Monday, June 17, 2013

Cleansing My Palate

Yesterday I meant to write a nice post reminiscing about good school memories. But apparently I had some ranty rage that needed to get out instead. So here we go with attempt number two: Its been a tough year with lots of kids on my caseload, lots of evaluations, lots of kids transferring in from other schools, and lots more behaviour issues than I usually have to deal with. All year I've felt like I've been trying to herd squirrels. I'm exhausted and ready for summer... but .... there have also been some pretty good times and some good memories as well.

  • A couple of my kids this year have a thing with scents. One of them loves the way my hand lotion smells. He noticed it one day when I'd put some on just before his session. Now, at some point during each session, he will grab my hand, smash it against his face and take a big whiff. It somehow always takes me by surprise and always makes me laugh (silent laughter of course - this is not behaviour I want to reinforce, or have him generalize to his other teachers or peers!). My other student can tell when I've eaten something chocolate. He leans close and says "let me smell", trying to sniff my breath. It would be super uncomfortable if he wasn't so oblivious to the weirdness of smelling people's breath. Well... ok - so its still kind of uncomfortable, but it also makes me laugh (again - silently). To keep him at a socially acceptable distance, I'll sometimes oblige by blowing my gross chocolate stinky breath on his face. Which makes him happy, and makes me feel like his big sister instead of his SLP. But we are cool like that, I guess. 

  •  One of my students started the year not speaking a word. He's been dealing with learning english as a second language as well as working on a significant language disorder. In the past few months, though, his language has really started to take off, and he has started to take exception to the nickname I use with him (and all my students). "My name is NOT Kiddo!" he reminds me, each time I forget. My apologies, Kiddo. It wont happen again. 

  •  There is something so great about working with kids on the autism spectrum and the way they express their curiosity. Recently, on a day when i was wearing a scarf as a headband, one of my students asked me if I'd had head surgery (?!). When I said "nooooo?" he then asked why I was wearing a cast on my head... We then had a nice little chat about accessories and how you can tell the difference between a scarf and a cast. I love the absurdity and the earnest curiosity of these conversations. 

  •  I use a point system to encourage good listening & participation during each session. When we are done, the students can earn up to 3 points depending on their behaviour, which they then tally up on a dry-erase chart until they earn enough for a prize. One day after one student had left, I noticed she had written "I LOVE YOU" next to her point system. awe.  Love notes from 7 year olds are the best. 

  • And in the same vein, I recently was trying to motivate one of my students to do a little better on his goals. He's really close to 'graduating' from speech and just needs to be a little better at self-monitoring before this can happen. As I was trying to explain this to him, using graduation as a dangling carrot, he stopped me to say "but I don't want to stop coming! I like having speech with you!". Which warms my heart, but is also exasperating since now I have to start being mean to him just so he will practice! 

1.5 more days til summer, and it feels like a long time coming. But I'll be back in the fall ready to see these little guys again. I feel super lucky to have the job I do. And lucky to have these small people in my life. Here's to sticking it out when grad school and depression felt like synonymous terms and to this happy light at the end of that very dark and dreary tunnel.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Dedicated to the nice man in the parking lot today who decided to be my Last Straw

Summer vacation is almost here. I’m pretty excited at the prospect of 8 weeks away from work. It does also mean, however, that it’s time to steel myself against the inevitable snarky comments from people with year round jobs. I try to keep my eye rolls to a minimum, but I honestly might lose it if I hear another person mutter indignantly about how THEY never get 3 months off each summer (somehow people always exaggerate the length of summer by at least a month), or imply that I don’t work very hard, that my job is so easy that monkeys could do it, or that my contribution to society is somehow lessened by the number of vacation days I get.  It is true that I have more days off than the average working adult and I understand that jealousy can make people rude, but in a society where education-based professionals have lost the respect of the majority, where teachers are perceived as freeloading slackers, and public education in general is under constant fire, I’d like to state a few basic truths about my job.

1) Let it be known that I actually do not get paid for my summer vacation! My salary is conveniently split into 12 monthly instalments, but the pay is only for days worked and regular sick days / stat holidays. This means that my monthly take-home is probably quite a bit less than yours (or those with equivalent year-round professionals). You can rest easy knowing that your tax dollars are not funding my day at the beach. And if you want to budget to live off of 10 months of work each year instead of 12, then you too can partake of the same summer joys I do. 

2) When school is in session, I work significantly more hours per week than I am actually paid for, since many of my work duties fall outside of the normal workday. Its true that I sometimes am able to get away right at contract time, but I also am very familiar with the pain of working 10 hr days (and only getting paid for 7). Maybe sometime we can bond over stress differences between salaried and hourly jobs (remember pre-graduation when you actually got paid for each hour you worked? Me to! Aren't we are in the same boat here?) 

3) Contrary to some misinformation, I am actually observed and evaluated several times a year, expected to be more than adequate at my job, and get into trouble when I’m not. I admit there are union issues that make it more than is reasonably difficult to fire the bad teachers, but the majority of us are working really hard to do our job well, paying for continuing education courses, and implementing new strategies as suggested by our yearly reviews. If you want to have a conversation about ways to change the hiring/firing rules, then sure, lets go there. If you want to complain how all teachers are sitting around getting paid your tax dollars to do the bare minimum, then I’m out.

Please understand that I’m not trying to start a “who works harder” debate, here. I’m sure you work long and thankless hours. But I do too! I know it sucks when work feels relentless and you’d do just about anything for a week off. I get that. Please just remember that my 8 week break is only a thin silver lining to a demanding (and rewarding) job. If it makes you so jealous that you start feeling the need to put me down about it, then maybe its time for you to rethink your occupation. As a speech and language therapist, I’ve got lots of options of where I could work: schools, hospitals, clinics, rehab centres, early intervention groups, private practice... the list goes on. Working in the schools was a choice for me - one YOU could make too. If you don’t want to, then next time you want to gripe about my summer vacation, think about all the reasons your job is better….. and tell me all about that instead. I promise you, I'd prefer it. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sleep Cycles

Back in November, I took an overnight flight to Atlanta, Georgia for an SLP conference. It wasn't an ideal plane schedule (who wants to attend an all day lecture after a red-eye?) but I wasn't really worried because me and Sleep are on a first-name basis and I was pretty sure I'd get enough shut-eye to last through the next day. Unexpectedly, however, I found myself tossing and twisting (as much as you can in a plane seat), blinking blearily at the overhead light, and tuning in to baby cries, rustling paper, and the intermittent announcements regarding seatbelts. I finally dozed off with the help of my earphones and a sleep-mask I macgyvered out of some artfully draped hair and a barrette. It was the opposite of a restful night.

The restlessness bugged me. No. It more than bugged me. It annoyed me so much that I've thought about it for several months since, and am now writing this extraordinarily long post about it. You see, I've come to consider sleeping as one of my top talents. You may laugh, but I'm not kidding. I have very genuine gratitude for my sleeping ability. Sure,  the downside might be that waking up is always a herculean effort. And there have been a few girl's night heart-to-hearts that ended awkwardly (for me) as my brain abandoned the conversation mid-sentence for some deep REM. But over all, the silver lining totally outweighs the cloud. I don't wake up to lights, traffic sounds, house noises, or midnight bathroom breaks. I've slept as restfully on couches and at desks as I have in my bed. And best of all, I rarely have to struggle to unwind at night; by the time I lay down its usually less than 4 minutes before I fall asleep.

Of course, this wasn't always the case. As a kid, going to bed was the WORST. My parents tried everything they could think of to help me fall (and STAY) asleep. Lullabies. Classical music. Stories. Relaxation routines. Stern talking-tos. You name it, they tried it. But what can I say? I had really terrifying nightmares that made the whole bedtime routine stressful for me. It was a losing battle from the start. What kid is going to willingly close their eyes when they know that monsters are waiting behind their lids?

I don't remember when, exactly, the nightmares stopped. They must have just wound down gradually, allowing me and Sleep to come to terms with each other. Sometime toward the end of high school I realized that I no longer needed my cassette player next to the bed with its stack of gentle, soothing tapes. My dreams had lost their terror, and I was free to sleep whenever I laid down. oh sweet victory.

until now.

I wish I could say that the flight to atlanta was an anomaly. But really, it was the defining moment that helped me acknowledge something  that has been gradually changing for years. FACT: I really can't sleep anywhere anymore. My back hurts when I camp - and even on some couches. I had to get a new bed because I couldn't sleep restfully on the one I had. I can no longer nap and then expect to fall asleep at a normal time that night. I wake up sometimes to my roommate opening the hallway cupboard. And worst of all, there have been a few nights when I've even had to wake up to go pee. But this doesn't mean any of the other stuff has changed - I still need a solid 8 hrs of sleep to be functional in my work day. I still have to scrape myself off my mattress each morning. I still fall asleep at inopportune times - but I can no longer count on sleep being there for me when I need it.

I wish that Sleep and I could sit down and have a heart to heart, maybe work out our differences before it gets worse and we break up for good, or - worse - Sleep trades spots with Nightmare again. But verbs are notoriously hard to pin down. So, with all the finesse of the sleep-deprived 10 yr old that still lives somewhere inside of me, I send this message out to the internet atmosphere, hoping it lands on the right ears.

Dear Sleep,
Want to be best friends?
I'll let you have my favourite pillow.

check the box
[ ] yes      [ ] no

yours truly,
Maria Burnham