Progress, Not Perfection

Next week, I’ll start a new job as a paraprofessional to a first grader on the spectrum.

I feel equal parts excitement and anxiety every time I say that, which is progress from feeling either total excitement or total anxiety. I’ve been substitute teaching in our school system, specializing in the resource positions, since the end of last year. I stepped into doing it after G has a disastrous week where both the general-ed and resource teacher were sick at the same time, causing too much instability in his routine. The substitute teacher for the resource position had no disability experience, made a couple of mistakes and … well… G punched her in the nose.

We absolutely took responsibility for G’s actions and made sure there were appropriate consequences. But as a team, the adults took a look at the events that led up to the incident and acknowledged the mistakes made on the part of the substitute. Living in a small, remote community, I realized expecting the school to find people who had the free time to sub and the appropriate experience dealing with challenging kids was unrealistic. Then I realized, I have both the time and experience. This was a way I could be part of the solution instead of moaning about the problem. I asked the principal if that was a role I could fill and she enthusiastically gave me the information I needed on getting a substitute teaching license. Since then, I’ve averaged working two days a week in both typical classrooms and resource positions. I’m pretty good at it. My biggest strength is that I’m not afraid of meltdowns – of all the kids on the spectrum in our school district, my son is probably the most physical when he snaps – so I’m able to maintain the calm needed to keep situations from escalating. Which is not to say kids don’t melt down with me, I’m just able to ride it out without panicking.

Two weeks before the holiday break I was subbing as a para to a boy in first grade, who is a lot like my G in language skills. I’d subbed in this position several times before so I had a good feel for this boy and a good relationship with his primary teacher. The principal stopped by and asked me to see her before I left. I couldn’t imagine what it was about – G moved to the intermediate school this year so it couldn’t have been another behavior incident. When we talked, she told me that the para to the boy I was working with that day was leaving and I was offered the job! The hours were 9am-1pm so they were very perfect for still being available to G. After some thought, I accepted the position.

I was feeling pretty great about myself that week, my ego was huge. “Wow, I am awesome!” went through my head more than once. And then the next week happened…

It was the last week before the holiday break – our personal witching hour. G had gotten through the week before with the holiday music concert and the associated schedule changes for extra rehearsals with no problems whatsoever. This last week there was a school play for his grade with more associated schedule changes for rehearsals. But this week, there was no aide available to keep an eye on him. I was told this and asked if we could see how it went without an aide since he had been having such a great year. And I agreed. The second day of rehearsals he walked into the auditorium and went to sit down next to his best friend when another boy swooped into his seat. He yelled at the boy and told him to move. The boy did not move. So G turned around, jumped into the air, and sat on the boy. In the process, the boys nose got hit and blood gushed everywhere.

I was feeling like the worst mom in the world. It was completely opposite of my high the week before and I started seriously doubting my ability to do a good job for any other person on the spectrum when I couldn’t get through to my own son. In talking with G about the incident, he knew he had made a bad choice but kept saying, “I didn’t hit him.” And it’s true, he didn’t hit when in the recent past his first reaction would have been to strike out, e.g the substitute incident. I realized I had been drilling Don’t Hit for the last several years but had never explicitly told G not to sit on people. And while the nose thing was pretty horrific (thankfully it wasn’t broken) it was an accidental consequence, he didn’t intentionally target the nose. And there were some extenuating circumstances on the part of the other boy. We’re now talking about not using your body against others in any way but instead to use words and seek the help of adults when kids are provoking him.

I realize now that we’re making progress but things aren’t perfect. And I think I needed that incident to reign myself in. I know I have skills and understanding that most people in my community don’t have, but I don’t know everything. I think I’ll be able to start my new job with proper perspective now, doing *my* best job but not expecting to do *the* best job.

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Published in: on January 4, 2012 at 11:53 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Congratulations on your new position! You ARE awesome. I know what you mean, though, about thinking I’m “all that” and having something come along and knock me back down to size. But I loved what you wrote about in your post on powerlessness over autism. There’s just no way to anticipate every thing our kids do, We just learn for next time and that’s all we can do. Great message in this post…progress, not perfection.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. I love this “This was a way I could be part of the solution instead of moaning about the problem.” – congratulations of acknowledging that and becoming the solution. I wish you well in your new job – from reading your blog post you sound as if you will be a real asset to the community.

  3. Oh, friend, what a rough experience. But what I chuckled about was the part where you said you hadn’t told him not to SIT on anyone…that is SO true about our kids, and it’s SO what people don’t understand.

    I’m so excited for you with your job. You’ll be awesome!!


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