Published May 02, 2012
Dear Special Ed Teachers Whose Heart Isn’t in It --
As a life coach, I am acutely aware of signs that someone might be in the wrong line of work. Longing for Friday every week, for example, has so many wishing their lives away waiting for a weekend fix so they can “live.” Or hearing someone talk about the job he wanted since he was 12 but now, in his 30s, is too entwined in his mortgage and lifestyle to even consider a track more compatible with his gifts.
Those are pretty classic.
But in the last week or so we’ve all been exposed to a clearer example of people in the wrong line of work thanks to Stu Chaifetz. You know him, right? The parent of an autistic boy from Cherry Hill, N.J., who sent his son to school wearing a wire because he suspected something inappropriate was going on. He put the results on YouTube and the video has now been viewed more than four million times as of this writing.
Maybe, just maybe, verbally abusing anyone, let alone a special needs child in your charge, is a flashing neon sign you’re in the wrong line of work. April may have been Autism Awareness month, but I’m declaring right here we’re taking it into May.
Look, I’ve got skin in this game and I’ll come clean about it now. Both of my siblings have an autistic child, so I have a special needs niece and nephew being educated in New Jersey. They’re both beautiful and gifted in their own way and have so many differences, but one major thing they have in common is their penchant for repeating things obsessively. At times it comforts them just to express, but often the response is just as important. This is every waking hour of every day in the life of many children on the autism spectrum and their parents.
So if you’ve opted to go into a line of work where you will be teaching these children how to read and write and sing and function in our society, you may do well to be mindful that dealing with their repetitiveness and obsessive need for familiarity and habit is a huge part of the job. It’s hard-wired. When I talk to my 8-year-old niece on the phone, she wants to hear a variation of the same story over and over again. It’s what engages her and I can feel her joy 50 miles away when I give her the response she wants.
Imagine this every day, though. Repeating. Repeating. Repeating. This is life with these kids.
So, teacher, you feel on edge once in a while? Fine. I get it. Need to take a deep breath every so often? Yes. Do it. But mocking? Not only are you in the wrong line of work, you need an emotional and spiritual makeover. There is no need to mock anyone, ever.
Look, if what you desire is an outlet to discuss your night of too much partying with your co-workers, there are a number of career options for you. It’s pretty commonplace. Get thee to a hair styling school or a corporate cubicle. Plenty of kindred gossips to be found in those ranks.
But this job you’ve CHOSEN, to shepherd special needs children through a crucial part of their development process, is clearly not for you. That’s a collective “you.” We know this isn’t unique to Cherry Hill.
Some of the most valuable lessons we get in life are jolts that feel unfixable. This kind of public embarrassment is going to take a toll, but the best of us eventually see these as wakeup calls. Lots of people stay in jobs they’re not suited for because they’re in a comfort zone or they’ve become discouraged about their prospects of moving on. Maybe at one time you were cut out for this. You’re not now.
There are young people graduating from college now, this month, who are enthusiastic and committed to this special needs population. Acknowledge you’re not a fit and make room for them. My niece and nephew have made amazing strides because there are many in the special needs teaching arena who have heeded a call and excel in it. The children don’t deserve your incompetence. They need your wisdom, support and guiding touch.
Parents like my siblings and their spouses deserve better, too. They don’t need to expend their time and energy undoing the damage you’re inflicting. Their lives are challenged enough by these sweet, strong-willed, sometimes exasperating spirits they’ve brought into the world.
Stu Chaifetz has done what so many parents of autistic kids are too wrung out or fearful to do. Since these children often can’t communicate their troubles like “typical” kids can, their parents must rely on a whole different kind of instinct. Chaifetz not only validated his own gut feeling about his boy, but gave a lot of like-minded parents a moment of pause – at the very least -- about their own instincts.
There’s much being learned here.
It’s one thing to dread Mondays. It’s another to belittle a child you’ve been hired to nurture.
Let’s call it a sign that it’s time to find another job.
Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.