Saturday, October 31, 2009

Two Sides of the Same Coin, Really

Yesterday was a teacher in-service day at school, which is when the students have the day off and the teachers get to come to school in casual clothes and learn... something. We were supposed to have a sexual harassment prevention seminar in the morning (and we were reminded frequently that it was NOT a "sexual harassment training," as we all kept calling it at first, but rather a "sexual harassment PREVENTION training"), but it was canceled because our legal counsel had some sort of legal emergency. So instead, we moved on to the learning simulation originally scheduled for the afternoon.

The point of the learning simulation was for the teachers to experience what students with learning differences (we sometimes call them "LD students," or "learning different") experience in a normal school day. Ideally, we were told, we would feel frustrated, anxious, tense, and/or stressed out by the activities we were going to be asked to do. And let me tell you something: You put a bunch of teachers in a room and tell them you're going to make them feel frustrated, anxious, tense, and/or stressed, and you will get one of two responses.

Response #1: Aw, man! This is going to suck.
Response #2: Bring it on - that's every single day of my life.

You can imagine which response I had.

Still, though, it was interesting. One activity was a spelling test administered via tape recorder, and it simulated different kinds of hearing loss. I got 9 out of 30, and the 9 I got right were only 9 out of 10 words with the "hearing aid" assistance turned on. Another activity involved trying to write and/or draw by looking in a mirror - the actual paper and our writing hands were covered by a box so we could only see the reflection. There were also two different reading activities - one was an alpha-symbolic code that didn't quite remain consistent from one page to another, and the other was written mirror-image and significantly faded.

They were all illuminating in various ways, and we discovered the different ways that we, as grown adults with a wealth of experience in the world, compensate for the challenges before us. Many of us did end up compensating the way that LD kids often do - we became class clowns, we cheated (yes, Christian teachers and we totally cheated), we became angry with the facilitators, or we decided we were just "too stupid" to succeed and gave up.

After the session, I was talking with one of the history teachers about the activities and how we each dealt with them. One in particular was framed as a "job interview," and we had to take orders over the phone for a department store. Like the spelling test, this was on a tape recorder, but the point was to test attention and focus. The man giving us our instructions and saying the orders was surrounded by other noises - other people taking and giving orders, as if we were standing in the middle of a floor of cubicles, and everyone was on the phone at the same time talking to customers. We had to focus our hearing on the one man's voice only, ignoring and filtering out all the other extraneous noises.

The history teacher I was talking to about this is a former military man. He talked about how it reminded him of combat situations he'd been in. "I just remembered," he said, "how I had to listen to one guy giving me my orders, but all around there are other orders, info coming in over the radio, engineers reporting to officers, bombs, rifles, all this stuff and you gotta listen to the ONE GUY." He had gone back in his mind to a situation he felt was similar, so that he could focus on the important information.

"Interesting," I said. "It just reminded me of when I used to teach preschool." Because believe me, when you have 13 kids, ages 2-5, all talking at once, you are listening to all of them to figure out which one has the important information.

"My mommy baked cookies and I got to sprinkle them..."
"Doggies are better than fish because they can wear a leash..."
"One time I saw a picture of a rainbow but it didn't have the color blue in it..."
"I think I have to go poo-poo..."

Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner - off to the bathroom we go.

Combat situations, preschool, po-tay-to, po-tah-to...


unmitigated me said...

Now THAT would have been a worthwhile professional development day. I am going to send a link to my bosses where I used to teach in case they want to do something similar. I think it could be a real learning experience for some of the teachers.

Still Jill B said...

Girl, you are just so pretty. I rarely think to say it and it just popped into my head. The voice I chose to listen to.

Lara said...

Jill - You are my new favorite person. :)

fjd said...

Is that all it takes to be a new favorite person? In that case I shall tell you that you look ridiculously, almost criminally cute in that long dress and white shirt. Seriously: I looked up in the local criminal code if there was any legislation against your wearing that dress. Evidently at present there is not, but possibly there should be.

Mrs. Chili said...

Interestingly, your last scenario (combat/preschool) is a lot like motherhood. One gets a filter for the important pretty quickly...

bernthis said...

shocking to hear, but I was the class clown and I gave up very easily. Takes a lot for me to stick with something when I don't feel like I'm the best but I do and it feels great

Anonymous said...

I wish the school my son went to last year had this particular teacher training before he went there! Maybe, just maybe there would have been more empathy and understanding for him and more help as well.

Jack Steiner said...

"Doggies are better than fish because they can wear a leash..."

Hmm, we always put a leash on our fish, but they were pretty big.