For most of my life, I have acted like a teacher lady.
This piece was inspired by a recent training I attended at my job. This training was on writing Individualized Education Plans. This is something I have done for a decade and so, I was much familiar with the content, but still found I learned a large amount. This is about the experience of being put back in the seat as a learner and the reflections I have had on myself as a lifetime learner.
TINY TEACHER LADY
Even young, I was a leader; I came up with the activities often. I liked to read and generally liked to learn about new things. I was inclusive always. I always wanted everyone to play, or be involved. I swear even tiny me knew how to find strengths in people, ignoring differences.
My mom said when I was in Pre-K, the teachers told her I ran a little pow-wow among some of the little ladies there. There I was, the tiny teacher lady, planning the topics of discussion and the learning by the hour.
I always learned mostly by talking, as I was an auditory, communal, and collaborative learner, by nature. I did not know how to engage in meta-cognition when I was young without releasing it orally. This basically meant I got good grades, but comments like “talks in class” often. Strike that, always.
As I got older, I learned to do other work, mostly papers or homework, while the teacher was going too slow for me. This helped me stop talking so I stopped getting in trouble. It also gave me more time at home to slam Black Cherry sodas and watch television. Actually maybe that wasn’t the best thing– but I did get straight A’s.
IMPULSE CONTROL SHMIMPULSE CONTROL
You see, I always understood the rules of school, but my impulse control has never been perfect. Still is not perfect, far from it.
I guess this is something we all continually work on, but living with bipolar means that once in a while, I am even shocked by the gall I have.
THE RULES OF SCHOOLS
I wanted to pass, I wanted to behave, but also I wanted to learn. NOW. I wanted to learn the thing and move on. The education system was hard for me in some ways because you are supposed to do the thing and do it quietly and sit there and WAIT UNTIL EVERYONE IS DONE.
Waiting has always been hard for me. Waiting is hard for a lot of us. I just want the thing now.
You see, waiting is actually a coping skill. Patience. We must learn patience as no baby is born without crying for what they want immediately. The problem is things we don’t learn very young are hard and trauma often rewires brains to mis-fire.
Some kids pick up some behaviors easily and others, like me, are antsy. I move a lot when I’m learning. I can’t stand waiting for the next slide. I really can’t.
I AM ABOUT TO HAVE A BEHAVIOR
Now, I think this is why I am a great special education educator. There is something in having these behaviors myself that helps me understand. When a student is moving around, for example, I more than get it– I do it too. I know what to say and do when I see certain behaviors.
I think most of us can say at some point during our job, that we’re about to have a behavior and we know we need to take a break.
That is the kind of thing some students with disabilities just need a little more help learning or accessing in school.
I typically have small classes so I get to know my students well. I can see when a student isn’t right from across a classroom, across a hall, across the entire building even. A lot of special education is just giving students a smaller environment where they can build that kind of a relationship and access help quicker.
Like me, maybe they are just a little antsier than the average student. Before I even picked up a cup, it was always like
I had coffee in my blood.
Sometimes up, sometimes down– I truly understand the way a ‘messy brain day’ can change how you learn, how you function, and how you teach.
Part of growing up is learning to cope with all of those changes and make it through the days independently.
You learn your limits, learn how to chunk things, and learn how to cope overall.
Coping skills are maybe the biggest lesson we get out of the school system. Some students develop these skills naturally in that communal setting. Some need a little more help.
I was one of the kids who needed a little more of that emotional help; I just didn’t seek it out until I was an adult. I refused as a kid. I guess the adult teacher lady over here hopes I can help some kids to figure out school a little better– to cope with an average day a little better so they can in the future.
CHANGE IS HARD
Now what did I learn from this most recent training?
I have been an actual official teacher lady or lady in training for about a decade. My brain can’t really comprehend that but my goodness, it is true!
Now the specifics of the content at hand are not important but my background in it is. As mentioned, I have worked on and written parts of and/ or entire Individualized Education Plans for a decade. This isn’t new content for me. That’s important.
In the training, I was reminded that change is hard. I mean, I think we all know that to some degree but here are the two ways I was truly reminded of this.
For one, my behaviors as a student have definitely not changed.
I found it insanely hard to sit still. When things don’t move at my exact pace, I work on other things. I can’t help it. My brain works really fast sometimes and we were doing this training first thing in the morning. I am shoving my breakfast in my face and coffee in my mouth at this time and usually talking to my common planning team. This is my talk time. I mean, all day is talk time as a teacher lady.
Usually I am literally talking with 5 humans while 4 documents are actively open and I’m also answering my emails for my entire common planning hour. My brain is going in a million directions for the day and so, this training hit me at a weird time. I’m usually fired up first thing in the morning and so learning about old, not new, content was hard at first. I was often distracted when I felt I knew a section well.
Now as the training went on for a few more weeks, I was eventually met with things I didn’t understand, or do precisely correctly on my paperwork. I would hear something and disagree with it or disagree with phrasing.
Now that is when I get interested in things. When I don’t get it, or I disagree. That is when you have my ears because it is new. I want to learn, I don’t want to review.
As the training went on, this happened more and more. I ended up talking with my coworker before lectures, after, and of course during (because I am still kind of trash at rules.)
I ended up learning a lot about the tiny specifics of the documents that I was messing up. Simple phrasing can actually put a plan right out of compliance and for teachers, one of the biggest things driven home in our learning is legal documents need to be written and followed exactly.
I learned this the same way I always learned. My learner characteristics haven’t changed in 31 years and so I am guessing my (and maybe your) students haven’t either.
I am having trouble with transfer because I am trying to change something I have known and done for so long.
I am largely struggling with using the information I learned because I have worked on IEPs for so insanely long. My brain doesn’t want to transfer the information because it has developed this intricate system of getting these papers done. The new information is just flooding my brain files and making it hard to transfer. My brain is trying to devise a new plan involving the new information.
This is interesting to me because as an educator, I have become more metacognitive. I am aware of my learning and yet, even seeing the disconnect, I am stuck with that transfer block.
PLAN TO PLAN TO PLAN TO PLAN
Now, stuck doesn’t mean scared. I am aware that my brain is actively changing the subject when I try to sit down and work on my plans right now. It’s like when I ask my kiddos if they have makeup work and they ask if I have a rugby game. Let’s talk about something else besides that thing please.
So my plan to write these plans is to plan!
- Organized and changed my space at work- refreshing and I work better in clean!
- I have some teacher-lady friend dates planned- staying and working together is so much better!
- Calendar of solo days to work- planned for success!
- I have some rewards planned for completing each step- even [some] healthy non fattening ones!
- I am continuing a solo date a week self care to keep that smile on
So lifelong learners, remember to reflect on your learning because learning how you learn is what is going to help you level up and learn even more.