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Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work I go!

Posted on: May 20, 2011

Earlier this week I did my first day of (paid) work in 18 months. I loved it. I suspect I will love pay day even more.

It was really hard for me to make the decision to finally start working again. I really don’t like casual teaching. I don’t like walking into the unknown. I don’t like the hours of preparation that usually ends up being wasted when things either don’t go to plan, or I end up not being on the class I was originally assigned to. I don’t like having to wing it – I don’t feel I really have the depth of experience to draw from to do this properly, yet (having completed my training after my first two children were born, I’ve never actually had a class full-time, except on prac). I don’t like having to try to get to know a different bunch of kids, and often a different school, every day. I don’t like the disrespect from students (and sadly, even other teachers occasionally), that comes along with the job. Basically, it sucks. However, it’s the only way forward for me at this point. It’s also a good way to get into a part-time position, which is my current goal. I ummed and ahhed about it for a few months, but it was really the money (or lack thereof) that finally made up my mind for me. Kids are expensive to keep! They eat a lot. They keep growing out of their clothes. They need expensive medications and therapies. Sigh.

So that I don’t sound too much like a martyr, I will say that it’s not all about the kids – I need money to do things that I want to do, as well. Getting a part-time job is also mostly about me. Sure, the financial security would certainly help, but really I want to start using my degree properly, get reconnected with my professional field (I feel completely out of the loop right now), and start building a career. Slowly.

After meeting up with a family friend, and hearing all of the wonderful things she had to say about her school, I decided to check it out. It’s a Special Education school that caters for children with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities. Having never set foot in a Special Ed setting, I decided to volunteer for a day before deciding whether or not to give teaching there a go. Despite being a pretty level-headed person, I will admit that it was an eye-opening experience. I entered the school wearing my ‘parent’ shoes as well as my ‘teacher’ shoes, and couldn’t help being filled with compassion for the parents of these children with very intense special needs. I didn’t expect to be shocked by the experience, and I wasn’t, as most of the behaviours I witnessed were similar to how my children behave. Only, my children will grow out of it, while these, much older children, may not. Some will eventually obtain a degree of independence from their parents or carers, and others never will. Heart breaking.

It didn’t take me long to decide that this was something I wanted to do. I was watching a maths lesson with some children around the age of seven. At the beginning of the lesson, I couldn’t help wondering, what was the point? These kids can’t speak, are you really going to teach them maths? Then they demonstrated to me just how switched on they really were. They didn’t need to speak verbally, they were able to indicate their understanding in other ways – some in sign language, some by pointing to signs, words or symbols. Watching them communicate in their own unique ways, and seeing their faces light up when their efforts were acknowledged, was a lesson in itself. I also noticed that the teachers seemed to share a special bond with their kids – a bond that has been forged through patience, perseverance, commitment, enthusiasm and heaps of hands-on work. It was lovely to witness, and it made me want to get involved.

So, I signed up. I was assured I’d be given an ‘easy’ class to start with, having no training or experience whatsoever in Special Ed. But of course, that’s not how it went – I was well and truly chucked in the deep end! My first class was five beautiful (but challenging) boys with autism. I really started to worry when I was asked by the teacher I was relieving whether I wanted to swap with someone else! I decided to stick with it – if I could survive a day in this room, then I’d be able to do anything. Well, I not only survived the day, I really enjoyed it. My main saviour was the Teacher’s Aide – she really knew her stuff and had a way with each of the boys. She ran the show and I followed her lead. I learnt heaps, and want to learn heaps more. I was really impressed with how the staff handled the boys, and planned and programmed for their development. I could see that they all loved their jobs, and loved the boys, too. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy. I copped a few scratches, kicks and slaps – mostly from one boy who was having a very bad day. It would take a lot of determination and commitment to turn up to that classroom each and every day, to face the same challenges each and every day. I take my hats off to those teachers and teachers aides. But especially, I am thinking about the parents, carers and families of those boys. Sometimes life is just not fair.

At the end of the day, I was asked whether I would ever come back. “Of course!”, was my enthusiastic reply. I hope to be back there soon – just waiting for that call…

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1 Response to "Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work I go!"

Another great post, Anna. A friend of mine has done a PhD on the subject. She has such uplifting – and some tough – stories to tell.

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