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When you hover over the internet explorer icon, it says something akin to “finds and displays information on the internet”, but I find that is a gross oversimplification of what internet access does.

The internet at work is down this morning, mysteriously, and while my iPad can detect the Wifi, it cannot latch on.  The desktop is a lost cause until the rest of the building has been restored.  Until then, I sit, making a pen and paper list of the many tasks I wish to accomplish today, but cannot.  Being off-line has me stymied.

As a speech pathologist who trained under the pot-and-wooden-spoon approach to speech therapy, I could do therapy out of a cardboard box.  Some of my working spaces have resembled cardboard boxes, actually, but I digress.  I have all the tools and materials I need to make it through a day, if need be, and I won’t be shirking any responsibilities, or compromising any treatment sessions.  But it’s making the tasks around my job mightily difficult to be off-line.

I have to e-mail the parents the weekly session notes from last week, so they know what’s happening with their kids.  All my session notes are safely tucked away on googledocs.  I have to e-mail the HR person to find out about my coverage.  I can’t very well just pop by there, as the poor woman manages the entire 80-person staff by herself and can’t handle walk-ins.  Likewise the nurse, with whom I’d like to make an appointment for a flu shot, and hasn’t arrived yet anyway, judging from her darkened office window.  I can’t share notes with my colleagues from a meeting last week concerning their students, as they’re trapped on my iPad.  Nor can I let them know which meetings I plan to attend this week so we can decide who goes to lunch duty, who sits in meetings, and who might possibly have a blessed day to just eat lunch.  I can’t look up new resources for the students I’m working with today/this week and prep in advance.  I can’t add an appointment to the google calendar to “claim” the time I’ll be doing an observation on a shared student, so that Psych, OT, and I don’t show up at the same time.

And let’s not forget all the non-work tasks I could fill my time with, if strictly necessary.  There’s shopping on Zulily, lusting after the cutest baby clothes.  There’s downloading or uploading wedding or baby photos for photo books since I just realized that printing digital pictures and then putting them into albums by hand is sooooo 2003.  I could be blogging in real time, instead of typing into a Word document and uploading it later.  I could be looking up images to inspire this year’s Valentine postcard.  I could be taking my turn on any number of internet based games, keeping up to date on my friends’ latest child-rearing or gustatory misadventures.

Instead, this morning, seeking company, or more than that, I walked upstairs, sat down in a colleague’s room, and we talked while he drank some tea.  He couldn’t print his day’s work; I couldn’t plan mine.  But we caught up on our weekends.  It reminded me of my first year here, when our rooms were dark, cramped, inconveniently placed behind partitions, and we routinely ran into each other due to geography.  While I prize the privacy I now have with my own office, and not having to compete with two other sessions happening at the same time, I miss being able to talk over the partition to ask a colleague a question.  I miss being able to easily run into someone in the hall.  I miss that we all gathered in a centrally located reading teacher’s room to clutch scalding tea between our gloved palms in winter mornings because the c.1900 building didn’t heat up until noon.  While our new building is sleek and modern, with Smart Boards, central air, and security cameras in every corner, we’ve lost a little something.

This morning a, while the server was down, I still had a connection.

“He made a different choice,” I told the 5-year-old.  The boy I had been working with in this particular church basement in North Philadelphia was using his pencil to color in some “educational” worksheet that alleged to teach about Jesus, apples, or the letter M.  This particular daycare center had a culture of tattling, and all the teachers were called, “Teacher”, so there was a constant refrain of, “Teacher, he goin’ up the slide!”  or “Teacher, he bite me!” On this day, coloring in a worksheet with pencil set off alarms of propriety in the sometimes rigid preschool mind, which knew that crayons were the only thing allowed for coloring.  This was not a far-flung assumption in a center which passed out only one crayon per child, and only red crayons for apples, despite that fact that apples come in myriad colors.  Away from the distracted gaze of the daycare providers, I assured the tattler (“Teacher, he colorin’ scribble scrabble!  He usin’ a pencil!”) that using a pencil to color however he wished was simply a different choice.

At the beginning of my parenting journey, I, too, was like the inflexible preschooler.  I had read all the books, absorbed all the literature, and while I acknowledged that there were different approaches to parenting infants (e.g., no-cry vs. Ferber for sleep-training), I knew certain truths:  babies must sleep on their backs, in their own bed/crib/bassinette.  They may not have covers other than swaddling blankets and/or sleep sacks.  They must sleep in tight-fitting flame-retardant pajamas. Thou shalt not take a baby to bed with you.  Otherwise, the SIDS monster was lurking outside the nursery door, certain to attack in its mysterious, not completely understood way.

Then, I became a parent.  Despite sleep-deprived hallucinations that my husband’s flannel pajama pants (and the leg inside) were actually a swaddled baby we had brought to bed, I clung to certain knowledge of what was the “right” thing to do.  At an early breastfeeding support group meeting, the first time I heard a parent talk about co-sleeping (and not in a co-sleeper/sidecar, but actually sharing a bed with a baby), I silently tsked at the parent, who was asking for advice on how to get her 18-month-old out of the parental bed, and into his own crib to sleep.  I tsked not only because it went against American Academy of Pediatrics (gospel itself) guidelines to co-sleep, but because it basically proved to me the ill consequences of her own, wrong decision 18 months ago, to bring her child to bed.  Well, now look what you’ve done, I concluded.  You made your bed (pun intended), now lie in it.

My children are now 5 ½ months old.  In the past 5 ½ months, I will admit I have let my children sleep on my chest, in my bed, in my arms, in a sling, on their tummies, and under a blanket.  I have nursed them to sleep, despite warnings about sleep-association problems.  I have put two children in equipment made only for one, and I have exceeded weight limits on the bassinet of the pack n’ play.  I don’t change them into pajamas when they nap, and they’ve even fallen asleep (and been left to do so) on Boppies, despite their huge “NO SLEEP” warning tags.

Am I a bad parent? Am I engaging in reckless behavior?  Or am I merely making a choice that I can live with, a choice that enhances my sanity (by gaining precious minutes of baby or adult sleep), and thus, my parenting skills overall?  In all of these choices, I had to weigh the risk of SIDS, sleep-association problems, and countless other fears with my own choices, and the benefits I saw in my children being comfortable, being happy, being fed, and being well rested.  I made a different choice.

Making different choices is a theme that comes up often these days, as I struggle to allow myself to be human, to make mistakes, and to be flexible in understanding how people do things differently.  It has become a constant refrain as I seek to understand the actions of my spouse, my parents, and my in-laws.  For as ridiculous as it seems to me that my father-in-law and sister-in-law would choose to lease Buicks solely on the fact that they are one of the only companies to offer 24-month leases, or as absurd as it is that my mother-in-law drives her car ¼ mile to work regardless of the weather, those are their choices.  Despite even research that driving cars such short distances is harmful for the vehicle, it’s her choice, and it’s different than one I would have made.  In my own family, my mother’s slavish devotion to her constantly breaking down Jaguar wagon and countless expenditures on rebuilding it make me cringe, but keeping that car, and pouring money into its upkeep, are her choices, too.  The way I began to understand others’ choices was, oddly enough, through cars.  My car, a Honda Fit, has consistently earned top honors in comparison tests for compact cars in numerous automotive publications, in both point-to-point contests as well as anecdotal reviews.  My car is objectively the best, based on actual research.  Yet not everyone who needs a compact car drives a Honda Fit.  It’s not only because it costs more than a comparable Toyota Yaris, or a Nissan Versa, nor it is because they were somewhat hard to come by when I was in the market for one.  It might be because they like the way the other cars look, or drive, or the pretty Toyota blue the Yaris comes in.  Maybe they hate the awesome functionality of a hatch, and wanted the ugly sedan version instead.  Regardless of the research that shows (I might say proves) my car is superior (even superlative), the other cars are made, and purchased, and driven, because people make different choices.

Despite all my research to find the best baby products, to learn the best methods for calming and feeding and caring for my offspring, there still remain others who don’t agree.  Beyond the individual variability of babies themselves, parents do make different choices, whether it’s about cloth vs. disposable diapering, baby-led solids vs. baby food purees, cosleeping vs. AAP guidelines, or even which stroller to buy.  And as long as it works for them, who am I to judge?  I used to feel rather smug when a choice I had made was working well for me, as if I had truly made the right choice, and if only others would emulate me, they, too, could feel awesome and superior.

Then, my children stopped going down to bed so easily, started taking an hour-and-a-half to fall asleep, and it turned out maybe it was just a developmental stage, or pure chance, not some awesome parenting trick I had discovered.

Back at the church basement daycare center, the children continued to color in their worksheets.  Yet another child noticed the graphite gray of the worksheet my student was coloring in.  She began the all-too-familiar chorus, “Teacher, he using a pencil!”  My heart sang as I heard the object of my earlier correction turn to the girl and tell her, “He made a different choice.”

Lest I judge my fellow humans too harshly, I try to remember that they, too make different choices. 

I attended an all-day seminar today on social communication.  There was a presentation on traumatic brain injury (TBI), and discussion about how important social communication skills are for people who have had TBI.  Since damage from TBI is often diffuse, complex, and can change over time, there is no easy way to predict what a person will need help with.  The presenter made a parallel to spinal cord injury.  Doctors and rehab personnel can make predictions on recovery, ability, and prognosis based on the level of the injury (C1, C3, C5, etc.).  The same is not true for TBI.  As a result, SLPs have developed checklists and ratings scales.  They assess areas of social communication such as taking turns in conversation, staying on topic, making appropriate eye contact, and staying within “polite” social parameters.  One of the ratings scales is given to both the patient and his/her spouse.  The presenter queried, what did we think a person without TBI would say if he/she assessed him/herself?  In other words, how would we, as healthy-brained humans with a certain competency in social skills, view our abilities?

Dismally, it turns out.  I would have enjoyed if he had actually demonstrated this fact by handing out the questionnaires and asking us to rate ourselves before he told us the results, but I believed him, if skeptically.

Later in the day, as I prepared to trade the goose bumps of the icy conference room for the sweltering humidity of the 88 degree day, I briefly touched in with a woman I used to work with.  She was my SLP supervisor for my clinical fellowship year (CFY), and we developed a wonderful relationship as I adjusted to the stresses, challenges, and rewards of that job.  I made a point to ask her how another supervisor of mine was doing.  I left my old job almost a year ago, and she was undergoing chemo and radiation for aggressive lymphoma.  My SLP supervisor began telling me about her, then backtracked and said, “Well, she had cancer, did you know that?”  and I replied, “Of course.  That’s why I’m asking.”   Why else would I ask?  I was in the office as she lost her hair.  I was there when the secretary sent her home because her stamina would not let her work through the day.  I was there when we played substitute supervisor roulette, with a different person to answer to each week.  Of course I knew. 

Now, three hours later, I replay the conversation in my mind, and I’m thinking not just of what I said, but of how I said it. The conference today reminded us of the importance of the tone of voice we use, and how we teach this skill to our clients.  I feel like I snapped back, like I spoke too soon, or too matter-of-factly.  I feel like I came off as a know-it-all.  I blurted it out.  And, just like the rating scale would indicate for a person with “normal” social skills, I find I am beating myself up mercilessly at my apparent inability to say the right thing. 

All of which seemingly makes me normal.  People with typical social communication skills are aware when they make solecisms, reflect when they commit faux-pas, and it appears that they also harangue themselves about it, to some degree.  I do speak too quickly.  I do blurt things out without thinking.  I do have trouble staying on topic.  I do have trouble making conversation in large groups.  I do feel making eye contact can be challenging. 

Don’t we all?

I am proctoring a final exam in biology, 7th grade science. They’ve studied the circulatory and digestive systems this semester, and this is their final test. I am also a “reader”, accommodating students whose reading fluency would negatively impact their ability to decipher words such as “esophagus” and “salivary”, and would be a barrier in their ability to demonstrate their knowledge. I read every single question, and every single answer. I pause, waiting an eternity for them to match 5. with C., before moving on. I have said the word “anus” in a calm, articulated manner, no fewer than 8 times.

Sometimes, I feel like a fraud, like my entire first year teaching here has been a crash-course in learning disabilities. Sure, I had a course in written language disorders, and one of my professors in my school-age language disorders class talked with us about her daughter’s struggle with dyslexia. We learned about acquired dyslexia in adults who have strokes, and about the theoretical models of reading. But really, I hadn’t worked with a single kid with dyslexia until I began this job. I knew next to nothing, and much of my experience in working with children with speech and language disorders was useless.

Even worse, as someone to whom reading, spelling, and writing came effortlessly, I was ill-prepared with reading strategies, and low on empathy. One of the buzz words in education – which often seems like a euphemism – is learning differences, not learning disabilities. While it may definitely be that dyslexia is a learning disability, these kids can still learn to become fluent, proficient readers, but they will have to learn differently. I did not know what that meant. I internalized spelling rules (when to doubling consonants, when dropping an ‘e’ before adding a suffix) as I learned to spell, but I had never been taught them explicitly (except for the rhyming ones: “I before E except after C, or when sounded as A as in ‘neighbor’ or ‘weigh’. Exceptions: Neither foreigner has leisure to seize the weird heights.”). And now I was being asked to support kids who need to know those tools, who need those strategies repeated and reinforced daily.

Suddenly, instead of working on “go car” and picture exchange communication, I was faced with 5-paragraph essays, topic sentences, main ideas, and open and closed syllables. Morphology, something I hadn’t looked at since reviewing linguistics for my comprehensive speech-pathology exams, was now front and center. Apparently, 6th graders with dyslexia study Latin roots. My 9th graders are studying Buddhism, and my 10th graders are knee-deep in an analysis of Romeo & Juliet that goes leagues beyond the iambic pentameter I learned so many years ago.

Mr. Apron said yesterday that my post-secondary education provided the background knowledge, so that I can figure out the underlying mechanisms, so that I can figure out applicable strategies and levels of support. In a way, I can use some of what I learned working with preschoolers; it just looks different. Now, instead of holding up a paper square with a picture of a toilet when calling a child to the bathroom, my visual support looks like pulling up a Google image every time a student says “what’s that?” when we’re reading through a book about the 1930s. Simplifying and breaking down directions is not so different either. They’re just following different directions, and using more pencils and MacBooks than crayons and Legos.

There is a tremendous amount of common sense involved in working with kids with dyslexia. For the ones with memory issues, you have to spell things letter by letter, not letting out a whole string at a time. For the ones with comprehension issues, you pull out all the visual aids, and reread and reformulate information until you’re blue in the face. You don’t give answers to kids struggling to express themselves; you gradually lead out of them what you’re fairly certain they already know by using cues, prompts, hints, and carefully worded questions. If a kid has difficulty with word recall – already today I’ve seen a girl struggle to recall the words “streamers” and “pipe cleaners” – you give them multiple choice questions. You don’t teach vocabulary by memorizing a verbatim definition; you teach new words in the context of a text, with a million different associations, connections, and shades of meaning.

Still, sometimes I feel like I’m faking it until I have absorbed enough terminology from the reading teachers, methodology from the writing teachers, and ideas from the English teachers. I feel like I’m expected to be all three, yet I’ve never taken a single education course in my life. Each time I sign up for a teacher discount at a store, I feel like I’m doing so fraudulently. Not because I’m not technically a teacher, but because I don’t feel worthy of the patience, expertise, and knowledge I have come to associate with the educators at this school, and the title of teacher that these men and women bear.

Five years ago, I made the decision to go to graduate school.  I gathered my transcripts, went fishing for letters of recommendation, and took the GRE.  I applied, and was accepted.  I began studies in the fall of 2006, scarcely 2 months before I was to be married.  It was an exciting time, full of change, new experiences, and I was bursting with untapped potential. 

It was not the school I thought I would be attending.  It was not the program I had planned on pursuing.  It was not the career path I had tried to lay for myself.  Instead of becoming a speech-language pathologist, I was going to apply my artistic inclinations to my analytical skills, and become an architect. 

I did not, however, do so.  This week, in a fit of regret and seemingly doomed to an eternity of suburban sameness in an unending career (spear-headed, of course, by my “well intentioned” sister-in-law, who chanced to ask if there was any opportunity for advancement for me in my field/place of employment), I pondered the decisions that sent me to SLP school. 

It seemed a logical choice – given my background in linguistics, my high verbal abilities, the ease I feel working with children – and I made it sincerely.  But it followed another, more difficult choice: the choice to put architecture away.  From time to time, as Mr. Apron and I discuss our unrequited interests, we speak of doing all these things “in another life” – his becoming a police officer, my opening a “cupcakery”, my studying/living abroad, his pursuing a life as a professional actor, and my becoming an architect. 

It seems as though my peers have found their callings.  The one who was a gifted flautist in high school is touring with the Manhattan Symphony; the one who never really was into teaching is finally feeling fulfilled pursuing music therapy.  I keep waiting for mine.  I wonder if I appeared to my friends or teachers to have a calling, and if so, what it is. 

I thought it might be architecture. At least, I can see myself doing speech pathology, but I don’t want to be “stuck” with it.  I began to think of my parents and my in-laws.  We sat around my in-laws’ table for dinner recently, and I lamented with a shudder how I can’t imagine staying in the same job for 20 years.  Of course, my mother-in-law then offered that she will get her 20 year plaque at the library next year, my father-in-law has been working for himself in essentially the same field since 1987, and my sister-in-law started working for him 17 years ago.   My own parents have changed jobs many times in my lifetime, but they are not so different.  Their careers have been set since before I was born (yes, the Beginning and End of Time is my lifetime, thank you), and I can’t see them starting over in any life, least of all this one.  I think my father would really enjoy teaching high school math, (as he never seemed to forget his calculus) or organizing a non-profit that provides quality musical instruments to promising student musicians.  My mother has always professed an interest in rabbinical studies, but for them both, the careers seem set in stone.

 As I saw on the couch this evening, sobbing to my therapist, she asked why I had given up on architecture.  I considered.   I had all the intentions as an idealistic undergrad. Though I didn’t have the foresight to apply to a school with even an architecture minor (Who at 17 has foresight when applying to college?), I did bother taking the recommended prerequisites that could be needed for a graduate program.  As linguistics major (with music minor) I found myself taking architectural history lectures, drawing classes, physics, and calculus.  Calculus, voluntarily!

By the time I was ready to apply to graduate school, it was 4 years later, and I’d had my head cracked open by then.  It took a little longer than I’d planned, but I needed to relearn how to walk, tie my shoes, and stop drooling first. 

I went to an open house at Penn.  I filled out applications; I collected work for my portfolio.  And I got very, very intimidated.  Though the brochures say “applicants from other backgrounds, such as liberal arts, are welcomed” I felt awash in unfamiliar terminology, ashamed of my lack of drawing skills, and deeply insecure about my potential in a career in design.  I never even applied.

I lied to myself and others, saying that the program would take too long (3 years + 3 year internship), the field was too competitive for me (deadlines, projects, competitions for work), and that the lifestyle of an architect wouldn’t be compatible with the family I hoped to have soon.  All these reasons may be true (though I never actually talked to a real, live architect about them), but the most valid was my own fear of failure.

Or even success.  If I applied, if I was admitted, if they said I had enough potential or talent or creativity, it would mean a huge time commitment, new ideas, and hard work.  I was afraid of it all.

That’s why I gave up the closest thing I had to what I wanted to be when I grew up.

But based on our discussion tonight, I tried a new perspective. I am not “stuck” in my career for life.  I do have a career, but nothing says it has to stay my career until I retire.   

I came home and pulled down my dusty architecture school materials.  I guess I saved them for a reason.  A reminder?  A hope?  A bookend?  I perused updated websites, scanned for degree requirements, and was immediately disheartened again.  There’s not just one school in the Philly area for people with “other backgrounds” to pursue a MArch; there’s just one school in all of Pennsylvania (oh, and the tri-state area, for good measure). As I looked at the Penn website, saw the daunting list of admission requirements and prerequisites, and tried to begin to understand the coursework, I experienced déjà vu.  My dreams were dashed again. 

My specific dream, perhaps.  I’m hung up on nuts and bolts, on logistics of full-time/part-time, tuition, studios, GREs, and portfolios.  Maybe architecture won’t happen, at least for now.  Maybe I still don’t know if I’d be any good and that will continue to haunt me, but I did have one realization that just might hold me over:

I only get this one life. (I know, I’m Sally Field for Boniva; give me a break.)

 I can’t redo where I went to college or what courses I took freshman year or why I didn’t spend one moment in the career counseling office, but I can do more with the remainder of my life.  If I wake up one day and decide I’ve had it with being an SLP, I can change that.  It doesn’t have to be architecture, either.  I can pursue one of my Plan C or D career paths, if I really want to.   If I can get past the mental blocks I have chaining me to routine, sameness, comfort, and stability, I might be able to think about continuing my education in a different way than the CE credits offered in speech pathology. 

I need to stop looking disparagingly at people my age who are already changing careers.  I need to stop judging people who “don’t use” their professional degrees, or people who won’t finish schooling until they’re 35.  I need to let myself acknowledge my regrets about my career path, and realize I am not done yet.  I am most certainly not done learning, and I may not be done schooling either.

Peer pressure a funny thing – what it can make you do, or not do.  Peer pressure is responsible for my brother’s almost normal, borderline Eurotrash, um, fashion stylings.  And I think I prefer this (even with the sun glasses indoors) to his middle school uniform of track pants or sweat suits.  In high school, he suddenly became aware there was more to life than clothing that went swish, and my mother found herself in the GAP, trying, at his insistence, to ease his transition into high school with such novelties as jeans and khakis. 

Peer pressure is also an evil, terrible thing.  I’m not even talking about doing drugs and just saying no, and bullying (wait, maybe a little, but we’ll get to that).  I’m talking about my career research project in 7th grade Home-Ec, or Family & Career Skills, or Home and Consumer Science – whatever they called it in 1993.  In a unit that had us engaging in mock interviews, writing checks, and filling out job applications at McDonald’s, we were of course charged with researching and writing a paper on a career of our choice.  At that point in my life, I wanted to do interior design.  I don’t know where I picked up the idea, but I knew that I loved color and fabric, and that whenever the mood would strike me, I’d rearrange my room.  It’s not just a far leap to interior design.  I still cannot resist, upon entering a friend’s apartment or a house for sale, mentally knocking down walls and rearranging furniture.  Just mentally.  Until I get my jackhammer. 

But as I prepared to make my selection in 7th grade, D.F. also made his choice, and he said interior design, too.  In an era before such things as “Asperger’s” and “social pragmatic language disorder” likely existed, and certainly before they came into vogue, there was D. F., waiting for the psycho-educational specialists to find him.  I think back then society may have referred to him by the derogatory “idiot savant” designation.  He and another student, C. S., had each completed high school math by the end of 8th grade.  Because we lived in a small town, there was barely such a thing as advanced course work, and very little support for the gifted student, so D.F. and C.S. were pretty much self-taught.  They worked their way through textbooks, taking the New York State Regents when they felt they ready, and acing them all along the way.  I’m sure they’re on their way into Fortune 500s and discovering cures for diseases by now. 

But back in 7th grade, they were just awkward, dorky, snivelly, and the only 2 kids who wore their backpacks by both straps.  As soon as the words “interior designer” left D.F.’s lips, I was on the path to becoming something else, anything else.  So I chose to research “teacher”.

Somehow or another, Teacher stayed in my mind.  I think many children must think about being teachers when they grow up, as teachers are the profession they interact with most.  I knew doctor was out, as it took too long.  Lawyer was out, because it seemed incomprehensibly boring, and required you to wear blazers.  The whole idea of “business” remains a mystery to me.  I watch “The Office” occasionally, and while I can now identify with cubicle jokes and staff meeting agony, I still am no closer to understanding the daily jobs of middle management or the work-a-day cubicle-slave.  I just didn’t know about that many other professions, and, besides, I idolized my teachers, keepers of the answer keys and ultimate givers of positive feedback.  When you’re good at school, you kind of want to stay there forever. 

College opened up other worlds to me, but I still couldn’t quite see the correlation between undergraduate majors and the jobs available in the Real World.  Turns out that’s because there isn’t any.  And unless you’re brilliant like my sister, and major in social work, or have relevant skills like my computer science friends do, you’re pretty much lining up for minimum wage jobs, but with B.A. after your name. 

Sadly, I was considered too educated for many of the jobs I applied for.  I say this not to be a snob, but because I was very flatteringly told so, as I applied to job after job after job.  I couldn’t even get a mall job.  And I tried.  I put on my most epic look, and went down to Pacific Sunwear.  I got an initial interview, and never heard back. 

So I started teaching, not because it was my first choice anymore, but because it was there.  I worked at a private school, which is the only place I could work, given that I didn’t have any teacher certification, and I had majored in linguistics.  That’s almost as bad as classics, employment-wise.  I loved working in preschool.  I soaked up all the information my lead teacher/mentor doled out, and used it effortlessly in the classroom.  I loved the campus, I loved the kids, I loved the creativity.  I was still a little petrified on days when I’d sub for the lead, afraid the kids would find out I was a fraud, or not completely a grown-up, or had never taken a course in child development. 

They never asked.  I was lucky in that my mentor took a chance on me, on my interactions with children, on my babysitting and camp counseling experience, on my common-sense approach and my way with words, and my intuitive understanding of the 3- and 4-year-old mind.  Truthfully, though, it was not something I could envision myself doing forever.  Though the job was rewarding, the pay (private school + preschool + assistant + no certification) was abysmal, and I looked into my options. 

Let us forget for a moment my brain surgery, my burgeoning relationship with my then-boyfriend, or the full range of absurd career options my mother was trying to cram into my head. 

Did teaching enter my mind?  Absolutely.  Master’s in Education, certification, etc.  And it all meant graduate school.  Whereas undergrad had meant 4 years of self-indulgence, sleeping in, and selecting courses based on the workload and best schedule, graduate school might actually lead to some employable skills (besides, of course, work avoidance, which I had practically majored in).  

In evaluating my options, I considered my strengths.  I preferred working with kids in small groups.  Though my classroom management skills have become a strength I continue to rely on, I recognized that I didn’t want to spend my career at the front of a class of 25 or 30 school-age kids, or even 18 or 20 preschoolers.  I didn’t want to be the one responsible for teaching all the subjects, at elementary level, or dealing with adolescent drama, in middle and high school.  While preschool is great, and I will frequently profess it is my favorite age, I really wanted to get away from extraneous boogers, toileting, and shoe-tying.  I tell people that the reason I went to graduate school is so I wouldn’t have to change diapers (other than my own children’s). 

It’s not just the actual act of the diaper change, which of course is gross but necessary.  It becomes even less appealing as the kids get older.  Ask me how I know.  But as a speech pathologist, I get the benefit of returning a 5 year old to his classroom and telling the teacher he needs to be changed.  I recognized this power in grad school.

That, and I was terrified of full classrooms of children. 

From time to time, a great idea of a lesson plan or a curricular theme, or even a bulletin board design will invade my brain.  I’ll think of fantastic projects or writing activities I’d love to explore with different age groups.  I’ll think of ways I could improve the layout or decor of any classroom I enter, and I take mental notes upon entering classrooms what ideas I would hypothetically steal for my imaginary class.  When I was working in community-based early intervention, I couldn’t help but think of and suggest ways to improve the environment; it was my job.  I guess Teacher is still wired into my brain on some level. 

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to explore that unrequited calling.  Because it was Bullying Awareness Week last week, my school is exploring what the kids know about bullying and using it for several activities.  The speech pathologists were each charged with bringing a planned discussion and activity into several classrooms.  On Wednesday, as I reviewed my lesson plan, a teacher whose class I was to take over asked kindly if he could use that period as a prep to finish his presentation for an upcoming conference.  Translation: I had his kids alone, by myself, without him.  Twice. 

Well, after shitting myself and recoiling from the shock, I steeled myself against the prospect of two 7th grade classes.  And yesterday, I did it. 

I’ll not pretend everything went perfectly according to plan.  Some kids took a “pass” on the independent work altogether, while others dwelled on misremembered amalgams of news stories/internet memes related to bully-instigated suicide.  However, they were all engaged in the activity to some extent, and I made it through without letting on how terrified I really was.  Twice. 

 What’s ironic is that the other class I invaded had even more kids, and their teacher sat idly by at his desk, noodling around on his computer, or perhaps doing progress notes (which, as an SLP, I don’t have to do!  Perk!).  I wasn’t sure how engaged he would be in the discussion, as some teachers had interacted more than others, but he said only one thing during the entire class – he asked for relative silence during the independent work portion of the period.  And that was it.  He didn’t have to be there, but in my mind he provided a safe “out”.  I could royally fuck up, and he would be there to rescue me.  I could lose the kids entirely, and he’d step in to make it relevant.  They might threaten mutiny, and he’d give them the stink eye.  None of which happened, mind you.  It really was just me, acting as the Teacher, in front of a classroom full of kids.

If I ever get the hankering to be overworked, underappreciated, and have to deal with classroom issues like pencil sharpening, bathroom breaks, progress notes, grading papers, designing rubrics, assigning homework, and appearing confident, it’s nice to know I could do it.  As long as the school I taught at didn’t make me wear a blazer.

While I have probably been at my new job long enough to declare either undying love or unmitigated frustration, it still too early to pronounce anything in between.  I am still getting to know the other staff and their particular education stylings.  I am fortunate not to be shut into my “speech closet” all day long; in addition to individualized pull-out speech therapy sessions, I also get to “push-in” to all sorts of literacy classes across the grades.  As the bloom is not yet off the rose during this, my second week, I am filled with silent admiration at the planning and activities the teachers are implementing, and how they’re able to engage their challenging students with interesting lessons that look more like games in the eyes of their pupils. 

In one class, a teacher puts 8-10 similar objects (leaves, apples, shells, rocks) on a desk in the middle of the room.  They are all assigned a number.  Each student is assigned a number, too, to correspond to the object.  After first brainstorming associated adjectives, verbs, and concepts, the kids retreat to silent writing.  They are charged with writing a short paragraph that will describe their specific object in such a way that the class will be able to identify it.  What at first seems impossible (8 black oak leaves – come on!) becomes not only a writing exercise, but also a perceptual task.  It requires focus and concentration to see that your leaf has more holes than the rest, that the color is not uniformly brown, but that it has tannish blazes towards the tips.  It requires differentiations beyond “big” and “small”, beyond “brown” and “green”, and has a motivating factor (the guessing of their classmates) built in.  The teachers participate to model their prose.  It’s a really nice activity that can continue throughout the year.  The types of descriptions are limited only by the types of objects displayed.  It’s endlessly more useful and engaging that generating lists of adjectives and rewriting “The girl had long hair” into revealingly adjective-heavy sentences like: “The cute little silly girl had long, curly, brown hair.” 

Another class is integrating their study of grammar (common nouns, proper nouns, adjectives, verbs, different types of sentences) with their study of Native Americans, so the classes are all designing games that have to include elements of 6 different grammatical concepts, and 6 different regions where the Native Americans originated.  Many of the games draw heavily on board games like Monopoly, Life, Sorry!, and Candy land.  A few kids designed a card game that uses 3 dice they made themselves.  This teacher understands that in order to make sure his kids understand the grammatical concepts, they have to be able to apply them in a more challenging way than outlining sentences.  In order to think critically about Native Americans, they integrate ideas about culture, food, geography, tool use, dwellings, and pull it all together in an admittedly very strange-sounding game.  I believe all of the kids are choosing to work in groups of 2-4, so they’re also using group problem-solving skills as they make joint decisions on what the dice should look like, delegate who will work on which cards, and figure out how to play the game.  It’s no group project I’d like to be made to work on, but then again, I hate group projects.   

I haven’t figured everyone out yet.  I’ve made first impressions, and I’ve had coworkers fervidly whisper personality traits into my ears (“Oh, he’s NOT flexible.  Needs to have EVERYTHING planned.  Just look out.) and passed along as a by-the-way (“I think she needs the help more than the kid does.  She just reacts strongly.  You’ll see.).  I think I’ll be okay, though.  As long as they’re treating the kids and the rest of us with respect and decency…as long as I’m given the tools and opportunity to do my job…I can tolerate a little personality here and there.

Two very different young men came into my office yesterday.  One, S.,  had come directly from an assembly on “backpack safety” run by the OTs.  I tried to stimulate discussion encourage him to tell me about the presentation, and work on his speech and language goals in the context of a school activity, but he demurred.  “I don’t remember,” he insisted immediately after arriving from the assembly.  He told me there had been a quiz, and that he had gotten every question wrong, but he’d known all the answers, really; he just didn’t care.  I asked if he’d learned anything, trying to assess his recall.  He denied learning anything; he’d known it all before, but only offered one thing (which, of course, he’d known before) – that a backpack should not be more than 15 lbs, and his was grossly overweight. 

S. seemed not to mind not having The Answer to anything I asked.  He has dreadful word recall, and used words like “the thing” to refer to the assembly, and “they” to refer to his teachers.  Pretending that he was okay with not getting answers right, pretending he didn’t learn anything, pretending he was, essentially, too cool to care about being right or knowledgeable, seemed to be his defense mechanism. 

A., on the other hand, has a different strategy.  What looks like a kid avoiding hard work and trying to get by with the minimum effort results in a sixth grader writing “I like to dig” when asked to write a letter introducing himself, telling important things about him.  Teachers theorized that maybe “dig” was a word he knew how to spell.  A.’s receptive language and vocabulary are pretty decent.  Here is a kid who can give me synonyms for “tot” and “timber” without batting an eyelash.  His writing, his speech, and his reading are all train wrecks.  His reports show he’s a neurological curiosity, and has apraxia of speech to top it off.  I know he’s a bright kid who has complex ideas, and it pains me to see him reduce himself to “I like to dig.”  His sense of humor also seems to help.  When asked to list 3 reasons someone might want to immigrate to the USA, A. responded “jobs” and wrote simply “jobs,” though he had been given 3 lines to write on.  I pointed this out, and he pointed the prompt out to me, saying, “It says list.”  When I showed him the 3 lines, he said, “I write big.” 

A.’s sense of humor and his “avoidance” of challenging work may keep him from becoming embarrassed.  He is a kid who has been in speech therapy most of his life.  He knows he’s different; he knows his speech, reading, and writing are slow.  He may not have an aversion to hard work so much as an aversion to making himself uncomfortable among peers and adults.  

A naïve teacher or therapist might look at both S. and A. and label them “lazy” or “unmotivated”.  Their deficits have made them aware they are different, and as many times as we use the euphemisms “learning differently” or “differently abled,” these kids know what’s going on.  No one likes to be different; no one likes to be the kid who takes too long, or asks dumb questions, or gets the answers wrong.

Neither do I.

This is my last day of work at my old job.  I will start my new job on Monday, assuming a seamless transition between old and new, right?  Wrong.  I am terrified.  I will be leaving the world of preschoolers, leaving behind playing with play-doh and focusing on whether children could let you know they before they peed their pants.  It’s not that the standards are low.  Quite the opposite – modern preschool programs are positively bursting with standards aimed to ensure kids are getting a variety of stimulating experiences and developing across different domains.  But you can only expect to get so far with a preschooler.  You can only develop a 5-year-old’s language so far before discharging him.  While most kids have mastered the basics of language itself by the time they head off to kindergarten, language itself remains fairly basic.  No one is expecting a preschooler to explain the Treaty of Ghent, nor where didgeridoos come from.  More likely, preschoolers who can explain where the blocks go and how they got dressed that morning are the star pupils.  That’s enough.  As kids get older, more is (rightly) expected.  And that puts more of a burden on the adults supporting them.  

As I move onto my new job, I will still keep details (incriminating and otherwise) private, but I can bet I’ll still be needing a forum to tell stories about my students and vent about the adults I’m working with.  (It’s always the adults who cause the problems, no matter where you work.)  I’m going to be moving up, graduating from preschool and being promoted immediately to middle/high school.  On hearing this, most of my current coworkers, as well as friends and family, have one of two responses.  The first is that they’ll be taller than I am.  How comical.  Imagine the 5-foot-tall speech therapist looking up at the towering 12 year old.  Insert amusing mental image.  They were taller than me when I was their age, too.  The second comment is one of genuine curiosity.  Most people do not know what kinds of “issues” adolescents can have with their speech.  Are they still dealing with lisps?  Am I working on stuttering?  The misnomer that kids who seem to walk and talk okay, are okay, is quite pervasive, and frightening.  It shows me that most people have no idea what higher level language skills are, and what they’re used for.  It shows me they’re still mentally separating out the classroom work of reading, writing, math, science, and history, from the language skills used to comprehend, listen, sound out words, scan text, break down scientific vocabulary, and retell narratives.  

Ironically, when I would tell people that I worked with preschoolers on their language and speech skills, a comment I would often hear was, “What do you work on with a kid that young?  What could be wrong with them already at that young an age?”  Only the foundations of spoken and written language.  Only the fundamentals of communication and self-expression.  That’s all. 

The issues become more complex, the academic stakes higher, in middle and high school.  The kids don’t stand much of a chance of being “cured”, or “fixed,” as one could hope an articulation disorder might be.  More likely, they’ll develop strategies to help them organize their thoughts, mnemonics to work on classroom concepts, and many many visual supports to reduce the verbal load and cognitive demands of school work.  I had a professor in graduate school, who was so scatter-rained as an instructor she would often forget to give us quizzes, but who had brilliant therapy ideas.  Though she taught preschool and school-age language disorders (focusing on birth through elementary school, usually), she worked with middle school-aged students.  

Speech therapy is a pretty cool thing when you’re in preschool.  You get extra attention from an adult, you get to work on silly words or sounds, and there are often motivating toys, games, or prizes involved.  Right around third grade, being pulled out of class to go work on /r/ or /s/, or receiving extra attention in the classroom ceases to be cool and starts to be mortifying, for myriad reasons.  Because of this shift, my professor, in her work with middle school-aged students, began calling her work “Strategies”.  She would pop her head in a classroom to extract a student, and tell him it was time for “Strategies”.  I like this term not just because of the stigma-decreasing acceptability to the child, but also because the student really will be learning strategies to help him make it through school; to help him adapt his learning style to the way his class is taught; to help him tune out the distractions that plague him so he can focus on the lecture; to help him communicate effectively with other kids so they can work on a group project together; to support him to be able to approach school with a toolkit of strategies, so he can succeed.  

I am extremely fortunate in school.  The teaching paradigm that prevailed until fairly recently, worked for me.  Reading and sounding out words just made sense to me.  The way math was presented jived with the way my brain worked.  With my high verbal skills I understood math, English, science, French, and social studies as they were presented to me in school.  It wasn’t until an in-service on Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory, at my first teaching  job, that I had a revelation.  The presenter at the in-service put up a word problem on the overhead, and we were all given some time to solve it.  I had, of course, written out an algebraic equation, and I reached the answer quickly.  She asked us not just what answer we’d come to, but how.  And there were at least three different ways people had arrived at the same answer.  While my textbook algorithm worked for me, and was the most efficient way for me to solve the problem, it wasn’t the natural choice for others.   Previously, I’d thought that everyone who didn’t “get” math in school was less intelligent than me, that kids who didn’t pick up differential calculus on the first pass just weren’t able to grasp advanced math, and were just stupid or something.  

As I moved through the grades in “advanced” reading groups, I wondered what it was about reading that was so hard for the kids in the lowest reading group, or, worse, the ones who went to the resource room.  I can’t begin to get into their brains and understand how difficult it must be to read if you cannot sequence sounds, or struggle to remember when the C sounds like an S and when it makes the K sound.  I have a better respect, though, when I see the euphemism of kids who learn “differently”.  While in a traditional school setting, with a teacher who only presents one way to approach a concept, these kids may indeed look like they have a learning “disability”; however, if a skilled teacher is able to teach fractions with manipulatives and mnemonics, and break down the steps in finding least common denominators, then a child may be said to truly learn “differently”, if he can still grasp the concept.  

These are the students I will be working with.  They will present new challenges to me as I recall from my language development class those advanced language concepts we’ll be working on together.  I hope I’m able to work with them to support their ability to excel in the classroom, to help them be successful teens and achieve their highest dreams.  Even if they tower over me physically, I hope we’ll be able to see eye-to-eye.

Each day I come home from work spent.  I am grouchy, worn-out, tired, and I don’t have the energy for my husband or my dogs.  Basically, I’m so fed up I want to punch a kitten.  Don’t get me wrong — work’s not all bad.  I have pleasant interactions with many children; I get to feel special as they all crowd around me in their chaotic classroom for a little piece of order and preschool magic.  I have pleasant interactions with many of my coworkers; we brainstorm new ways to support the kids and work around the paperwork jungle that threatens to engulf us more each week.  Overall, though, I can’t take the good with the bad.  I’ve blogged about my commute, the time-clock, the soon-to-be-locked supply closet, the stupid new paperwork and policies that take the emphasis away from supporting children with special needs.  I’ve bitched about it all, and I just can’t take it all in stride.

I want to be that worker who toughs it out when things are icky, the one who barrels through new transitions with an eye towards what good will come from re-organization, the one who proves herself with iniatives and innovations and the one who makes her own path.  I’m just not.  Or just not here, at my current place of employment.  I don’t feel enough loyalty to stick it out through the tough times.  I don’t feel the good is enough to overcome the rotten.  I had a breakthrough with helping a little boy write the first letter of his name today.  I faded support as, together, we went down, and around to form the capital D, over and over again.  He looked up at me in pride, clapping his hands together as we both shrieked “YAY!”  I don’t care that I’m not the occupational therapist.  I dragged her into the classroom to witness the breakthrough — she was so proud.  Yet sitting through a 90 minute staff meeting chock full of the usual too-little, too-late policy changes, bullshit new regulations on time cards, time clocks, health appraisals, performance evaluations, staffing arrangements, and state recertification, I just shut down.  I couldn’t hear well enough over my tittering neighbors and the air-conditioner, so I stopped trying.  At least 95% of the meeting doesn’t apply to me as  therapist anyway — it’s meant for classroom teachers — and the therapists end up feeling, at least as though our time were wasted, and definitely unacknowledged for our contributions to the school anyway.  I stormed out of the meeting with two minutes left to punch out of the assembly line they call being a speech-language therapist, and drove home with no internal resources for how I’m feeling. 

I cannot detach, nor can I expend enough energy to care.  I’m left in some no-man’s land of apathy and resentment.  I guess these are all symptoms of why I have submitted my notice of resignation.  I have a new job starting mid-September, one that I hope is very different from this one.  I’ll be working with older children — adolescents mainly — in a different setting.  I’m hoping the majority of the teachers know what they’re doing.  I’m hoping the entire staff is highly trained and educated and treated by the adminstration as adults.  I’m hoping I get to be treated like an adult. 

In this state, my resignation period, I’m just counting days left.  I’m scratching tally marks into some imaginary cinder block wall, until I can pack up my desk and fully detach.  Until then, I’m stuck caring, but not caring, listening, but not processing, angry, but without recourse. 

I’m also incredibly fearful.  I do not like change (hence my reaction to endless new policies), and I do not seek out risks, employment-wise.  I want to understand what’s happening, in a predictable fashion. I like to know where things are, and where things go.  None of that will happen right away at my new job.  None of my desires line up with jetting off to seek other employment.  I’m scared to leave what I know and start something brand new.  I’m scared of all the new things I will have to learn — names, faces, paperwork, policies, regulations, communication, e-mail, dress-codes.  I’m scared they’re going to have the kids call me Mrs. SLP.  I’m scared of all these things; yet I must move on. 

I know that getting a new job will not solve all the problems.  I know that a person who has continual problems in relationships, living situations, jobs, and daily interactions is probably herself the problem.  I’m hoping I’m not that type of person.  I desperately need to believe, though, that this new job, whatever promises it may hold, will allow to come home feeling like a human being, not a spent cog in a decrepit machine, and be able to greet my husband and my pets with the joy they deserve.  I often say that I don’t like working, that work is something that keeps us away from those we love, so that we can earn the money that allows us to be at home with those we love.  It helps if it’s something meaningful, something one enjoys, or at least can tolerate.  It’s no good, though, if it chews me up and spits me out ready to rampage at the first sentient being I speak to after 4:00pm.  It defeats the purpose. 

I hope my new job treats me like an adult, and allows me to feel like a human.

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