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Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Got The Blues, Part Two

 Okay, in my last post I started to say that I thought I was going through some sort of low grade depression... but then I spent the whole post explaining one of my more severe episodes of depression from the past.
So anyway... like I said in that post, being on meds allows you to feel sadness, but helps you avoid the kind of depression that knocks you to the ground.
Right now I feel like, if I wasn't on meds, I would be going through severe depression. Even with the meds, I feel like something is wrong. I almost always have this aching feeling inside, like I feel sad and empty and I don't know why. It is weird because when I'm busy I will feel fine, but then the minute I slow down or have nothing to keep me occupied, that achiness sneaks up on  me.
I don't know if I told you this before, but I have been working as a teacher's aide this year. I did get my special ed teaching degree a year ago, but I was unable to find a teaching job, so I took an aide job. The job is at a regular education school, as a 1:1 for a first grader who has special needs. He spends part of the day in a regular first grade class, and part of the day in a self-contained special ed class. I basically stay with him all day long.
The kid, whom I will call "Taz," has severe ADHD. I mean, this little dude literally cannot stand still. He is loud and boisterous. He also has learning difficulties, which may be caused by a learning disability or even an intellectual disability, and may be caused by the fact that he spent the first six years of his life being raised by his drug addicted parents, witnessing domestic violence, and getting very little stimulation. But he is almost always happy! He bounces into school each morning with a big smile on his face, hugging and high fiving everyone he sees. He loves school and asks how come we can't sleep there. He attacks his free, government issued bagged lunch... typically a dry sandwich, a few shribbled up carrots, and a small cup of grape juice... with as much gusto as if it were a Happy Meal. He thinks everyone he sees is his friend. He is so proud of everything he's able to learn. Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. are his heroes. He says he's going to be the President when he grows up.
When I was going through teacher training, including observations and student teaching, and even before that when I was working as an aide in a special education school, and even before that when I was working at a therapeutic learning center for preschoolers with behavior disorder, I was taught to keep things as positive as possible with kids. Be kind and understanding, and help kids learn to make good choices on their own. Choose your battles. Find out how a kid learns best, and use that information to help him learn... even if that means he jumps on a mini trampoline while reading flash cards, or standing up at his desk instead of sitting! Reserve your "angry voice" for the times when you really need it. In all of the places I worked, observed, or student taught, I barely ever saw a teacher raise her voice to a kid.
So then I came to this school where I work at now. They gave me Taz. I started working with him the way I'd always worked with kids, the way I'd been trained to work with kids. But it wasn't going well. It turned out that this was a very traditional school, with teachers who prided themselves on teaching in the same ways that they'd been teaching for the past thirty years. There was a huge emphasis on getting everyone to be quiet, and sit still, and do the same things at the same times in the same ways. Kids who deviated from the plan were really disliked by the teachers. A kid would talk without raising his hand, and the teacher would glare at him. As you can expect, Taz got glared at a lot, and yelled at a lot.
Every time Taz would commit some sort of infraction, someone would step in and yell at him, before I could do anything. Often I wouldn't even notice that Taz had done anything wrong. For instance one day he was walking from his locker to the classroom, and kind of bopping himself in the head with his "Take Home" folder as he walked. That didn't even register on my radar. It seemed to me like the kind of goofy, unconscious thing that just about any little kid I'd ever met might have done. But a teacher stepped in front of him and snapped, "Oh, no, young man. That is not what you do. You go back right now and do that over." As Taz retreated to his locker, to walk back to the classroom without moving his folder, the teacher turned to me and said, "You need to be firmer with him."
It seemed like every staff member in the school knew Taz and wanted to try their hand at disciplining him. Taz often danced when he walked. Nothing fancy, just kind of with a bounce in his step. And as we walked down the halls, random teachers from other grade levels would stop us so they could tell Taz, "Oh no, that is not how you walk. You walk the correct way, right now."
Once , Taz got in a shoving match with another kid. But just as I was stepping in to separate the boys, the recess supervisor literally shoved me out of the way, so she could grab Taz and shout at him.
Another time, a teacher's aide who was a 1:1 for another little boy took me aside and told me, "You are too nice to him. He won't learn anything from that. You know, a lot of teachers even say, don't smile until Christmas, because if you're too nice, the kids won't respect you."
One day Taz's teacher presented me with a laminated list entitled "Rules For Working With Taz." The list included things like, "Don't give him so much praise. He needs to know that good behavior is expected, not appreciated." And "Avoid engaging in conversation with Taz. When he completes his work, he can earn a five minute conversation with a teacher as a reward."
Each day, my heart crumbled a little bit more, as I was told in one way or another that I wasn't doing a good job with Taz. I started hating to go to work. I started missing days for minor illnesses, despite the fact that I had never missed a day of student teaching and had barely ever missed days of my other jobs working with kids.
Truthfully, the other "regular" first graders weren't a whole lot better behaved than Taz was. The teachers shouted at the kids constantly, so much that the kids seemed to tune it out. Being yelled at would quiet them down for a few minutes, but then they'd go right back to what they were doing. When they were in "specials" like gym and music, which had teachers who were a little more reluctant to raise their voices, the kids were uncontrollable.
Finally, there came the day for my "annual review", the principal's big chance to tell me what he really thought. In as polite a way as possible, the principal told me that the teachers I worked with said I didn't have behavior management skills. He told me that I shouldn't work with children with behavior problems. That I should probably look for a job working with children who were "profoundly autistic" instead. That he understood that being kind and compassionate was in my nature, and that my personality would probably work better with kids who had very severe disabilities. (First of all, was this supposed to mean that children who were "profoundly autistic" or "severely disabled" had no behavioral issues? But that is a conversation for another day.) I had already gotten a RIF notice, which all first year staff members get. However, the principal told me that he was putting "employment will not be continued" on my annual review form. This was different from being RIFed, he explained, because it meant, if another job were available next school year, I would still not be hired back.
So... basically I'm allowed to finish off the school year, but then I'm fired.
I've never been fired before. I've never been told I'm no good at working with kids before.
I am seeing the signs of depression in myself. I'm seeing myself not being interested in the things I usually love. I haven't even been able to muster up the motivation to do much work with Tori Joy's Smiles, my labor of love, lately. The only thing that has captured my interest has been my dogs, and my volunteer job helping rescue dogs find homes. Dogs are therapeutic to me. Right now, they're the only thing keeping me going.

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