Teaching our children that being different is a wonderful thing is incredibly important. It starts with the conversations you have, the shows they watch, and the books they read. Justine Green, Ed.D., has dedicated her career to bettering children’s lives through the power of education. Green authored a children’s book entitled Completely Me which is based on her powerful own story of living with a disability. The book emphasizes that it’s important to be proud of who you are and to acknowledge that everyone is different in their own way. Our imperfections are what make us perfect.
Green is an educator, author, and disability advocate based in Boca Raton, Florida. She serves as the Principal at Tamim Academy. Green was born with Atresia, the absence of an ear canal, and Microtia, a condition where the outer ear does not develop properly. She was born deaf in her left ear and grew up with the understanding that she was different. After enduring three reconstructive surgeries, Green learned to read lips and had to work extra hard at school.
What makes Green unique is that she used her disability as motivation instead of an excuse, which led her to her life’s purpose.
I spoke with Justine Green, Ed.D., to learn more about her work and Completely Me, which continues to change the way children think about disabilities.
Your experiences as a child really shaped who you are today. Can you speak to those early memories of wanting to pursue education? What drew you to the profession?
JG: I love kids! I always have and always will. I’m fascinated by them. The amount of growth that occurs between each year of life during childhood is tremendous. However, I didn’t know I wanted to go into education until about senior year of high school. I always wanted to be a surgeon to help people with disabilities, just like the doctors helped me. It wasn’t until I went to a pre-med program at Vanderbilt for college credit in high school that I quickly realized medicine wasn’t my calling.
I can help others while pursuing a career trajectory that makes sense for me. I ended up choosing education because I love kids and I always knew I wanted to be a mom. Why not learn about child development to be the best mom I can be… little did I know, it all clicked the second I switched to an education major. It was my first semester with a 4.0 GPA and everything felt right.
It’s undeniable that you overcame incredible obstacles. Oftentimes the most challenging time of your life is childhood when you have a disability. How did those years influence certain aspects of your book Completely Me?
JG: If you take away the doctors’ offices and surgeries, I was like every other kid. That’s one of the messages I was trying to portray in the story. I actually have a lot of people ask me if anyone really called the police – I love that! No one really called the police, but others did point it out and call attention to my ear even when I didn’t.
Other kids noticed my ear and would point it out, making me notice it even more. I tried to hide my ear, I did not wear my hair up in public for years. It wasn’t until much later that I learned to accept who I am and that I am perfectly complete.
What is your message for other boys and girls who are learning to grow and adapt to life with a disability?
JG: I want to help children with disabilities understand that others impose disability on them and they shouldn’t let that happen. They are not “missing” anything. They are capable of doing great things and their imperfections make them perfect.
Learn to be your own advocate. If you need something to help you in the classroom, speak up. Whenever you feel as though you are at a disadvantage and need assistance, you should say something, and you deserve to say something. People with disabilities are federally protected and have a right to use accommodations in school.
Surround yourself with people that make you feel like you are more than your disability.
Teach other people about your disability and experiences. People are naturally curious and may not know as much as you do. Be open to teachable moments, sometimes people can bring attention to your disability but it’s about how you respond that makes the impact.
As a mother, how have your experiences personally and professionally helped you raise your own children?
JG: Nothing is as humbling as having children. When I was a teacher before having my own children, I would say to my husband, “our kids would never do that!” HA! Children are such a blessing and an eye-opener to what is truly important. Luckily, I have extensive knowledge of childhood development and the way in which children learn. I have taken course after course about conscious discipline and responsive classroom management that I try to practice at home with my children. I want to make sure I bring in my prior knowledge to help me raise thoughtful, helpful, understanding, and compassionate children who love to learn. I like to embrace teachable moments. When my son discovered my “special” ear, I took that as an opportunity. Recognize that children can comprehend way more than we give them credit for and we should speak to them and take the time to expand on important topics, not stray away from difficult conversations. I want to make sure I raise my children to be good people over anything else, specific subject knowledge will come but character is the most important quality of all.
What is your connection to the Hamptons?
JG: I spent every summer in the Hamptons until I was about 5-years-old. We stayed in Westhampton Beach and Napeague! My whole family would rent a house together and I would play all day long – they are some of my favorite memories. I remember eating ice cream near the beach and playing with chalk on the driveway. It was a wonderful time spent with my brothers and cousins!
To learn more about Completely Me, visit www.greenrosepublishing.com.