate, and cheerleader!
Special thanks to Mrs. Marelle for sharing her thoughts with us and our community. Best of luck to you and your students this school year!