Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Good Week's Work!

It's been a nice week at work.  I work at a remedial high school in one of the 3 behavior units for students who also qualify for Individualized Education Plans (IEP's).  I work with Troy Hulse, who has been working for a long time with at-risk boys.  He is very good and has a lot of experience with this population.  This is the 2nd year he has actually been in a contained classroom, since before that time he worked out in the field, leading work crews for these same students.  He actually requested me from another classroom I had been working in, probably partially because I am a female and with these kids, it's imperative that they learn how to work respectfully with males and females, alike.  It's a real struggle for them to do that most of the time--just be respectful.  There are several obvious reasons why that is so and probably many more less clear cut explanations.  For one thing, it is society in general that implicitly condones the disrespect of women, objectifying them into not much more than sex symbols.  A lot of these kids have not much more than the prototype of society in general to mold their philosophies and behaviors.  Another is that sometimes their sadly lacking home environments have been such that disregarding women and mistreating them is the standard.  And variously, they are fettered with the chains of physiological limitations, where their erratic behavior is symptomatic of their condition. Any kind of positive response from them must be gained by medication, precision commands with strict reinforcement follow-up!

Every day I go to work, wondering which kid is going to try and take me down with sharp sarcasm or penchant for mean humor.  It's always someone and something different.  One day I think I have made tremendous headway with someone and the next day, it's a total reversal of attitude.  Most of the time, I am able to avoid any major confrontation because I'm pretty savvy myself, when it comes to street smarts.  And, since we are on the level system, there is always the threat of dropping a level if they go too far overboard with disrespect, threats or rude comments.  

The funny thing is that I really genuinely like the boys, who range from 15 to 18, in my unit.  They all are intelligent, personable and humorous!  They can be charming when they want to be. But there is a reason why they are in my unit.  Most likely, it is because they were behaviorally out-of-control in the regular high schools that they attended.  Most of them have several misdemeanors to their credit and some have even been in detention.  So while I quite like most of these boys, I can never trust them.  I'm always on my guard.  For instance, once they actually invited me to sit with them at their table at lunch.  If they actually were to do that, it would be a great sign of status for me.  But I didn't buy it.  I declined to sit with them.  I soon found out that what they were actually planning on doing was getting up and leaving, once I had sat down with them, leaving me at the table alone.  But I'm no dummy (totally debatable, however) and saw it coming and the fact that I didn't fall for it actually got me a little more respect!  

We see some of these boys mainstreamed back into regular classes, first within the high school itself and some even get to go back to the original high schools that they were expelled from.  Basically, when I really get to be rather fond of someone and impressed with their progress, that is the time they will be leaving my class. So, I don't get too much time with a kid who is well-behaved on a consistent basis!

So why has it been a nice week?  Well, it was nice because I am getting more comfortable teaching Social Skills and Daily Oral Language Skills to them, which are the two things I teach on a daily basis.  I see them actually responding and participating in spite of themselves!  When I first started out in this unit at the beginning of November, it was a disaster.  They were bound and determined to withhold any respect or even any acknowledgment of my presence as an authority figure.  I was so grateful to have a male professional in the classroom, who laid down the law when things got out of hand.  Nevertheless, he couldn't see everything that was going on. They have extremely covert ways of trying to undermine me and my efforts to be an integral part of the class workings.   

It's been nice because one of the more dominant members of the classroom actually sincerely invited me to join them in a game during free time.   That was definitely a status jump.  Now most of the kids have decided that I am worth bringing into a recreational game outside of formal class time!  Yes!  They have actually started asking me for different pieces of advice about their understanding and clarification of the world around them, whereas before they would only ask those things to Troy.  Now, they are trusting me enough to ask me!  Major victory!  And, when I do give my opinion about different things, they will actually weigh it in their minds and give it thoughtful consideration.  They may not agree with it all the time, but they do attend to it!  Small though these things may seem, in the realm of at-risk youth, it is huge.  They have grown up with many different obstacles and at the forefront is the ability to trust or the permission to respect adults in their lives.  For me, it's one thing for a young person who has had every opportunity and encouragement to render me some good faith.  But for someone who has not had such assistance, it is the best feeling ever to have them hesitantly at first, extend the hand of friendship and trust.  Maybe then, influence for good can be had~and that's what brings me great satisfaction!  I hope that you have a great week in whatever you are doing, because we all have immense capacity to make the world around us a little better because of what we do!  What do  you consider to be a good week at "work"?


scrilla said...

great post! It sounds complicated, interesting, and fulfilling all at the same time!

Chastina said...

Wow! What a great thing for you to be able to do. It sounds like a lot of hard, yet rewarding work.

Cascia said...

I can tell that you love your job. Thanks for sharing!