Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Chopping Up Stereotypes

I've been mulling over this one since last Saturday because I'm not sure how to even approach the topics I want to communicate. The woodshop, for me, this week, was more about communicating and relationships. I guess that's not that much different than usual, but I found those things in a different way this time...

But how do I write about these things without offending someone? How do I make sure this is appropriate for my audience? How do I manage this "bull in a china shop" topic? Let's just do it. I'll try to be nimble.

I've been thinking about stereotypes. Perceptions. Breaking stereotypes. Changing perceptions.

So, I'm doing this wood shop thing. I'm hanging out with dudes who build stuff. I'm a 33 year old single girl. I love sports and can talk about the Browns and Cavs and hold my own.  I'm now building stuff out of wood. I asked for an electric sander for Christmas. What's the common stereotype here? I know you're thinking it. Or maybe you're not but I had to be sure I made it clear. "So, I like guys." I'm not sure if the woodshop guys were surprised or not. Why did I even feel like I needed to tell them that? 

Next, I'm white and have always lived in the suburbs. I went to a private grade school and now work in the district where I lived and attended high school. I never left the 'burbs. My parents paid for my undergrad degree. I wear a NorthFace fleece and own a Coach purse. What's your perception now? If you don't know my whole story or my parents' whole story, you might assume you know me now. You know this stereotype.

How about when I spend my money to go to the Cavs home opener? Browns season ticket holder? Special education teacher? Elementary school teacher? Any common stereotypes here? How about the guy spitting chew into a bottle that sat near me on the bus yesterday? 

Now the stereotypes that I often think of when I see other people who...

...wear stilleto heels to a sporting event?

...have dirt under their finger nails?

...don't read with their kids?


...don't show up for parent-teacher conferences?

...don't speak English?

...use poor grammar?

...are stay at home moms or dads?

...ride the bus?

...pay someone to do their yard work?

...have cats? 

...don't give 200% at work?

...don't read for fun?

...don't go to college?

...use android devices?

The theme of stereotypes continued through my extended conversations last week at Soulcraft when we ventured into the topic of the use of the "r word." I choose not to use that word because I believe that there's a negative connotation and it's hurtful to both people with special needs and their families. I often believe people who use that word are ignorant, thoughtless, careless, unkind...

The conversation was extensive and Peter and Jim helped me to realize that it's not about the word, it's about the stereotypes and perceptions behind the word; that it appears to me that using the "r word" is synonymous with the de-valuation of life if your IQ is lower than 72 or if you are not considered "neuro -typical." There's the perception that, if you are "retarded," in the DSM IV definition of the word, your life is somehow less meaningful than mine. 

Jim was surprised to know that 80% of babies conceived with Down syndrome are aborted. How about the woman who killed her child with autism and the people who justify it?

And who owns the "r word" anyways. People with an IQ below 72? Their family members? Their teachers and aides and tutors? Can anyone actually own a word? 

Do the words matter?

If the words don't matter, what's the first step in changing the perception? 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Week 5 of This Adventure

Well... This is supposed to be a six week adventure/ experience in wood working and education, but let's be honest. We are not even close to being done, right Pete?

I could write for days on what I gained this week at Soulcraft. I'm spending time with interesting, brave, cool people and hearing their stories while telling mine... We're all on a journey, aren't we? And I should be learning about others' journeys too, shouldn't I?

But, the really cool thing I think I'm gaining here is confidence to try new things. 

After all, the more stuff you try, the more stuff you can do, right? (Not so profound or Emerson- like, but still, true.)

Today, I found myself stuck in my driveway. Alone. And about to be late for work with a car that wouldn't start... Again.

I've watched this three times before today, I can do this. 

So I did. I jumped my own car today. 

I jumped my own car without any help?

I did! I jumped my own car. I did it! I did it myself!

And without this class/experience/cohort/thing, I'm not sure I would've ever even tried.

I could hear my dad doing a cheer up in heaven (likely because I didn't set my car or myself on fire). 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Soulcraft Week 4

I'm not even close to being done, mostly because I don't want this experience to end. I'm hoping everyone wants to continue making a weekly trip to Soulcraft even if it's just to high five between machines and drink way too much coffee.

I was struck this week by so many profound conversations, I hope I can capture it all... 

First, I had a great conversation with Karen about immigrants who are brand new to the district AND to the country. I have several students this year who've just come to the United States weeks ago. I want to know how to teach them but I don't yet. I'm not sure they need to score higher on First Sound Fluency, but rather to follow the rules of this game we call school. When to sit on the carpet, when to line up, when to speak and when to be quiet... Lakewood appears to have a much larger population of immigrants, of course, but the words that struck me from Karen were "language acquisition." I know plenty about language acquisition for students who have autism or Down syndrome. I know what the next steps are with a child who can't speak or doesn't speak at all. But, I have no idea what to do for these kids who have language, just not the English language.

This one 5 minute conversation about language acquisition led to my search over the weekend for ESL podcasts and research. I'm hoping I'm now on my way to helping our new friends...

Next, as we were planning to meet up before the Browns game, I was surprised at the comraderie we've already formed. These are the easiest friendships I've ever forged, maybe because we are having a shared experience, or maybe because it's just great to be around like- minded people like Tom and the friend he brought along. Each of these professionals truly know who they are and continues to evolve as that person day in and day out. 

Jim's kids joined us for a bit to talk about school, homework, Minecraft, technology, group projects, teachers, and more. I was moved by the depth of their responses and their honesty. They don't know us, they didn't need to impress, they were simply genuine and true. Kids are amazing, I realized again. 

I stayed after a bit and engaged in even more amazing conversation with Sean, Jim, and Pete. I lost all track of time until I realized that I was expected in Toledo in a little under 15 minutes from that time... As I ran out of Soulcraft and jumped in my car, I was struck by two words Peter shared when supporting Sean, and all educators who feel discouraged. Viscerally involved. 

Viscerally involved.

"At least you are... viscerally involved," he said with a hand outstretched to prove his point. 

I can only hope to be so viscerally involved in every one of my life experiences. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Dichotomy Between my Fixed and Growth Mindsets

 Saturday was a busy day.  I went to my woodshop "class" and then met with my supervisor as a BCBA candidate. It strikes me that these are two very different worlds. And somehow I am immersed in both. But one familiar note strikes me- I need other people to help me with both.

At Soulcraft, we're pushing each other outside of our boundaries. This week, I learned how to use the jointer ("with a T"), the planer, and the table saw to mill the wood AND I actually used them! Five different people helped me to mill the wood for the sides of my shoe rack and none of this would've gotten done without each of them. Karen and Julie helped me with the math. Peter and Jim helped me use the machines for the first time (and not be afraid), and Sean and Julie helped me with the planer. I couldn't have done any of it without them. 

At 12:15 as I was speeding to meet my BFF (and supportive BCBA candidate in crime) and my supervisor at Starbucks, I thought, "I sure needed a lot of help today. This makes me uncomfortable, I'm used to being the "helper," not the "helpee!" I promised myself that next week, I would help someone else instead of only work on my own project.

And then in our conversations at the coffee shop, I certainly needed my people. Group contingencies and the pros and cons of them do not just discuss themselves...

So, it strikes me that I needed people. I need people! I need people? I guess I do need people.

You see, I pride myself on being really self-sufficient. Typically I do not ask for help and try to get lots of things done efficiently and effectively on my own. I like being the helper and the expert. I like knowing what I'm doing and doing what I know. I even shy away from asking people for help in stores because I should be able to figure things out on my own. But then I get stuck. "I am independent female, hear me roar!" I don't need your help... Until I do.

I need to get rid of my fixed mindset that leads to thinking that needing help is showing weakness. Isn't it actually being human? And isn't that actually okay???

It has to be. I needed help. Now I'm better for accepting it. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Growing Into My Growth Mindset

Oh no!  I almost cried again.  But I didn't!  I will NOT cry in this wood shop.

This week, we spent the first hour talking.  Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, someone asked me this week why I wasn't teaching special ed. this year.  I gave a short version of the story. I will NOT cry in this wood shop. For the first time telling this story, I didn't cry. I DID NOT CRY IN THIS WOOD SHOP!

And then we moved on to learning about the machines in the wood shop. THANK GOD.


Wait Peter!  PETER!


I got the jointer. Joiner?  Jointer?

I got the planer.  Planer? Planar?

Hmmm... I think I got the table saw. Maybe.

And then it was over. My head was done.  Peter had 6 more machines, but my brain was done.

Wait, is this how people feel when I try to teach them how to make a website?  

Is this how my students feel when I ask them to write a sentence? 

Well, it's a good thing Peter said we won't be having a test on these, although won't USING them be the ultimate test?

Oh well. The machines are long gone in my brain because then we started "sketching."  Cool. I can draw well enough PLUS Jim is helping me.

And then we're figuring out how to calculate how much wood we need.  Cool. I am sweet at math.

And then...


And then I COULDN'T DO THE MATH!!!!!!!!!!

No, really. I couldn't do the math to figure out how much wood I would need.  I couldn't visualize the cuts in the wood and I couldn't even problem solve to figure out the math to help me figure out the other math!


Thank goodness there's a former math teacher around and also a math intervention specialist and also some really awesome furniture makers because they helped me with the math.

But they also helped me realize that this is what's wrong with school.  I did learn this math.  I could ROCK THIS MATH on a standardized test.  But now, using this math in context, WHEN I ACTUALLY NEED IT and I can't do it.  I am horrified to admit and totally embarrassed.  I have a Masters' degree PLUS 29 credits AND I COULDN'T DO THE MATH.

And then I thanked God for putting me in this situation where I don't need to be embarrassed because I am learning with these people who are also learning.  AND FAILING IS OKAY.

This is exactly the message I need to take back to my students who HATE to read out loud in front of their peers:

Let's let it be okay to mess up.  Let's laugh when we make a mistake and try again the next time.  Let's use our peers for their talents and then shine in another area.  Let's make it okay to do stuff you're not good at it, solely for the purpose of getting better at it.  Let's take it easy and learn for fun, rather than learn for a test or a score.  Let's CHILL OUT and stop worrying.