Denise Q & A
t is with mixed emotions that we share that longtime Boyer Educator, Denise Swanson, is retiring from Boyer after 34 incredible years! While we are very sad to see her go, we celebrate and cherish her remarkable tenure and impact on our organization, and honor her tremendous dedication to our children and families. Thank you for your years of service, caring, and leadership, Denise!
Tell us about why you became an educator, particularly in the early intervention field?
I never planned to be a teacher. I had an older sister who was very good in school, and teachers she had before me, expected me to perform as she did. When she went to college to be a teacher, I determined I would not be.
I tried to do some occupational therapy and then shifted to speech therapy. My husband and I moved to Virginia for him to go to school in 1979 and with only undergraduate qualifications I took a substitute speech therapy job in a rural Virginia school district. I got to work with the 2 to 5 year old Special Education preschool. This was the population that drew me in. These small children were delightful to teach and I enjoyed watching their progress. I found an Early Childhood Special Education program at Virginia Commonwealth University and proceeded to work towards my degree part-time for the next 5 years. The more classes, internships, and jobs I had that centered around the very young special needs children the more hooked I became. I worked 3 years in Colorado at an agency with several similarities to Boyer. I was eager to continue teaching when we moved back to Washington and to Seattle. I started at Boyer in the Fall of 1988 and only stepped away from the agency to have 2 of my 3 children. I believe that teaching this special population is what I was meant to do and throughout my 30 plus years of teaching the children and families have had my heart. Sometimes the littlest people provide the strongest guidance for what we need to do.
What, in your opinion, makes Boyer such a unique and special place?
At Boyer, we are the most often a child’s first teacher and that is a unique position to be in. Because Boyer is a smaller non-profit agency, as a teacher you have the ability to influence the type of program and group settings you produce for the children and families you are serving. I believe we are thinking of the family first and were doing so long before the government began to add guidelines and regulations to impact services. Boyer strives to have the most qualified of providers and to make sure we can find ways to meet families’ needs. We have grown and adjusted as an agency but services to the Early Childhood Special population is always at the forefront of what we do and how we provide it.
Tell us about one family (or story) that you remember from your time in Boyer that had an impact on your career.
There are children whose names I can’t remember, but whose faces I can still see in my memories. Most recently a board member’s family co-chaired the Boyer Auction. I am always delighted to see them and the pictures of their little girl growing older. When I assessed her to see if she was ready and appropriate to join a group, she became that strong reminder that no amount of experience can produce participation from a toddler who knows they are the center of attention and doesn’t want to be. Every time she looked my direction she cried, if I had mom try to coax her to do a task she would look my direction and cry. As she joined my group I had to wonder would I be able to help her reach her potential in her first group setting. Very slowly she began to take part and when she left that group for the next setting she still cried, but not just from looking at me. When she saw the other children take part and have fun, she was definitely able to join in the fun with them. It was a balance of patience and encouragement and whenever she smiled her brilliant smile in my direction I felt like progress was being made. Having her parents give back to Boyer as a Board member, felt very good and their little one provided Boyer with strong advocates. I wish all the families I have had the privilege to work with the very best and that their children reach their potential in a way only they can.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The children and families are the biggest joy and reward. They can provide a happy spot on some of one’s worst days. The education staff I work with are the best ever. They have made my position as coordinator a truly positive one, I cannot say enough good about each of them and they should be praised for their skill and abilities at juggling groups and individuals.
What is the most positive change you’ve seen at Boyer or in the EI field in your 3+ decades of work?
Boyer continues to strive for excellence in how we provide services and who is hired to provide those services. Allowing education services to expand and provide service in a variety of ways. Becoming better known in the community and working to establish new connections.
How do you plan to spend your retirement?
I am hoping to travel (as soon as that is safe to do). My husband and I enjoy kayaking and biking and those activities will get more attention. For years I have been collecting crafts that look fun and engaging to me, now I might actually get to do them. I hope to find more time to read, without falling asleep and having to read the same page several times over. We have two very fun grandchildren and more time for them is high on the retirement activity list. More time for friends and extended family is another activity I am looking forward too. I am sure I will miss Boyer but hope to see staff at least periodically if not more.
What advice would you give to someone just starting their career as an educator?
You will need to be skillful at listening, observing, and being patient. Families always know their child best – even when they are not sure themselves – so follow their lead whenever you can and find the right moments for hard discussions. Look to your colleagues who have had experience and success don’t be shy about asking questions and seeking advice. Know that new ideas can add to an already excellent organization, so don’t be afraid to speak up. I’d sum this up by saying you can always learn something new and something more, even after you’ve worked in the field for many years. If we learn nothing else, COVID has demonstrated how adaptable we all can be.