In a sentence or two, why do you love what you do?
Profile and photo by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News
Christy Yee joined the Ann Arbor Public Schools in 2002, and has a passion for working with children with sensory processing differences. As an occupational therapist, she is responsible for the evaluation and treatment of students certified for special education who qualify for additional supports for neuromuscular development of skills that interfere with their “occupation” of being a student.
Yee graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy, and in 2008, completed her master’s degree in Schools, Society, and Violence at EMU. She is Sensory Integration and Praxis Testing (SIPT) certified and certified in Non-Violent Crisis Intervention (NVCI). In addition, she holds certifications as a handwriting instructor through Handwriting without Tears and is a certified fieldwork educator through the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). She is also a part-time lecturer at EMU’s occupational therapy program.
Yee lives with her husband, two sons and a cat in Commerce. She is an avid sailor.
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of an occupational therapist? Every week I ask students to come with me and work on some of the skills they find most difficult. Despite the challenge, they always come. I feel it is my job not only to know their treatment goals, but more importantly, to find out what matters to them, so I can plan motivating therapeutic activities that help them improve the foundational skills they need to be successful in school. I’m not just making paper airplanes! I’m working on constructional praxis, sequencing, visual perceptual skills, motor coordination, grasping, self-monitoring, frustration tolerance, proprioceptive discrimination, and building self-confidence, all in the context of what will engage the student and make them work harder then they ever thought they could.
Are people surprised when you say you’re an occupational therapist working in an elementary school? My job title can be quite confusing. I often get asked if I help people get jobs! So when I add in that I work in elementary schools, the common response is, “But they don’t need jobs!” Occupational therapists help people of all ages accomplish the activities that they want and need to do.
When did you realize this was the career path for you? Working with children has always been an interest. I was a clown every Sunday at a restaurant as one of my first jobs when I was 16. I loved passing out balloons, doing face painting and generally making sure children were having fun. I always enjoyed science, so I was also drawn to a health career. Pediatric occupational therapy became the perfect fit.
Describe an average workday. There is no average workday! This is one of the reasons I love working in the public schools. I spend approximately 70 percent of my week working directly with students who are certified for special education, either individually or in small groups. Thirty percent of my time is dedicated to consultation, Response to Intervention (RtI), and meetings. I move between three buildings, so I get to work with several awesome teams.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning? I am really fortunate that I can attend trainings along side my regular education and special education colleagues. I have learned so much about the art of teaching! One of my favorite quotes is from Martin Haberman in 1994, who really sums up the essence of what I have learned: “Teacher acts never impact on students independently of the teacher’s real intentions.” I have learned that I am the prevalent factor in creating a therapeutic environment.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? I am energized every day by working with so many dedicated educators. To watch my colleagues putting forth their best intentions every moment is both rewarding and inspiring. There is so much at stake every day; no one can afford to have a “bad day at work.”
Who inspires you, and why? I have been fortunate to have many great teachers throughout my educational career. However, my greatest teachers are my students. They inspire me to work harder, think differently, and enjoy the smallest of triumphant moments.
Who was your favorite teacher, and why? My favorite teacher is a professor at EMU, Joe Bishop. He challenged me to work harder than I thought I was able to and to not accept good or even great if it wasn’t truly my best.
What has surprised you most about the profession? Of all the things I have learned over my career, the power and importance of the therapeutic relationship continues to amaze me. This relationship with each child is the foundation of therapy, and what that relationship looks like is as individual as the children.
If you could change one thing about public education, what would it be? If I could change one thing about public education I would increase monetary resources so that every conversation could start and end with, “What is best for children?” or “What is best for this child?”
What do you like to do when you’re not working? Along with sailing, I love to read.
Where do you picture yourself in five years? I hope to be right here in five years, doing what I love to do.