Monday, June 21, 2010

On Work

After a series of base, repetitive and horrendous post-college jobs, I finally have one that, dare I say it, I like. Really like, actually.

I work at an all boys school that has a Christian background, for boys from Reception (Kindergarten) to year 12, with a per-year tuition that rivals my per-year college fees (which were moderate as far as an American education goes, but can really add up over a 13 year period, one can assume.)

After I got over the poshness of it all, my first real fear was that I wouldn't feel old enough around the boys I was working with: years 7 -9. That was quickly quelled upon finding out that most year 7, 8 and 9 boys don't really understand things such as every sentence needs a capitalized beginning, a "full stop" at the end, and generally a subject, verb, and object help to let us know what you're trying to convey. It makes one feel really old to have to say things like, "please capitalize the main character's name," and, "why don't you have ANY punctuation in this entire page of writing?!?!" (Ok, not something I put quite like that.)

Anyway, the specifics of how the current generation is almost entirely incapable of writing coherently due to a cross roads of technology and instant gratification is a topic for another time.

Once I realized that, yes, I am old enough to teach these not-so-little little people a thing or two, I began to have a bit of fun. My main work is with a variety of boys who are labeled with all kinds of learning disabilities ranging from dyslexia to Asperger's syndrome to central auditory processing disorder to low cognitive function. I say "labeled" because even though I have a psych background, and I fully appreciate that having a diagnosis can lead to funding, understanding and treatment, I definitely don't look at the boys I work with with their labels first.

Sometimes specific boys come to see me and another teacher where we work through a curriculum to support their learning in their core subjects, and other times I'm scheduled in core subject classrooms as a support person, and I go around and help the students out. At the moment my schedule is for mostly English and maths classes with some humanities on the side. (I was in one year 10 advanced maths class, but mercifully that was dropped from my schedule. I didn't like calc when I was in year 10, and I don't like it now. The teacher was fabulous though and I think if he was my teacher back then I might have gotten a decent grade!)

There are moments during the day when I look into the wide eyes of one of my boys and try to explain the symbolic meaning in a particular poem and it is so far beyond his grasp that I think, why bother, but there are also moments where I sit with students who have severe multiple disabilities, and they listen to me so earnestly and seem so grateful that I'm there to explain algebra in another way that it makes my heart sing.

There are times I read aloud to boys who can't read a sentence because of dyslexia and they look at me with eyes that shine because I'm not judging them, I'm just giving them what they need, the information through an auditory channel not a visual one. They will pick up every single word and discuss the finer points that other strong readers might miss. That is one of the greatest pleasures I take in this job; every boy can be a surprise. A boy with low cognitive function can be cheeky as hell, and more dedicated than the rest of the class. A boy unable to read smart as a whip, and usually the jerk making snide remarks at the back is only doing so because he needs a bit of help as well and doesn't know how to ask.

Sometimes they can surprise in less than lovely ways though. A few of the boys around are quite entitled and a bit arrogant, which makes them a pain to work with, but I try to devise how I might get through to them as well. I've also learned that a roomful of boys smell and sound exactly like a roomful of boys.

I've really enjoyed that unlike a teacher who has to cater for 20-30 students all at once, which often means a diminished capacity to work one on one, I have the luxury of doing this. I see what it's like inside a classroom and how difficult it really is to differentiate the tasks and assessments for all the levels of ability that coexist. I also find it energizing though. I've been reading and browsing lots of materials on the neurodevelopment of learning, and I find it fascinating. I also have the opportunity to work with the school psychologist in a pseudo-mentor role but I'm beginning to feel like I might actually want to ... become a teacher instead of a psychologist. I like the science behind the learning, but I also like the direct application and the teaching part of it.