Mark Chartier, a special education teacher at Pueblo West High School, can recall intentionally harming himself for unexplained reasons when he was seven years old.
It was the first sign he might have a neurological problem, but they were unable to pinpoint the exact problem. Unusual hand gestures escalated to barking.
“No one knew why I was doing these strange things,” he said.
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It wasn’t until age 18, while attending Coronado High School in Colorado Springs, Chartier was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome.
“It was reassuring because he gave names and explanations to some of my actions,” he said. That’s how I saw it at the time, and I definitely wouldn’t describe it that way now.
Chartier’s formative struggles — marked by fistfighting and vandalism — helped shape him into the ideal special education teacher, he said.
“Living with Tourette’s disease was certainly challenging, but teaching has been the love of my life,” said Chartier, who has two master’s degrees from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs.
Finding out he had Tourette’s Syndrome was just the beginning of Chartier’s educational journey. After graduating from Coronado High School in 1994, he entered college on a probationary period.
“Every day was a battle with Tourette’s symptoms and drug side effects,” he said.
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His condition was exacerbated by a brain injury that caused him to stutter, and he had problems communicating. Determined not to allow his condition to define him, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English before earning two postgraduate degrees.
“I went to see my educators many times, remembering the people who had the most positive impact on my life,” he said. “So the decision to become a teacher was an easy one.”
Chartier, who taught at Fountain Fort Carson for five years before moving to Pueblo, doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He manages Tourette with medication and has openly discussed his condition with his students. C.”
“As someone who has overcome a disability, I think there is a different level of empathy for struggling students,” he said. “I think the students will respond to that.”
As a speaker, Chartier is also a passionate advocate for people with disabilities. He has spoken at the Alaska Statewide Special Education Conference in Anchorage, the Equity and Excellence Conference in Denver, and the Courage to Risk Special Education Conference in Springs, Colorado.
“He’s not afraid to show his vulnerability and engages audiences whether they’re educators, students, or parents,” said Barbara Goldsby, a former employee of the Colorado Department of Education. “I have heard Mark speak at various events at least 10 times, and each time I have tears in my eyes and a sense of respect and love for Mark.”
Chartier firmly believes that disabled people can be a valuable asset to society in general and to the workplace in particular.
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“People with disabilities not only have sufficient skills to be positive team members for organizations, but they are also flexible, adaptable, and resilient because of the challenges and struggles we have overcome. They may actually have more skills than the average employee when it comes to that,” he said.
“Given that 1 in 4 people have some form of disability, people with disabilities blend their unique perspective on life with a do-it-yourself attitude to make organizations successful, welcoming and today. It can reflect the world we live in.”