Friday, July 13, 2012

“Why My Classroom Never Leaves Me” or “The Myth of Summer Vacation”

This is not a sob story about how people underestimate teachers and how we work hard and deserve two months off, yadda, yadda, yadda. I’m not going to pretend that summer isn’t a great perk – it totally is.  I’ve always enjoyed my summers – volunteering, travelling, spending time with my family, and yes, many summers, taking courses. (I consider this fun!) And when I had a mainstream classroom, or my library, summer was, for the most part, a brain break from school for at least 6 weeks.  Say goodbye in June, breathe a sigh of relief for the break from the early mornings, and then start getting excited again mid-August for the fresh new year.  I had forgotten one very important thing from when I last taught contained special ed... The brain break never happens.

Something about carrying the same children from year to year, combined with the amount of individualized programming that is required, makes it damn near impossible to shut school off, especially if you love your job... which I do. Now admittedly, We’ve only been off for a little under 2 weeks, and I’ve been happily flitting to and from downtown Toronto every day working on a Fringe Festival show, but in my free time, I have truly accomplished only 2 things so far – I saw one play, and I read one book. Which sounds pretty relaxing and enjoyable (and they were!), but the play I saw was “Rare”, and the book I read was “Carly’s Voice”

Here’s the listing for Rare. Here’s the Globe and Mail article.  And if you’re really feeling too lazy to click the links, let me sum it up in a nutshell: Rare is a collaboratively written piece of theatre conceived and performed by actors with Down’s Syndrome. It was brilliant. It just won Best of Fringe, so if you’re in the GTA, or anywhere within 500km, really, come and see it – it’s getting extra showtimes until August 2nd. I cried through the whole thing, and not because it was touching (which it was) or that it made me sad and angry (which it did), or because it made my heart soar, at times, right up on stage to stand beside the actors. I cried most often because sitting in the darkened theatre, I could imagine many of those thoughts, feelings, hopes and frustrations coming from my kids.  Different syndrome, but many of the same trappings imposed by the world around them – judgement, misunderstanding, patronization and underestimation.

The book? It’s here. I’ve written about Carly before, but finally getting my hands on this book was a blessing and a curse.  I devoured it, with silent images of my kids screaming at me from behind almost every page. This was similar to this child, that was exactly the behaviour I had seen from that one... It was like a self-help manual, an inspirational book of poetry and a guilt-ridden letter to myself, all in one pretty little package. Why hadn’t I thought of THAT strategy? What might have happened (or not happened!) if I had responded THAT way? It made me want to call up every one of my kids’ parents and say “Forget summer – send them back to me now! I think I can do so much better than I have been!” Of course, I didn’t, but I DID call up one of my TA’s (I gave them each a copy of the book as an end-of-year gift), and blabber excitedly to her about all the new ideas I had for next year.  Luckily, she was equally excited and didn’t think I was completely off my rocker...

I lied. I already read one other book this summer.  It was “The Golden Hat: Talking Back to Autism”, by Kate Winslet. Yup, that Kate Winslet. It’s not really a read, per se, but more of a coffee table book, chronicling her friendship with a woman named Margret and her son, Keli, after she was asked to narrate their documentary. It’s inspiring, and so is the mission of her foundation The Golden Hat Foundation.  Their mission meshes with the actors of Rare, and with what Carly and her father have to say – intelligence is not always easy to measure, demonstrate or see, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

My luggage, all packed up for the cottage next week, includes notes and materials for a writing project about using i-technology in spec ed, a book by Dr. Stanley Greenspan, and my classroom iPad, which I’m planning to fiddle with and get the assisted communication app we have ready for next year. And a couple of novels, of course, in case I get through the rest. I’m not slogging them along, annoyed that I’m “working on my summer vacation” – I’m excited to dig into them, to see if I can uncover more information, more inspiration to carry me into next year. I’m finding more and more that loving this job is a bit like loving my own child... no matter how frustrating and overwhelming it gets at times, the joy, excitement and anticipation somehow makes you minimize the bad once it’s over, and leaves you remembering fondly the good, and looking forward to what comes next...

Happy summer to all!