Category Archives: Teacher’s aide stuff

Expectations on the eve of change

12Roger_Ballen_Squawk_2005

So I am about 24 hours away from submitting my final essay of my undergraduate degree. To be honest I am freaking out. The thought of not learning anything impractical for three months is terrifying. It’s time to come to grips with the everyday realities of what motivates and satisfies me, and decide if teaching is it.

I like my everyday right now. And this is a problem. I have the most rewarding jobs in the world, and neither of them pay well enough to live in Sydney where these opportunities to connect exist. I get to make real connections everyday, and I have to lose my own ego and let them go as easily as they came. A flash of recognition, a smile from someone who can’t say my name, the ability to stop and sit and listen to someone whose problems bear no relation to my own. Will I get this from teaching?

I have chosen this image by Roger Ballen to illustrate what I am feeling. I wonder what he was feeling when he made these connections. Did he feel like his ego was outside these relationships, but did he feel satisfied all the same? Or did he place himself so far outside that he wondered ‘What is the point? Does it even matter that I am here?” I don’t know what his relationship was, but I do know some of the thoughts that would have passed through his mind when interacting with his subjects. 

I find comfort in the ontological insecurity that my job brings. Someone needs water, I hold a straw to their lips. Some days I need meaning, but mostly I don’t. I fear that teaching has become removed from satisfying needs. But I’m going to carry these questions with me and try to answer them, or not answer them, daily.

 

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Participation and Chemical Restrictive Practices

YIWRRA KUJU COLLECTION CANBERRA

 

Yes, I was surprised to learn that it’s a thing too. I suppose it had always made sense that medicating someone without their consent in order to restrain them was dubious, but sometimes necessary to prevent them from causing further harm to themselves and others. But I hadn’t really thought of the implications of drugs that might restrict participation generally. I’ll give an example.

Imagine that an adult has regular seizures. And now imagine that they’re given a drug that minimises those seizures. The only problem is that it makes them sleep for 23 hours a day. Pretty restrictive, huh?

Now imagine that this person may have needed assistance from a carer many times a day, and that before they were medicated for seizures, they complained loudly and displayed constant echolalia. Well, that doesn’t happen any more, does it?

My questions are many. Is this the least restrictive drug for this person? What are they losing by taking it? Does anyone except the person taking the drugs stand to gain something that may set off alarm bells? Is there a ‘least restrictive’ alternative that would aid with seizures. Has the person participated in this decision, or just the GP and carer?

Chemical restriction isn’t just about padded rooms. It’s about participating as fully as possible in daily life, and the constant revision of medication to ensure that this is possible.

Image: people participating. 

 

A bit ‘Aspie’

spock

Not Spock

I’ve heard students described this way. Apparently it’s a bit of a trendy thing to say: “Abdul always needs the blinds drawn in the classroom. He’s so ‘Aspie’.” It seems that all one needs is a mild quirk to be thought of as having Asperger’s syndrome. There are lots of reasons why this kind of labelling is uncool. I would have thought those reasons were obvious, especially in light of “Inclusive Education” – note the OTT bunny ears I am making in the air – but since they’re patently not, and since Asperger’s is the new ADHD and OCD, but with a Spock-myth twist, I can see I am going to have to lay down a new law and explain how these labels hurt.

1.  Labelling, or identifying students solely by their disability, is wrong.

Would you call a student with difficulties walking “a little bit cerebral palsy” or someone with a lower IQ “a little bit globally delayed”? Of course not. But behavioural labels seem to be more fun. People who liked clean hands were called “a little OCD” a few years ago. Now anyone with the mildest distaste for irrationality is ‘Aspie’.

2  Falsely labelling students (presumably to sound clever) trivialises the challenges of those with the actual diagnosis.

I’ve met plenty of students with Asperger’s who have a disability but often no handicap. They’re great people, and with the right support, they excel, very often beyond their peers. They face real challenges from people who are inflexible, and from systems that don’t acknowledge their needs, but they often overcome these and their uniqueness shines. Defining people by their ‘symptoms’ is unethical anyway, but labelling students as being on the spectrum due to vague tendencies trivialises the challenges of those with an actual diagnosis.

3.  Calling students ‘Aspie’ makes you sound ignorant.

If you want to let everyone in the room know that you’ve never gotten to know someone with Asperger’s, then next time you see a student who likes his pencils arranged neatly, announce to your staff “Jarrod is so ‘Aspie’.” Asperger’s syndrome has nothing to do with neatness, order, even logic. And here is where I want feedback. I believe Asperger’s is more of a question to be asked, and that question is “How can I understand the way you see the world?” Because the answer you’re going to get will change your world too.

Misogyny – I’m over it.

Prince de Kooning

No, I mean really over it. I said to a colleague just the other week that I thought I would never get used to students hating me because of my gender, but I was wrong. I’m over it.

An interesting event revealed my true attitudes to misogyny. But let me clarify. I still don’t hold truck with culturally embedded misogyny. But kids for whom women have only (mostly) ever let them down – I’m good with that. I was working at an inner city behavior school last week. There was a casual in for the day who seemed fairly hip to the kids at first. But at the daily debrief she went on a verbal bender about how she had limits and that there was only so much misogyny she could take. The room was deathly silent as everyone was thinking “Should these not be private thoughts, to be mulled over and processed with the benefits of some space and time?”. You could cut the ‘circle’ with a knife.

My inner monologue during her tirade revealed to me my true feelings on the issue of student misogyny:

1. In a behavior setting, our job as women is to be the exception to the (perceived) rule: Be patient, be understanding, don’t give up, and be yourself – don’t slip unquestioningly into ‘roles’, even if they’re part of the school culture.

2. There’s a reason for misogyny: Imagine that every woman that this student has come into contact has let him down in some way – if you don’t, you’re omitting a big part of the reason for his enrollment in a behaviour school in the first place.

3.  Misogyny is a part of a greater anti-social problem. If you’re not prepared to stick around and model pro-social behavior, then perhaps that kind of school environment is not for you.

While part of me was hearing things ‘the casual’ said, and recognising them as part of my sometime inner monologue, another part of me was passionately defending the misogynist (the student), and I realised that I am over it. It’s not personal, and it’s not a power struggle. It’s the greater good, stupid!

Image: Richard Prince‘s rehash of De Kooning’s misogynistic paintings of women.

Disabling behaviour

behaviour

Before I became an SLSO, I thought that behaviour was a result of choices, and that firm, consistent consequences were the magic bullet. This strategy works in a domestic setting (Supernanny, anyone?), but doesn’t account for the fact that young and growing children aren’t the only ones making decisions in the home. Consider this comparison. Children with Autistic Spectrum disorder have disability status in schools, in recognition of their social, and sometimes intellectual impairment. Children with Conduct Disorder do not have disability status as they weren’t born with social impairment, rather, impairment was thrust upon them; some of the causes might be neglect, abuse, undiagnosed dyslexia, and destabilising experiences in the foster care system. Conduct disorder has even been linked to PTSD. Many of the behaviours leading up to a diagnosis of conduct disorder have not been enacted by the children themselves, but by parents and bureaucracies. As such, there are limits to how much they can ‘own’ their behaviour. Concessions are made for children with ASD, with social classes provided in mainstream schools, and genuine learning support. Teachers and SLSOs can receive specific training and instruction in a multitude of areas for supporting students with ASD, but presently there is no consistent strategy for supporting students with Conduct Disorder, and despite popular misconception, many of their circumstances and resultant behaviours have been thrust upon them. If disability is socially constructed, then we have the power to decide what constitutes disability, and we also have the power to exclude.

If you believe I have missed something important, feel free to comment.

Image from here.

Self calming

This is more of a stream-of-consciousness post after a particularly tough day. So forgive me if it’s unstructured. I realised that I have made quite a professional achievement. I have a student who, through my modelling and encouragement, has stated to me that he is “self calming”. Let me explain.

After many *wiggle two fingers in quotation marks* “stressful events”, I asked my student to observe the behaviours that he himself exhibits in the lead-up to said “stressful event”. We addressed it objectively when he was calm and discussed various strategies for physically and mentally de-escalating the event. He dismissed most of my suggestions, but the surprising thing is, he has actioned quite a few of them.

When I asked him today what he was up to, he said “I am calming myself”. I didn’t realise until my own mental debrief over a solitary Coopers Green that this is huge. Both of us needed some time out today so I practised a mini-meditation while my student calmed in his own way. We don’t have a perfect system, and both of us look fairly strange to the casual passer-by, but  finding calm and peace when everything seems to be ripping apart is a gift that I can now proudly give.

Image: Matt at Penrose finding his own peace. Shot by Mr. W.

Can’t live without…

I have been slack with blogging and have made a pact with a new pre-service Twitter pal to post at least once a week. I thought I was ease my poor fried brain into things (I sat a Lit exam this week), and write about the sites that have changed my life as an aide and pre-service teacher.

Some of them may seem obvious to the enlightened Twitterati that I consult with daily, but pre-service teachers might not realise the value. I encourage you to dabble! You don’t have to aim to be featured on #qanda to have a play and learn a thing or two. Which brings me to my list.

Twitter.

In my old life, if people asked me if they should bother with Twitter, I would respond “Only if you’re selling something”. My how views change. It’s such a hive of new ideas, all no-strings-attached (if you know who to follow!). My new PLN is found here. These fine people have helped me with everything from scaffolding for autistic students to improving my own essays. And there’s an offline element if you want to take things further and network in real life, with invites to events like TeachMeet bringing the benefits into the here, now and future.

Pinterest.

Del.ici.ous is so 2009. Create mood boards for kids with imaginations that need some coercing. Categorise and subcategorise to your heart’s content. Endless fodder from key influencers in your field (or just other users who like pretty things!). I cannot recommend this tool enough. Unfortunately the DET sees the sharing of positive ideas and impeccable good taste as social media, so you will have to share this with students via Edmodo.

Edmodo.

I really thought this site would be old news. But then I discovered that I was the only person at my school using it! I have added our school and this has since changed (by one addition). It’s a super secure way of sharing, calendarising, and submitting work, with the intuitiveness of Facebook. There are also subject specific communities sharing tools around the clock. I encourage you to invite your students and use social media in a sanctioned way.

I hope this post has been helpful. Please share with me some more sites on which I can while away the hours, while I should be studying for Lit or Sociology.

 

Image from Society 6.  Made me thinking of a twittering (read: squawking) network.

Alternate Realities

The coolest thing about being an aide is that I get to spend my days with people who experience the world in a completely different way to that which I do. In my old career as a supplier to the advertising industry, I pretty much dealt with two types of people. I dealt with artists, who have an inherently selfish and needy disposition, and print producers, who have an inherently selfish and needy disposition (yes, I said that twice. They’re selfish and needy in completely different ways.) I was a fairly smug agent in that I knew how to navigate and negotiate these two groups, and how to bring them together in a (usually) harmonious way. Special needs certainly puts the spark of unpredictability back into human relations!

It might seem obvious to say that, for example, an autistic child, has a very different take on the world. But the thing for me which makes the school experience so unique, is that the kids are surrounded by adults who couch their behaviour by making allowances that the outside world possibly never would. They’re supported and taught how to modify behaviours that wouldn’t be accepted outside, but when that doesn’t work, they’re supported anyway.

I’m envious in a way of kids who react unpredictably. They don’t have a ‘front’. When they want to have a cry, they cry. When they have a meltdown, they have a recovery-snooze on the floor. When they can’t see the logic of notating common-sense lesson content, they refuse. While I wouldn’t want the restrictions that come with many disabilities, I can’t help but think of how many of my professional problems in my old life might have been solved by a good cry and a flail on the floor.

Image by Gregory Crewdson.

Modelling mindfulness

I’m sadly one of those people who thinks meditation and yoga are a great idea. Thinks. I haven’t quite gotten around to the doing bit just yet. My secular psychic forays haven’t exactly stuck, despite binges on Bikram every few years, and I haven’t made a good habit of any of the things I profess to feel are beneficial. One thing I do, though, every few years is have a mental spring clean with a counsellor. And one of the things that strikes me after each run of sessions, is that not everybody thinks of the mind as something to be cared for, exercised, and rested. I think of counselling as something akin to buying a gym membership or buying a series of laser treatments for my skin. It’s expensive, but undoubtedly good for me. Like my body and skin, I have one mind, and I want to look after it. Zero stigma.

Unfortunately, lots of people don’t see it that way, and that’s the family culture that kids bring to school. This is where modelling comes in. Our job as aides and teachers is to model positive behaviours. Just what if, for once, we included mental health in the PD/H/PE curriculum – and I don’t mean showing the kids the way to the school counsellor’s office. I mean preventative mental health, like Mindfulness Training. Non-secular meditation is a great way to deal with the bazillions of strange emotions and hormones coursing through a student’s mind and body. And I would be willing to bet my salary that it will have a positive and noticeable effect on our mainstream disability students.

I have resolved to sign up for a course and collect some inspiration for visualisation which my coach and counsellor reckons will work a treat with students. Have you had any experience with meditation in schools? How did you rate the experience?

(To hear Jon Kabat-Zinn talk to Google staff about mindfulness, click here.)

Image: Nothing is New.

Social and cultural capital in Wuthering Heights

It didn’t escape my notice that Emily Bronte saw the value in social and cultural capital. And here is a spoiler alert. If you don’t want to know what happens to Hareton and little Cathy, don’t read any further.

“His honest, warm and intelligent nature shook off rapidly the clouds of ignorance and degradation in which it had been bred..His brightening mind brightened his features, and added spirit and nobility to their aspect (286).”

Heathcliff was well aware that economic poverty was not enough to hobble poor Hareton. It seems that in the last fifty years or so free-market economics has allowed many members of our society to become similarly hobbled, as success and liberty are measured in dollars alone. It’s an area of educational neglect. It’s interesting that Cathy, a woman, was Hareton’s ‘knight in shining armour’, liberating him from ignorance and social isolation. And several times in the novel, books and the escapism literacy can provide, were given powerful significance, with the to-and-fro of volumes smuggled to Linton, stolen by Hareton, and confiscated from Cathy. In the end, Hareton’s happiness and confidence came not from the re-acquisition of property, but from education. Perhaps it took a female writer to acknowledge the power of what men may have taken for granted? Here’s hoping that social and cultural entrepreneurship come back into vogue.

Image: Unhappy (Bordieuan) Hipsters. I think of this image as a modern-day Cathy teaching Hareton. The book of the blog can be purchased here. Buy it for an ironic – mais oui – take on cultural capital and where it has led us in an imperfect world!

Bronte, Emily. 2009. Wuthering Heights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.