Tag Archives: Teachers

Classes #FridayReflections

It’s still Thursday in my part of the world, but the #FridayReflections linky has already opened. This week, one of the prompts asks us to decide which class from school or college we’d like to take again if we could.

There were many subjects in high school that I liked. I was big on politics at the time and had a particularly clueless social studies teacher. He once made three big factual mistakes in a five-minute lecture on the elections. In my memory, I corrected him. I couldn’t do that now, as I barely know who’s on the government now. So maybe I’d do social studies again, but hopefully with a more knowledgeable teacher.

I would also love to go back to English class with Mr. E, who had worked a year in the United States while an American teacher came to our school in the Netherlands. This was when I was in eighth grade and could barely understand the American teacher. I wasn’t particularly good at English in seventh and eighth grade. In ninth grade, I was angry with Mr. E for telling me he had to specially type his tests for me instead of handwriting them so I’d better study for them. You can bet that as a fifteen-year-old adolescent, I didn’t bother. From tenth grade on, I loved English though. I had become an avid Internet user over the summer break and had discovered that most valuable information I wanted to read was in English. I became quite proficient at it as I started an online diary (which later morphed into a blog) in the fall of 2002. I loved Mr. E’s stories of his time in the United States, so maybe I’d take his class again.

The first class that came to mind though when I read this prompt, was not a high school class. It was my college psychology class. The teacher was thought of as boring by most students. Because his class was at the end of the day, many students would rather catch an earlier train home than go to his class. You see, we were part-time students, taking our classes on Mondays in the afternoon and evening, and this professor’s class took place from 7:30 till 9:00 PM. Many students, including myself, also didn’t live in the college city, hence the need to take the train home.

This professor though was one rookie lefty and I seemed to be the only one who liked this. He threw Socialist Party merchandise into the auditorium in the days leading up to the 2006 parliamentary election. I was a Socialist Party member, so I didn’t sign the complaint he got for this. Not that I would have signed it had he shown a conservative affiliation either. I did sign a complaint about the first test we got in this class. I still don’t remember why I signed it, but most likely it was largely due to peer pressure. This was obviously before results were in, but I ended up scoring a B.

Looking back, I would’ve loved to attend all of his lectures rather than catching an early train. He had a great sense of humor. Just this morning, I recalled the tale he told us about getting a referral to a psychiatrist for wondering whether the fact that he acquired a spinal cord injury early in life and had to be in rehabilitation a lot changed his personality. The psychiatrist barely listened before writing him a script for an antidepressant. I remembered this tale because, after yesterday’s post, I was wondering what my motor difficulties could be diagnosed as, if anything. If I ever ask my GP to refer me for diagnosis for this, I hope I won’t run into a physiatrist or neurologist with the same attitude as this professor’s shrink.

I got an A for the second test in this class and a B for my research project. I would love to do the research project again, but would choose a different topic. I had many topics in mind that were disorders I later ended up being diagnosed with, like borderline personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder and autsm. I finally settled on the subject of mild intellectual disability though. Maybe I’ll do a similar project one day on one of the topics I had in mind then.

Living my Imperfect Life
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An Open Letter to My Teachers

Day six of the recovery challenge asks you to write a letter to someone who has harmed you or has made you feel bad. I could write a number of letters, but then again an equal number of people could write them to me. Besides, such letters are not always meant to be seen by the people they’re about, so the blog isn’t always the right place to post them. I will therefore not write a letter to one specific person, but to a group of people. Originally, I wanted to write a letter to my elementary and secondary school bullies. Then I realized that my bullies were kids just like me, and they didn’t know better. I therefore will address the letter to both the bullies and their enablers, mostly teachers. After all, bullying by kids who don’t know better is bad, but worse than that is the enabling of it by adults who should know better..

Dear bullies, dear teachers,

You, bullies, are too numerous to address individually. Most likely, none of you will ever even see this letter. It is an open letter, published on the Internet, not so much to shame you – which is why I won’t name you -, but to make you aware of the effects you had on me and to process these effects for myself.

Enabling teachers, you, too, are too numerous to address individually. Some of you will remember that I addressed you by name on an old version of an old blog. Rest assured, when I transferred the blog to a new site in 2007, I changed your names. I will not violate your privacy like this again. This letter is not intended to shame you personally, but again to make you aware of the effects of bullying and the inherent disability discrimination in your behaviors. If you ever teach a disabled student who is being bullied again, I hope you’ll remember my advice. Again, this is an open letter, so even if it doesn’t reach you, I hope it will reach teachers of disabled students anywhere.

Bullies, you, too, will most likely remember my name. For some of you, I was the only girl in your sixth grade class. For others, the odd, blind girl in your eighth grade grammar school class. I was the “bitch” to one of you, the “dwarf” to another.

In sixth grade, the only reason even the teachers could give for you bullying me, was that I was too smart. Yes, I was too smart, which is why YOU bullied me. Teachers, this is inverted reasoning. Bullies choose whoever they see as the easiest target. Making a buly victim a less easy target, may help that particular victim (although it is more likely to make them feel bad about themselves), but it will not end the bullying.

In eighth grade, your reasons were more valid, if reasons for bullying can ever be valid. Hint to the enabling teachers: NO THEY CAN’T. I didn’t take care of my personal hygiene. In your words, I stunk. I reacted with blunt comments when you wanted to help me and I didn’t want to be helped. The teachers favored me and some gave me higher grades than I deserved. I understand you had a hard time communicating these annoyances, but instead of going to my tutor, you chose to bully me until the tutor decided to go up to you. He organized a class for you in which you could spew your criticism of me. You eagerly did so, and I was told that if I just took care of my personal hygiene, stopped being blunt and stopped being favored by the teachers, the bullying would stop. It did, for a while.

A quick note on favoritism: giving a disabled student extra time on tests or an aide or whatever when their disability warrants it, is not favoring them. Giving a student a higher grade than they deserve, is. Make sure the school has documentation on the student’s needs: an IEP or 504 in the U.S., a statement of special educational needs in the UK, and I have no clue what it’s called in my own country because such thigns didn’t exist when I was in school; they hopefully do now. Such a document will detail the student’s accommodations and services. Non-disabled students should not be made aware of the peculiarities of the disabled student’s documentation; just say they have a statement/IEP/whatever and that it’s not the non-disabled students’ business to decide on the fairness of accommodations.

At this point I want to address the teachers again. Whenever I was troubled, as I was often throughout elementary and secondary school, you attempted to change me. Seven years into psychiatric treatment, I understand all about personal responsibility, and I understand that if I wanted to make friends, I had to be socially adept. I realize now that I didn’t have the social skills to be a good friend or even to avoid being an easy target for the bullies. That, still, doesn’t make me responsible for the bullying I endured.

You also need to know your limitations. You are not equipped to diagnose (or rule out) autism or to offer social skills training to an autistic student. You are not counselors, you are teachers. I understand you were the only ones to be reached when students saw me in despair, but please know your limits.

Now I want to talk about the effects bullying and its enabling had on me. Bullies, you made me feel like one piece of crap. Then again, enabling teachers, you made it worse by making me feel responsible. On said old blog, I wrote a post about a teacher who had kids vote an autistica student out of the classroom. I know you did your best to keep me in. I realize you, teachers, did what you thought was best given the tools and knowledge you had at the time. This is why I want to tell you to know your boundaries.‘I was undiagnosed with respect to autism at the time, but some of you knew I suspected it and actively worked to get this thought out of my head. This is beyond your professional responsibilities as a teacher.

I want to make it clear that all of you, my elementary and certainly secondary school teachers thought you were doing what was best for me. I know that the school system as it was in the 1990s and ealry 2000s wasn’t good for a multiply-disabled student. I can only hope it’s better now. I just want to say that with this letter, I’ve hopefully made you aware of some pitfalls of teaching a disabled student and how to avoid them.

Lastly, I want to thank my secondary school tutor (if you ever read this, you’ll know I mean you) in particular for making sure the principal didn’t single me out for a celebration of prestigious school achievement for being able to educate a blind student. Thanks for that.

Graduation

In the U.S., May is the month of graduation. In the Netherlnds, high school students are currently in the midst of their final exams, which will determine whether they will graduate or not. I still have nightmares about final exams, even though I graduated grammar school with above-average grades in 2005.

As Ginny Marie points out in her spin cycle prompt for this week, graduations can mean many things. People can graduate from preschool, elementary school, high school or college, but they can also graduate from certain life events or habits. For me, high school graduation marked my graduation from pretending to be normal. Two weeks before the graduation ceremony, with me already having had my final exams, I E-mailed the student counselor to let her know I wasn’t going to Radboud University to study English after all, but was instead going to my country’s blindness rehabilitation center.

The high school graduation ceremony was okay. The principal had planned a lot of pooha about how great my school had been to accept a blind student – I was the first and so far only blind student at this school – and how wonderfully they’d helped me graduate. When I heard of these plans, I was pissed. I argued that I didn’t want to be singled out. This was one reason for my objection. Another was the fact that grammar school had been a bad experience right from the start. In September of 1999, I wrote in my diary that I knew I’d rather graduate a grammar school in six years than a low-level special education high school in four. I don’t know how much of that was truly wanting to, and how much was needing to in order to please my parents.

High school graduation marked my graduation from doing what my parents and teachers wanted me to, which was (or seemed to be) pretending my invisible disabilities didn’t exist. Even though it was my high school tutor who had arranged the initial intake interview at blindness rehab, he half assumed these people could push me to go to college better than he could. In reality, they ended up recommending the basic rehab program. My parents were initially not amused, because the program lasted only four months, but they eventually accepted that I needed to work on myself first before going to university.

Even though I graduated from parent and teacher-pleasing, I didn’t graduate from dependence. Till far into my stay at the acute ward in 2008, I did just do what my social worker or doctor wanted me to. Even though this lessened a bit when I got to the resocialization ward in 2009, I’m now at once at the opposite end of the pendulum, defying my staff constantly, and at once I’m still dependent on them. I ultimately end up doing what they want me to, after all.

Now I know that no-one is truly independent. Then again, parent/child relationships, schools and institutions instill more dependence on the child, student or patient than does ordinary adult life. Next year, it’ll have been ten years since my high school graduation. Will I move towards true interdependence then?

The Degree, the Job, and the Child

What do these things have in common? Well, they represent goals I had for myself as a teen and thought I’d reach at some specific time prior io 2014. I not only didn’t, but will almost certainly never reach these goals.

The degree: when I was thirteen in 1999, I switched from special education to grammar school. It was pretty much expected that everyone who attended this school wanted to and would go to univeristy after graduation. I knew I would graduate grammar school by 2005, and calculated that this would mean graduating university by 2009. I wanted to major in Dutch at the time. The idea fo rmy major has changed many times over the course of my secondary school experience, but the idea that I’d graduate university by 2009, didn’t.

The job: during my first year at grammar school, I admired my Dutch teacher. She was in her mid to late twenties and had been working at the school for several years. I had a vision by which I’d be a teacher of Dutch like her by 2010. Now I know that, by 2010, most university graduates, even the excellent ones, didn’t get a teacher job a year after graduating, but I didn’t know this by 2000. My ideas about what teaching was like, were very detailed and quite screwed. Actually, if I had to fit my ideas with a job, they’d be more suited to a school counselor than a teacher. Having personally experienced a teacher overstepping the boundaries of his job, and having seen the admired Dutch teacher burn out during my second year at grammar school, I am glad I didn’t pursue a teaching job myself. Not that I’d pass teacher education, but it’s better to realize this yourself than to have someone else kick you out of the program.

The child: I never thought much about how I’d meet the child’s father or otherwise get pregnant. In fact, for a while I believed I was a lesbian. Nonetheless, I was sure I’d give birth to my first child by 2013. My ideas about her were pretty detailed, so in a way it’s good I didn’t give birth last year or I’d mess up if I got a boy. I imagined myself as a true breeder, as I thought of getting two or three more children.

I know now that it’s 2014 and none of these dreams have come true, that I shouldn’t really have clung to them as goals, but as just dreams. After all, I had control over only a minority of circumstances which would lead to these dreams coming or not coming true. I’m not saying that people can’t be the leader of their own lives, but there is only so much you can control. You can be the leader of your life in how you choose to handle the circumstances you end up in. Some of these circumstances you can change yourself, but some you can’t.