Friday, May 29, 2009

My job and what I get out of it

I've been working as a special education aid for 2 and a half years. When I applied for the job as a substitute, I wasn't sure if I would like it, but my second day, subbing for a day at the school where I've been most of those 2 and a half years, I fell in love. A boy who will be graduating out of my class this year was compelled to drink with vigor out of every drinking fountain we passed. I was fascinated. What makes you tick? I wondered. Will I ever be able to see or hear you communicate those ticks?

This week was particularly wacky. We've had subs on and off all week. Yesterday was a county-wide event for all the Life Skills classes. One of my students soaked me with a giant water balloon popping device similar to a dunk tank. Another, weighing about 80 pounds (I'm 115 myself) climbed onto my back like a backpack and we climbed up a huge inflatable slide that way. And today I was part of a two-person clean up crew which neutralized a situation involving a dirty diaper and wandering hands.

I used to think I wanted one of those jobs that really made a visible difference in the world. By golly, I was going to put folks back on their feet and inspire others to do the same. But I care too much about people's lives to watch them screw them up again and again, and I'm too much of a results driven person to not feel like I'm a failure at my job when it doesn't happen. I can handle volunteer stuff without the pressure, just not as a job.

So now I do this thing that seems futile, yet noble. More than likely, none of my kids will become astrophysicists (but maybe falconers or paleontologists) or great artists (unless Disney plans on making another Buzz Lightyear movie) like some autistic savants. I'm sometimes torn in my principles, demanding that talented and gifted programs be a top priority, but not wanting to shaft kids like mine with the volume of staffing that will give them respect and dignity. I dare anyone to see what I do on a daily basis and not maintain that those students are precious in the eyes of God, even when they are throwing heavy things across the room or drooling or screaming. At the end of a child's time in my class, he may only be able to let someone know he's hungry and put on a shirt, but to me, that will be a thousand little victories. I don't make a lot of money, and I doubt I'll be an Annie Sullivan, but being hit, sassed, and drooled on in the course of everything else gives me more purpose to my life than I think tutoring gifted kids would.

While my job means a lot to me, I don't think it's special and amazing as some people who tell me it takes a special kind of person to do my job. Maybe my whole life has been building up to this, or maybe people don't give themselves enough credit.

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