Saturday, June 5, 2010

And Now Back to Our Regular Programming

I had just always wanted to write a whole post in Italian, so I figured why not?

I thought I'd elaborate a bit on part of my faith story, because the misfit asked me how I came to work with autistic children. During my time in Massachusetts where I worked at a school for severe special needs, I did have an experience that lead me to be a more powerful witness to my faith and my beliefs. So here's the whole story:

In college when I decided that teaching would be the career that made the most sense, I was already a senior, and had not taken any education classes. The only way I could get my foot in the door of the education world was to work from the bottom up- and this school was a way to do that. It was a private, residential institution, with a regular day school for the higher functioning students and homes for the lower functioning students. The teachers were in 2 categories for the residences: Level 1 and Level 2. Level 2 meant you had some experience with special needs and had a minor or major in education. If you started at Level 2, you were assigned as a case manager to one of the residential students, and you only worked day hours. Level 1 meant you had no experience whatsoever, and were the dregs who got no important work duties, but did have the privilege of working overnights. Yes, that's right, we had to sleep in the house with the boys (most of the residential students were boys), on a sleeping bag on the floor, with an Overnight Counselor who did not sleep but stayed awake during the hours we slept (12-6am... oh, but trust me, I rarely slept). We not only had the worst jobs ever imaginable, but we were treated like scum by the administration, too.

One of the reasons I took the job was because they had a VERY cheap option for their employees to earn a Master's Degree on-site through Si.mmons College in Special Needs Education. (I figured out too late that Special Needs was not my calling.) I right away requested to expedite my classes (they generally had students take 2 courses per semester, and I wanted to take more), but they flat-out refused. The master's program, you see, was designed to be lengthy, to ensure that employees stayed a minimum of 3 years. I also decided to take 2 of the certification tests on the same day, to which they told me in a voice like they were talking to a 5-year-old, "Weeeeell... you know, they are rather difficult... students have failed in the past and that was when they were only taking one..."

There was a general feeling, it seemed, among the administration and the Simmons' teachers for the grad program, that all the teachers who worked there were a bit "slow" themselves. It was infuriating to me, not only to be treated this way myself, but to see my co-workers and friends busting their butts every day, getting beat up by the kids (yes, they aggressed often, and by "kids" I mean up to 21 years old), getting paid pennies, and getting absolutely NO respect from their superiors, who sat at desks all day long and never interacted with the kids.

You may have noticed that I said the Simmons' "teachers" for the grad program, not "professors." That's because for our program, Simmons hired regular secondary school teachers to teach US how to teach the various subjects. (And it's no wonder the courses STUNK.) So for example, we had a middle school math teacher teaching us a course on math education, but instead the course ended up being a middle school math class. The history and english courses followed suit.

This story is about the history course.

The teacher for that course was the most pompous, assuming, egotistical a-hole I had ever met. He had absolutely no idea what we did at our jobs, as was evidenced in the frequent questions he would ask when someone would show up 5 minutes late to class explaining, "I'm so sorry, but so-and-so aggressed and we needed to put him in a hold..." He also thought we were all horrible students who didn't know anything and he would need have to "enlighten" us all with his incredible knowledge of all things.

The class quickly turned from history to politics, as the a-hole seized the opportunity to shape fresh, young (naive and impressionable, in his eyes) minds each session. To make matters worse, we were in Massachusetts, and it was an election year (2004). You can just imagine how slanted his "discussions" on politics were.
During the 4th or 5th class, he began bashing all the conservative politicians he could think of, and at one point said the following:

"Well, I know that no one here is STUPID enough to be pro-life."

I swear, I almost stood up and walked out right then and there, and if it were me NOW, I would have done much more than that! But I was so uncomfortable at the time, and so embarrassed (at being called stupid, not at being pro-life) that I just pursed my lips, tuned him out for the remainder of the class, and decided not to go back to class ever again.

I still submitted all my work, papers, etc, but he accused me of plagiarizing and gave me low marks on all my papers. That, coupled with my class absences, resulted in my first EVER failed school course.

The story with the plagiarizing will also give you an idea of this guy's attitude. Our first paper had to be done on any time in history that had a tremendous impact on culture (sound like a grad school paper topic to you? No, me neither.) So, I chose the Renaissance, and being an International Studies major at my college with a concentration in Italian, and a semester of living in Italy, I needed very few books to crank out the 5 page paper. When we got our papers back, I approached him to ask about my B- grade, and he said there were very few citations. I said, yes, I agree, that's because I didn't use many sources. With a smug look on his face, he grabbed my paper out of my hands, flipped to the first red mark on the 2nd page, and said, "Here, for example, you write 'In Italy, one may see hundreds of artistic representations of the 'Madonna col Bambino'... So, are you telling me you didn't lift this directly from some book? Um, no, I told him, I lived in Italy, visited dozens of museums and churches, and studied the Italian language.

I can only imagine he was completely mortified at being put in his place by this student whom he had assumed was just some stupid kid who couldn't get a "real" job, that he then said to me, all flustered:

"Well. Then, you must either be THE. smartest. student. I've. ever. had. Or... you're a liar."

I had no response for that one. (Again, if I could only be in that situation NOW... oh, the missed opportunities!)

After the class was over, I filled out a very lengthy survey on the teacher, and submitted it via email to the Simmons administration. I emailed a few times to alert them to the fact that I had not only been deeply offended several times in the class, but that his "teaching" consisted of nothing other than his blatant political agenda-pushing. I never heard back from anyone at Simmons.

But the experience, and the fact that I did take a stand against the assault on my personal beliefs, was one that I was proud of in the end. I wish that I could say I hadn't failed the course, but in a way, it shows just how committed I was to NOT allowing this man to talk his crap in front of me... I would rather have scholastically failed for the first (and the last) time ever in my life than put up with that.

I survived at that place about 10 months before leaving. It was pure hell.

Sometimes infertility feels like it ;)


Hebrews 11:1 said...

What an amazing story! First, I just wanted to say I admire and appreciate your work with autistic children--one of my precious nephews has Asperger's (he tested low for autism but extremely high on the Asperger's spectrum). He is the sweetest boy with a smile that can light up a room, but it is hard to watch him struggle with his obstacles. But, his therapy and help from people like you have so far made a great improvement! So thank you!!

Also, my jaw hit the floor when I read what your teacher said!! The nerve! Please tell me his name and where he is, I'm pretty sure I have a golf club with his car windshield's name on it. (No not really...but it makes me FURIOUS to read that!) How horrible that you had to be surrounded by such people!!

Lastly, I want to say, I don't think you failed that course. Maybe by their criteria you did, but by the criteria that matters, I'd say you aced it.

Kaitlin @ More Like Mary said...

I'm hooked. You must continue.

More Than Anything said...

What an A$$! You sould've punched him in the face. I cannot believe teachers act that way. That's horrible!

the misfit said...

Wow. I can totally believe that about the political crap, because of the organic chemistry lecture puzzlingly on the Bush election I had to walk out of in undergrad in Massachusetts - and that professor was a brilliant chemist, actually. I think there's something in the water in Massachusetts. But that story is unreal. That job is unreal, actually. I feel like my zany stories are all so run-of-the-mill - I worked for a crazy Greek restaurant owner, but who hasn't? How do people find these crazy adventures?

Also, I think I had misunderstood autism perhaps. I thought it was a matter of inappropriate communication skills - I didn't know autistic kids routinely attacked adults!

[email protected] said...

Oh, wow, what an a-hole is right!! It's one of those moments where you are so stunned that someone could even say such an imbecilic thing that you can hardly respond! What a miserable human being he must be.

I also went to school in Massachusetts (waaaaay back when it was the first George Bush running against Michael Dukakis. And Judge Bork was being "borked.") I was a pro-life kid on a Catholic campus, and unfortunately, it often felt like a minority position. Don't even get me started on the sociology class on family that I took (and quickly dropped in horror).

Anyway, this is not about me, right? Ha ha! Great story (in a sickening way), and I'm with Kaitlin... you must tell us more.

Second Chances said...

Whoa. That guy's messed up. I too wish you could be your current self and confront him...but only if I could watch!

Sew said...

Phew I thought for a second that your blog got high jacked! Glad to have you back...I don't like change...K!?

That sounds like pure hell....What else aren't you telling us...

Faith makes things possible said...

Wow! That's crazy! I would not have lasted that long!

Isn't it amazing to look back on different times in our lives and know that if that situation were occurring now we would have said something?! I use to sorta beat myself up over these "missed opportunities" but I've come to realize those were learning moments and stepping stones that have gotten me where I am today!

Thanks for sharing! Can't wait to hear more! :)

Life In Mazes said...

Wow, that was a really tough time for you, I am so glad you stood up for yourself!! You are one strong woman and I can only imagine what your responses would be now ;)

mrsblondies said...

What an amazing and crazy story! I can't believe that you dealt with those administrators for as long as you did. That's crazy that they had secondary level teachers teaching you for graduate classes. I've dealt with the political crap; I was in grad school in Philly during the 2004 primary time and it drove me crazy. I'm so sorry you had to deal with such a horrible "teacher" (he doesn't even deserve the word).