Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Friday, September 15, 2017

A Leap of Faith, and a Story About a Kitten

So, I have vaguely mentioned my plans of starting my own school, right?

It's true. I am seriously planning to start a small school here in Washington, based on the Agile Learning Center and Sudbury School models. The idea is that instead of being told what to learn, and instead of being expected to sit still, follow directions, and be "taught to" all day, students decide what they will do and take an active part in their learning. There are classes and activities that are offered, but there are also adults hanging around to help them with their own ideas and projects. The idea isn't for them to "play all day," but to come up with their own ideas and plans. They learn because they are excited and curious, rather than because someone is telling them to. They can also have the freedom to move around, get a snack, go to the bathroom, etc, when they need to.

I actually started another blog all about it here: Our Little Schoolhouse. I've been using that blog to keep track of my ideas and to try to explain to others about what an Agile Learning Center or Sudbury School even is.

So far, I've gotten together a board of directors, registered as a nonprofit entity in Washington, and contacted 80 churches about letting us use rooms in their buildings for less than what it would cost to try to rent a storefront or someplace similar. I'm also in the process of filing to become a 501(c) so that we can do fundraising.

So... yeah.

I haven't told a lot of people about this yet. The reason is, I don't want to hear a bunch of people trying to talk me out of it.

I am dreading telling my family about it, because I know they will try to talk me out of it. In fact they will probably attempt to forbid me from doing it! How do I know this? Let's revisit the case of Yoshi the kitten.

I used to have a cat named Sammy-Joe when I lived with my parents. He passed away of cancer when he was 13. I missed him terribly. I wanted to get another kitten to fill the kitty-shaped hole in my life. But my parents wouldn't allow it, since I was living with them. I always planned that, as soon as I got my own place to live, I would get a kitten. My parents always agreed, "When you live on your own, you can do what you want."

Finally I got my first teaching job. A few months later, I got an apartment. In the back of my mind, I was thinking about getting a kitten... but I have never really chosen an animal on purpose. They usually just drop into my life. I could have just gone to the shelter and adopted a kitten or cat, but I wanted to wait and see. I thought to myself, when the timing was right, I would acquire a kitten... someone would have a kitten they needed to rehome, or I would find one, or something similar.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, I was at work, when someone mentioned, "That cat keeps on crying!"

I was like, "Cat? What cat?"

They told me that there was a tiny kitten underneath the portable classroom next to mine.

I hurried over there, and I could hear the kitten crying. It was a cold, rainy day. I got on my belly and crawled under the portable classroom, not even caring about the spider webs. I extended my finger to the kitten. She tiptoed up and sniffed me, but she wouldn't let me get close enough to pet her.

The teacher who taught in that portable came out and said, "If we can get her out from under there, would you want her?"

That stumped me for a minute. I was about to say, sadly, "I can't have a kitten." But then I remembered, wait a minute, I can! This is it! I asked the other teacher, "Would you want her?" She said no, because she already had a cat that didn't play well with others. So I said, "Then, yes!"

I had to go back to my own classroom then because kids would be coming. Meanwhile, the other teacher went back to her house, got some cat food, and lured the kitten with it. By the time I got to take a lunch break, the kitten was happily chilling with the students in my friend's portable classroom, and everyone knew I was keeping her.

I texted my aunt and uncle and my parents to say, "I think I'm getting a kitten!"

All hell broke loose.

I had all four of them lecturing me to not keep the kitten, because they thought it would be "too much responsibility for me."

I couldn't understand it. After all, I had managed to keep Lily alive all these years, and my goldfish were still going strong as well! Having a kitten would not add that much extra responsibility to my life. The only issue I could see was that I would need a kitten-sitter when I traveled. But all of my family members were strongly pressuring me not to keep her.

I cried and cried. And I still kept her. I knew I was going to keep her no matter what. I cried because I felt like I was disappointing all of these people I loved, and I just couldn't understand why. Getting a new kitten turned out to be less joyous than it should have been, because I was just so sad and nervous about all these angry people.

My cousin BT reminded me, "Aren't you an adult?" He says that every time I'm worried about what my parents and aunt and uncle are going to say, which is a lot.

My mom lectured me about thinking with my emotions rather than thinking logically. She texted me, "If you keep this kitten, you are responsible for any consequences."

Nobody would specify what dire consequences would come of owning a kitten. Would she play with matches while I was at work and set the house on fire? Would she fall in with a bad crowd of older kittens and start drinking, smoking and swearing?

I finally texted my mom, "Everything in life has possible consequences. Moving out here had consequences. If I just made every decision trying to avoid possible consequences, I'd never leave my bed!"

She seemed to accept that, and didn't mention it again.

I did keep Yoshi. My aunt and uncle have warmed up to her, and even babysit her when I'm out of town so I don't have to send her to a kennel. My parents have never actually met her, because she is still somewhat feral and acts like a wild raccoon when someone she doesn't know comes into the apartment. She's a great cat. I have never regretted keeping her.
Yoshi at a few months old in January, 2017. 

Yoshi in 2018. 
My point is, if my entire family collectively shat themselves over my keeping an 8-week-old starving kitten, what are they going to say when I tell them that I am bucking the system and starting my own school instead of staying in the safety of the public school system?

I might tell them this.

I have had my soul crushed three different times by principals and school administrators. The first time was when I was a paraeducator back in Chicago working with an awesome, very spirited 7-year-old. I wrote all about him here. The second time was when I worked as a Resource teacher at the school where I found Yoshi. I wrote more about that here. The third time was this most recent teaching job I had, which I was sure was my dream job... It was a self-contained elementary special ed class, and the kids were wonderful. I don't think I even wrote about how that ended. I don't even think I have the energy to write about it now. Maybe someday.

The thing all three experiences had in common was that I was "nonrenewed" at the end of the year... which means they don't want you back for the next school year. All three times, I had been reassured by all of the people who worked with me that I was great with the children. They felt safe with me, they were happy in my room, and they were learning. But to the principals and special ed directors, I was lacking something. They could never really explain what. And if you are in your first three years of teaching at a school, they don't really have to give you a very specific reason. They can fire you because they don't like your shoes.

They're not firing me because of how I'm teaching. They're firing me because of who I am.

I can't do it again. I can't go through the process of going to those interviews where my voice gets stuck in my throat and my skin is on fire, trying to hide my autism long enough to "pass for normal" and have a chance at the job. I can't spend a year staying up late doing lesson plans and studying IEPs, grow attached to the kids and become committed to them, get attached to my paras and co-workers, pour my heart into my classroom, and then have my heart torn out and scrunched up by yet another principal at the end of the year.

I'm getting older. Life is short. I can't keep settling for "mediocre." I've got to take another leap of faith... this time a little longer of a leap than keeping Yoshi was.

That's what I'll tell them, when I tell them that I'm starting my own school.

But for now... it's a secret.