Opening Statement



Friday, 3 June 2011

My Class At School

This post came out when I first started my blogspot. I don't think most regular readers saw it. It drew a fair bit of attention from abroad. I'm not sure why, but I've got a small but loyal readership in the US, UK and Russia. Sometimes Europe, South America, Africa and Asia too, though not as much there. As you will note there's a nifty translation button on the top right side of my site. Anyway I think this blog best explains what I actually do besides my union work.

Hi All! I'm at school on my spare. I teach 6 severely autistic students, with a staff of 4 CYW's, at a downtown high school in Toronto Ontario Canada. Unlike the other OECTA TSU VPs, 3rd VP is not full time release, nor a paid position. Some days I'm off for TSU business, as need be. It's often on short notice. Basically, my life these days is a balancing act, between home, school and union. But I love it!

I believe one does this as a service to our members and our profession. Sometimes I'm not quite sure why others really want to get elected, but for me it's a part of my vocation, as a Catholic teacher. And as a teacher, I enjoy being in class with my students. That's as grassroots as teaching gets. I'm happy to stay in school and to serve as your 3rd VP.

Today, I`d just like to tell you about my autism class. Yup, I`ve got six very autistic male students, aged 14 to 20. Mostly non-verbal, and often with harnesses, and diapers. Each needing their own private, and safe, work spot. Lot's of my classes are spent settling them down and getting them to follow a simple routine. Then I can best address their individual programming needs, and make sure nobody gets hurt.

Severely autistic students can be very violent and unpredictable. The CYW`s, Child Youth Workers, keep a close eye on them and have extensive CPI Crisis Prevention Intervention and UMAB Understanding Aggressive Behavioural training. Still, it's risky. A few years ago, a great big bear-sized lad suddenly attacked me from behind during anthem and prayers, for no apparent reason. He usually liked me and was quite friendly. When he tried to bite my neck, his teeth got stuck in the collar of my twill TSU staff shirt. Unable to get loose, he picked me up and tossed me against the blackboard wall. I fell, badly twisting my back. The CYW's were quick to my rescue, diverting his attention so I could crawl away. I was off for a while after that on Workman's Compensation. Sometimes my lumbar still hurts. Ouch!

The funny thing about this autism teaching assignment is one develops an off-beat sense of humour. We all laugh when we swap tales, but at the time? No way! There's a strong sense of team camaraderie. The kids race to our class. They go home happy. The parent`s are quite pleased. Few teachers want my job, but our class is a comfy little world in it`s own way.

It's sad sometimes, to know that these autistic students must leave school at age 21. There isn`t a lot out there for them. They require constant care. With their violent behaviour, they often can't stay at home. My class might be as good as it gets for them.

I'm quite attached to my students, like you are, in our teacherly way. They are all God`s children. Sometimes, when my autism students have a complete behavioural meltdown, I find myself staring into their eyes. They look trapped inside, like they want to stop, but aren't able to do so. A very human essence trapped within a body and mind that just does not seem to work right, no matter how hard they or anybody else tries. They have a very heavy cross to bear!

By law, everybody in Ontario is entitled to go to school until age 21. Schooling Autistic students, such as mine, is controversial in our public system, as they can pose a very serious risk to others, or even harm themselves. Over the years I think I've seen it all. Some will often try repeatedly punching their own head or biting themselves as hard as he can. Another once squeezed his head so hard, the blood veins in his nose burst. It can be quite the horror show! Consider also that other students and staff might get hurt. I understand why many people might think they don`t belong, but quite frankly, they really don`t have anywhere else to go. And so I'm here with my team to help them, as best we can. It`s not for everyone, but my class does have it`s rewards. When they race into our room, happily engaged, and are even sad to leave at the end of the school day, I think, well, we must be doing something right. It is still a very rewarding calling indeed.

You must have interesting teacher experiences to share! We can swap tales and advice here. My blogspot is not just about union politics. If you`d like,let's start a chain.So,who else out there has an interesting classroom story to share?

Related Reading:

My blog on the health + safety concerns of teaching low functioning autism students is @ Questions to ask?

1 comment:

David Chiarelli said...

I'm retired now, but this was my class at school during the final years. I'm quite happy now, but I really loved the class! However, my back still hurts and I require exercise and meds. So it goes.

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