Archive for the ‘Special Education’ Tag

Putting My Cards on the Table…   Leave a comment

I edited my last post so you can consider this a followup to that.

 

So basically, I received a memo at work from BPS Headquarters stating I would continue on at my current position starting September 2, 2014. Unlike the last 5 times I received this memo there was a catch attached to this one: Depending on what happens between now and then, my assignment may not be guaranteed. My opinion of the matter aside for a moment, there are two facts I want to share first:

  1. As of right now, Boston Public Schools is still looking for a new Superintendant. At the time the previous Superintendent left, the previous mayor of Boston announced he would not seek another term, which set off the election to replace him. The position of Superintendent is a politically appointed position–one usually made by the city’s mayor. Due to this, prospective candidates decided to wait until the new mayor was elected–in this case Martin “Marty” Walsh–before making a bid for the position. As of right now, Boston Public Schools does not have a permanent Superintendant.
  2. As a side-effect to the transition between mayors, almost everyone working at BPS Headquarters was let go (read: Fired) though some were offered their old positions back. This has had a ripple effect to the schools themselves, many of which are still adapting or recovering from the changes made by the previous administration. One sad outcome from this is as of right now, there are 263 Boston teachers unassigned to a school or classroom. These teachers are stuck in limbo and it is of no fault of their own.

My situation is similar to the last part of Point 2 and it’s the second time in three years I’ve been in this position. There are a few differences from both their situation and the last time I was in this position. For one, the last time I was in this position my position had been cut in half two years prior. Finding out my position was being eliminated from the school’s budget (along with another staff member’s) didn’t surprise me at all. Yes, I was upset but I wasn’t surprised. Another difference between then and now is this time I currently occupy a full-time position at my current school. Before, I was part-time.

Another thing that makes then different from now is unlike back then, I feel like where I am now my evaluator didn’t let their personal feelings effect their role as my evaluator. Of that there there is no doubt. It’s not as easy as it sounds to separate your personal feelings for someone you’ve come to know for two years from doing what’s expected of you as a school administrator and doing an impartial evaluation of someone you’ve come to know during that time. There’s more I’d like to say but before I do, there’s a conversation I need to have with someone first. It wouldn’t feel right if I spoke on what I have in mind until then.

One thing that is the same from both then and now–and I don’t mind saying this knowing there’s a 50% chance I will be back in the fall–is in both cases, my evaluator had mostly positive things to say about my candor and my interactions with staff, families and students. My attention to detail and work ethic are obvious from the moment I step into the building to the moment I leave at the end of the day.

It comes natural to me so, I don’t even think about it anymore. In this case the “it” being just being kind to people. I’ve heard it so many times over the last 14 years professionally, it’s like a broken record. The flip side to this is when the topic comes to weather or not my skillset fits with the needs of the school, historically from my perspective, things tend to get murky. Before I continue I do wish to stress I want to say I mean my entire career working at BPS and not just this past school year and the previous school year:

  • On the one hand, at all three of my schools certain things were verbally promised. Things ranging from consistent time to lesson plan with my classroom partner to opportunities to fine-tune things identified as what I need to work on to training for working with students with specific types of special needs. At all three schools, most of these opportunities are offered as external workshops or courses, which is fine for an overview but not as helpful for the specific type of support one might need. Only at my current school was lesson-planning with my classroom partner actually common practice and expected.
  • On another hand, I am 3 points shy of having my Associate’s Degree. Technically, the highest level of education I’ve completed is still High School. Like it or not, this is a factor I actually do think about that must be taken into consideration on the subject of bring back next year or let go. While experience is something that should not be taken lightly, other credentials (degrees, licenses, certifications, etc.) should be factored in addition.

That said, it’s been my experience at my first and third (current) schools it’s not so much the lack of the latter of the above itself but really I haven’t been able to prove my particular skillset is beneficial to the school’s needs. That’s the bottom line and the only thing I really care about. Only at my current school did I have someone willing to tell me that. My second school doesn’t apply since I was only there for a year.

That said: One thing many folks outside the industry don’t know about many career Paraprofessionals is they’re prettymuch self-taught. That means they learn the job as they go along. This was the case with me prettymuch but when I started, I also had 5 years prior experience working with children with special needs at a summer camp as well as my two years working in a classroom during the two years I was in City Year.

I’m going to wrap up and do something I’ve never done before and talk about two things very quickly. One of them is for my school community while the other is more general and for everyone. Both of these were originally going to be in my book Aurabolt Unleashed so you might want to pay attention:

The first thing I want to say is I want to make something perfectly clear about my approach when working with students: I exercise restraint during all of my interactions with students. I wasn’t kidding when I said in a YouTube video that when I’m on my own time, I live in the moment. I don’t think about the past or future. Only the present. At work, I have the awareness that what I do or say can be seen as a reflection of the school and do I take this detail very seriously. It’s for this reason I put a mental lock on my big personality to keep my impulsive side under control. At my second school, I told the principal due to my own cognitive disorders I’m always working twice as hard as everyone else to make sure that aspect of me does not impair my judgment.

That said, I have no problem admitting to having done or said some things that looking back, I would have definitely handled differently. Some folks may wonder why I’m so critical of the mistakes or slip-ups I make at work weather it’s pointed out or not. It’s not just because of the things I just mentioned but because historically, when I make a mistake there’s usually a discussion about it and due to what I view as a belief on the person pointing it out that I don’t fully understand what I did or said. I view this as a challenge to my intelligence first and an insult to me as a person second. I’m not saying there can be no discussion but if we’re going to have one, both of us should walk away feeling like the issue was resolved. This past year was the first school year I actually felt that way and that’s saying something.

The other thing I want to say is by nature, I’ve always been more comfortable working with kids than adults. My first job ever at age 16 was working with children with special needs in Boston at a summer camp. Part of it is never really fitting in with folks my own age at the time and the other is not wanting ANY child I worked with to feel left out.

This, ladies and gentlemen is why I’ve done what I’ve done these last 14 years.

I know what it’s like firsthand to be looked at differently because of what I’ve been disagnosed with. All kids with special needs do even if they don’t show it or can’t directly communicate that awareness. It is my firm belief that our job as adults is to help them find their way. Once that understanding is mutually established, you will have earned a permanent spot in that child’s heart. All of the adults who meet this criteria of mine are educators or are current or former City Year members.

One thing I always asked of my teachers when I was in grade school is if he/she would be the one who would recognize, tap and draw out my full potential. Only four teachers can make that claim: Jane Harper (K2 and 1st Grade), Jane Holliman (4th and 5th Grade), Richard Webber (7th, 8th, 9, 10th, 11th and 12th Grade) and Carolyn Tracey (9th-12th Grade).

At the very least, I want it to be said that I did the same for someone. If not, I’ve failed at my life’s work. My life’s work is to inspire people to do the same.

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Reality from my Perspective   Leave a comment

Despite my age and the times I grew up in I haven’t really changed since my freshman year of High School:

When I was in Middle school and Elementary School the facilitator gave me a lead role in group activities. Otherwise I would just work on my own. It’s not that the other students didn’t want my assistence but rather I didn’t see the point in my grades being determined by how I did an assignment with a group of my peers. I was confident in my own abilitiy to do the assignment so to me it felt like I was being asked to take on a role I was not yet ready for: The role of a teacher.

Post-high school I feel extremely anxious while working with others. My first job interview was when I applied for City Year in 2003. I told the staff member who interviewed me at the time speaking in front of a group of people was like being put in front of a firing squad. After all, up until then I had zero interest in going out of my way to stand out in public unless I gained something meaningful to me in exchange.

I thought it was going to be a struggle when I started my first year in City Year but by the end of the first week I was very well adjusted, which surprised me. I remember thinking at the end of the week this was the first time I could be who I was when I’m alone and not feel self-conscious or vulnerable. The social barriers I keep up around my family and when I was in school were nullified by the unique experience City Year provided for me. It also gave me something I’d never had until then. This was something I feel most people who had always had them often take them for granted. For me, this was something I swored I could never have due to my life experiences up to that point. It wasn’t because of how I felt about myself or my view of my peers growing up. It wasn’t fear of losing it as I knew even at a young age nothing lasts for ever. Even so, seeing others had them and my feeling I never could have even one always made me feel incomplete as a person.

I’m talking about Friends.

I’ve often said to my coworkers over the years without context “You have no idea how good you have it” or “Man, you are rich” and then immediately change the subject. In both cases I was referring to the fact they had friends both at work and elsewhere. They had people they could depend on and people who depended on them. They had people who supported them and liked to spend time with them.

The reality from my perspective: I wouldn’t know what that feels like.

Aside from my City Year team mates and a handful of folks from one of schools I used to work in I’ve lived a very solitary life. By choice yes but also by circumstance. I won’t go into detail on this blog but I will say I decided a long time ago I don’t want to be judged because of the people I chose to surround myself with. Rather than have external forces dictate¬† who I have around me I decided there can be no one around me. Being solitary did have its benefits growing up in the 90s and early 2000s. Of course, back then social media sites didn’t exist and the internet was still young.

Nowadays I feel like I’m missing something. Not lonely but like there’s something missing. It’s funny: In virtually all of the stories I’ve read or seen about people who are social outcasts, they find a way to fit in socially. Even the bad guys. For the non-fiction stories it used to make me feel hopeful as a kid. Now I just feel indifferent because for me, the reality is I haven’t had my turn yet. I haven’t had my “and then everything worked out” moment where things get better. Nearly 25 years is a long time to wait for something most folks don’t really think about.

The stories I write help me cope with the reality. I’m able to find solace in getting my thoughts down on my blogs as well. My work with children over the last 12 years resolved me to do what I can to help kids know they are part of a larger picture and their life has meaning because of the people around them. My time in City Year helped me realize that last one and it’s the main reason why I tell people “City Year saved my life”.

The world is bigger than just one person. All it takes is a hug, handshake or a high-five to connect.

 

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