Part of the reason I haven't blogged was because I haven't felt very inspired. When I first got my teaching job, I had big plans not only to keep all of you updated through this blog, but to start a separate blog specifically about teaching! I imagined posting funny and touching anecdotes and descriptions of my lessons and activities. There is an actual entire blog genre where teachers write about their classrooms and exchange ideas, and ever since I decided to become a teacher many years ago, I've been excited about joining that online community.
The truth is, my new teaching job hasn't been going that great. I haven't wanted to post about it because I didn't want to be seen as complaining. I didn't want everyone to be disappointed. But I finally decided that I need this blog for my own sake, not just for the amusement of others, and it may feel good to post the truth.
Here's the thing. When I took the job, I knew I was going to be a Resource teacher and I'd be teaching children with learning disabilities, autism, ADHD, and behavioral disorders. I imagined that this would involve a lot of teaching, as well as some daily "check-ins" with the behavioral kids and maybe consultations with their classroom teachers.
As it turns out, the main focus is on the behavioral kids, and not just checking in with them, but having to drop everything and go act as a 1:1 to any kid who starts to disrupt class. If I am in the middle of teaching one of my groups, and a teacher calls because little Timmy is refusing to do his math, I'm supposed to ditch my group and go spend several hours trying to get Timmy to be more compliant. Meanwhile, the kids in my academic group are supposed to somehow be "absorbed" into another group (which doesn't really work because most of my academic groups include kids with autism or ADHD and making that sudden switch doesn't sit well with them) or send them back to class (which means they lose their chance at learning.)
There are also lots of kids who are supposed to have 1:1 assistants with them in their classrooms, but the special ed director has it arranged so that 2 to 4 kids in a class are actually sharing 1 assistant. That is often too much for one assistant to handle, since all of these kids have unique needs and require someone with them in the regular ed class. That means I get called down a lot to help with those kids. There are also kids who are supposed to have 1:1s but actually have a long chain of assistants coming in to spend 20 - 30 minutes at a time with them... and if there is a gap in that coverage, I have to be the one to go do it.
Whenever I've brought these problems up, I'm told that I should just spend less time on my academic kids. Don't use creative lesson plans. Just do workbooks, so that an assistant can step in to work with the kids at any time while I run off to work with behavioral kids, or the kids can even do the workbooks on their own while I am busy with other things. Spend less time trying to engage and inspire them, and spend more time teaching them to sit with their butts in their chairs and pencils in their hands doing worksheets.
It has been a little bit heartbreaking and spirit breaking for me.
Plus, because my responsibilities also include case management, which includes doing testing and writing IEPs, I rarely can finish my work in the regularly contracted work day. I rarely even get a lunch break. Through union rules I'm entitled to 35 minutes of "duty free" time to eat lunch. That means, with no kids in my face. But that never happens. When I bring this up, people are just like, "Well, that's just how it is." Mostly because of the behavior kids.
Unfortunately, I am less able to deal with this than most typical people are. I am a hard worker, but there are a few things I need, need, need. These things include time to sleep, regular meals, and some down time in the day. I need these things so badly to function, they could probably be considered accommodations for my autism... except that they shouldn't have to be, because these are things everyone is entitled to!
So I get home each day feeling down, and I don't really want to talk about work, and I usually fall asleep on the couch at my aunt's house as soon as I get home and nap until dinner time. And each night I have that dreadful, "I don't want to go back" feeling... the feeling I've struggled at all my life but believed wouldn't bother me once I became a teacher and was doing what I loved.
Doing what I loved. That is the key word. Because I'm not getting to do what I love. I love teaching. I don't mind case management duties... case management is actually pretty interesting and I enjoy keeping data. Its like a puzzle. But while I do have a lot of patience for the kids with behaviors, and I enjoy having them in my academic groups and finding ways to TEACH them... I never wanted to be a behavior consultant. I'm not even good at it! The teachers complain that little Timmy is disruptive during reading time, and my only thought is, "You're reading time is 3 hours long! He's expected to stay on task for 3 hours! He is a 6 year old with ADHD! He's going to need some breaks!" But the expectation is, "Make him do what the others are doing. He must do it the way the rest of us are doing it." But it doesn't feel right. And that kills me. I do love the kids I work with. And they seem to love me... they love coming to my room. Which makes it even more disappointing, and hard for everyone, when I cannot be there to work with them because I am busy filling in for assistants and running interference for classroom teachers.
On a happier note, I volunteered at the farm last weekend and this weekend. I think being on the farm is as important to my emotional wellbeing as taking my medicine. Sometimes it is hard for me to actually go because when I am feeling sad and anxious about work, I just want to bury myself under the covers all day long and hide from the world. It is hard to even make myself go see the animals,whom I love! But once I get there, I am in my element! Today I got to help wash and oil pigs, brush goats, and give lots of hugs and belly rubs to various animals. It is amazing how much better I feel, after having spent a few hours there. It clears the cobwebs out of my head and calms me down. It gives me hope. It reminds me of who I am. It is sort of like doing a hard reset on a computer... it gives me a fresh start. It is good that Sunday is the day they have volunteer opportunities, because it gives me a chance to "reset" before work starts again on Monday.
I should try to go every week. I've been trying to go at least once a month. I don't know how to explain how hard it is for me to leave the house, even to do something I know I want to do. Even to go see the goats at my other friend's house, or to take my dog for a walk by the river. I want to. But then anxiety sets in and I want to stay home, and often I do. My aunt's house and my apartment are like safe cocoons that protect me from the unpredictability of the outside world. I often just want to stay home and do nothing, but then I get bored and say, "I'm going to do something next weekend," but then next weekend comes and I say, "I want to stay in my safety zone." The farm is also like a safety zone but it is hard to transition out of my house. It would help if I could somehow teleport there directly from my house, without having to actually open the front door and walk out.
But when I get there I am so happy, when Gomez the goose is honking and honking and honking as he follows me around, and Junebug the sheep runs up to greet me just like a dog, and the goats are leaning against me while I brush them, and the pigs are asking for their heads scratched and their bellies rubbed, and the dogs want to play, and the chickens are clucking, and the llamas are making llama noises, and my hands are dirty, and everyone is so nice. Then I am sad to leave. But when another weekend comes, it will somehow still be hard to leave the stupid house!
Now I've just completely switched topics. Lets summarize. Work = crappy. Farm = awesome. Leaving my house = scary and stressful. Animals = <3. The end.