Listen up: it’s time we talk about that inspiration porn.

There comes a time in every disability blogger’s life when the subject of inspiration must be addressed.  We get one too many “nice” comments about how inspiring we are for putting on socks or getting up out of bed and going to work, and that’s it.  Well ladies and gentlemen, this is that time.  This is gonna be a long post, so buckle up..  But it is really important, so if you have the time/inclination, please hang in there.  There may be cookies at the end (sorry there aren’t cookies at the end).

 

A disclaimer: I know you are not intending to be offensive. I know you are a nice person, and that you mean as well as well can be meant.  You think you are being encouraging, and that impulse is very sweet.  But you are still doing something wrong.  It’s classic “best intentions” territory.  But I am *not* trying to make you feel awful. Don’t go home and panic about all the people you’ve offended, and don’t be scared to compliment someone.  This post isn’t intended to scold you; it’s intended to explain some things, and hopefully change the way you think about the way you speak to people.

 

Disclaimer 2: I started this blog mad yesterday. I finished/edited it  all today when I was much calmer, but also not caffeinated. Words are hard. You have been warned.

 

 

Now, down to business.  I offer this scenario for your consideration:

 

I am working in the computer lab at school, helping a student check in a laptop.  He pauses, looks at me, and says “I’ve wanted to say this for a long time.”  I stare back, and wonder if I’m about to get hit on by a student for the first time.  He then follows this harbenger of doom with “I think what you do is really inspirational.”

 

I stare.  I say a very awkward “thank you,” because I am confused and annoyed, because I know where this is going, and I’m too midwestern to stop it.  He continues, clearly feeling very good about himself, “It’s just that most people in your position wouldn’t continue teaching.”  I make a lame comment about needing to make money somehow, and he leaves, and I slam a few drawers in frustration.

 

Some of you will be outraged on my behalf, and some of you will be very confused about why I’m so upset.  Didn’t he just give me a compliment?  Shouldn’t I be happy that he thinks I’m inspirational?  We live in a world that can make it hard for people with disabilities to succeed, and I’m doing a thing.  And it’s not that you’re entirely wrong; this world does make my life difficult sometimes, and it throws crap at me that someone with functioning eyeballs doesn’t have to deal with.  But really…we all have challenges that get in the way of living our lives, and people with disabilities are just muddling through like everybody else.  So, if you’re confused, let me do some translating here.  When he says “You’re so inspirational for teaching while blind” (paraphrased because I’m getting tired of typing out his comments), what I hear is:

 

“Because you can’t see, I expected that you’d be home somewhere having other people take care of you and/or would be in a job with much less responsibility.  And you’re at a teaching job making money, and that’s super surprising, good for you for rising above my non-existent expectations, which I am entitled to have because I know you super well wait not at all.”

 

Someone is now inevitably saying “but he didn’t mean that! Can’t you give him the benefit of the doubt/can’t you just take the compliment that’s intended?”  But here’s the thing.  As in any two-way communication, how I perceive the comment is just as important as how it was meant.  That’s…kind of a basic rule of talking to people.  I’m 100% sure he meant to be complimentary.  But he didn’t say I was good at my job, he didn’t say he respected my commitment, he didn’t say I was working hard.  He said that I was inspirational because I was doing the job I was paid to do…at all.  And I’m not even doing it well seriously guys I’m so behind on grading papers it’s ridiculous.  And he’s not the first–people tell me this often.  It’s never accompanied by praise for my skills or hard work; it stops at my eyeballs.

 

But that is the point I’m trying to make here.  You should always compliment people; compliments make the sun come up and the flowers bloom.  But think about what you’re complimenting them on, and how you’d take that compliment.  “Good job for showing up for work.”  “Good job for putting on clothes that match.”  “Good job for arriving somewhere at a semi-reasonable time.”  These are daily functions; they are…things people do.  You would never compliment a random person with no disability on this; you would just expect it.  So, though it probably sounds rude, I’m really not that grateful for compliments that basically congratulate me on getting out of bed.  And I’m getting tired of thanking you for them like I enjoy them (hence this post).

 

….Okay I should clarify, if you find me inspirational for getting out of bed because you know grad school is hard and adulting is super freaking difficult and you’re impressed that a time-challenged introvert with an aversion to cleaning gets up and goes to work every day with clean clothes on, that compliment I will accept the crap out of because life is just stupidly difficult when you’re a mess and it’s about time someone recognized my daily challenges.

 

All I, and most people, are asking for, is just that you think about what you are saying.  Someone I know once said “I’m proud of you for getting your PHD as a blind student.”  What I hear, again, is “I had no expectations for you so good job.”  And this wasn’t a stranger; this was someone I knew very, very well.  And the spirit behind the comment was lovingly intended.  But it hurt my feelings.  Is it so hard to stop at “I’m super proud of you for getting your PHD?”  That takes into account my skills and time, and makes me feel that my accomplishments are worth praise.

 

Like I said, if you’ve “inspirationed” all over someone before, don’t freak out.  You’re not the only one, and you won’t be the last one.  So I’m not asking you to feel guilty; I’m asking you to change.  Start valuing my perception of what you say as much as you value saying it.  Learn how to make someone feel proud, rather than ashamed, when you speak to them – because the rhetoric of “inspiration” does bring a great deal of shame with it.  Praise people on their accomplishments, not on what they’ve “overcome,” because in most instances, you know nothing about them.  And in the other ones you do know something about, 99% of the time, they want to hear they are doing a good job because they are…doing a good job, not in spite of something.  Everyone wants to feel valued, and everyone wants to feel proud of what they do and who they are.  So stop handing out the pity compliments and hollow praises, and start appreciating the people around you for the beautiful things they bring to your life just by being them.  It’s really not a hard thing to do, and it changes so much.

 

That was a long one; if you’ve stuck with this post all the way to the end, thank you.  And whoever you are, whatever you’ve said or not said, I still think you’re pretty awesome, because you let me have my say, and hopefully you’re at least thinking about it.

 

Now, if I don’t get some coffee in me, this Thursday is going to go very badly.  So I’m gonna do that, and you should too.  And who knows, maybe I’ll start blogging again, and not just raise up like a blogging zombie when something makes me mad.

 

Be well.

Happy 2014

Well, here goes another year.  2013 was…interesting to say the least.  There are too many world events to count, and huge momentous things that I am in no way qualified to talk about on a teaching blog.

 

On the personal front, it was a year of learning to wait.  I did grad apps in the spring that didn’t pan out, got let go, got re-hired, and had one of the most challenging semesters I’ve had yet.  But all in all, it shaped up pretty well.  It was a strange year of limbo for me, but also one that taught me a lot about patience, and finding the good even in the ugly, and about enjoying simple things no matter what.  I think I grew a little, and that seems like about as much as anyone can ask from a year.

 

The most interesting, and relevant to this blog (yes, sometimes I stay on topic), was my collection of students this semester.  Partially because of me, and partially because of them, we had trouble getting places this semester.  I talked and talked, but it felt like we never really got anywhere.  I left the semester fairly convinced they hadn’t learned anything.

 

And then I looked at the class reflections, and almost cried.  I got several comments that this was their favorite English class, that it challenged them, and that it helped them come out of their shells.  Now granted, I forgot to give them the talk about how I don’t read these until after I grade, so some of them might be sucking up, but those folks aside, I got some very sweet and uplifting comments.

 

As a teacher, that’s my main goal–I want to help them.  And if I can’t teach them how to formulate a bloody argument, or that a thesis statement is not a question, I’d like to at least teach them that they can write, that writing is important, or that they have opinions worth listening to.  And I think I managed to do that, and that makes me feel good about the last five months.

 

So even though things kind of ended on a whimper instead of a bang, I still have a warm fuzzy for these kids that I never expected to have.  I might actually miss them.  And so many of them are teetering on the cusp–I hope they tip over on the side that lets them do great things.

 

So that’s me.  As for you, I hope your year was full of learning and interesting discoveries, that you moved beyond something, or gained something, or just left 2013 a little better and more interesting than you found it last January first.

 

All the best from the blog.  Everyone have a safe and happy night, and let’s give 2014 a run for its money.

 

Cheers.

Tech Camp…is anyone listening?

So, as a blind teacher of sorts, I got “drafted” by a good friend to come give a talk at the district technology summer camp for teachers.  It’s exciting and horrifying, as you might expect for an event that has me do a lot of talking to strangers and educating people.

…oh, wait, that’s my job. Oopse.

But, introvert terror aside, it’s a really interesting environment.  Tech has been a huge part of my education; without it, I wouldn’t have one.  I’ve been using portable devices since long before they were common in schools (go go hipster teacher).  Technology is the only reason that I’m able to participate in my classes at all.  I read on various devices, I type up all my papers and notes, and if I didn’t have a calendar in my phone, I’d have forgotten to show up for college.

So this is great; tech is awesome!  And yet… there is such an atmosphere of resistance here, which I find very disturbing.  Coming from a “need tech” perspective, the idea that technology is damaging in the classroom is unsettling to me.  If I know, simply from personal experience, what an impact it can have, how much should these teachers know,  when it could have an impact on their entire class.  It should be a great resource, not a mysterious boogyman.

So why are so few of them paying attention?  It’s like we’re dragging them to the dentist’s office and shoving a laptop down their throats.  They’ve built technology into this big scary unclimbable mountain, and they’re unwilling to realize that it’s not an obstacle; it’s really the rope that helps you climb, perhaps panting and sweating but still climbing, up that mountain of trying to educate a thousand different kids a thousand different ways (I have had one thermos of tea and have been up since 6. Your metaphors wouldn’t be that great either so stop rolling your eyes).

I should probably preface this with my opinions on tech for tech’s sake; it’s annoying.  If it’s something that’s easier done by hand, do it by hand for the love of God.  But if tech  can help… use it!

Another thing you should know is I LOVE paper.  I love books, I love ink.  If they made a perfume of “old bookstore”, I’d wear it.  I think the real and true death of the printed book would be an irreversible tragedy (which is a post for another time).  But using a bit of tech in your classroom is not going to kill the printed page.  And these teachers aren’t resisting this change for the love of books, for the most part.  Mostly, it’s hard and it’s confusing and they just don’t care enough to want  to learn something new, which is the most obnoxious reason for shying away from something that I have ever encountered.

But, on behalf of every kid with a disability who’s had to sit by while their group members did all the work on the presentation, who felt insecure because of their lack of ability to participate, who ever got dirty looks because they weren’t helping… get with the program.  Put the computers in the classroom,  use something like a mac or a chromebook that has built in speech software, make them feel included. You have the power to   improve their educational experience by a thousand percent.    I got this new chromebook to play with for the purpose of this presentation, and, even though it’s a baby and it’s still in development, it’s amazing.  If I’d had this in a classroom where everyone else had it too when I was in school, it would have revolutionized my education, and maybe even boosted my confidence.  So the fact these teachers are denying these kids that opportunity because it’s “too hard” just makes me angry.  They could save everyone so much discomfort, and engage their students so much better, if they would use all the resources available.  It’s time to make the students with disabilities feel like functioning students.  There are many students who could avoid being sent into special ed entirely if they just had this available.  I hate to say it, but there is a stigma behind being sent into special ed.  So if we can make it easier on some kids, it seems to me that there’s a responsibility to do so.

And, on a purely administrative note, if that happened, the kids who really needed the extra help would have access to the help they needed.  The inundation of kids in special ed simply because they can’t read a piece of paper is hurting the students who need more one on one assistance, and it’s a fixable problem.

…Okay, that’s my rant.  We just finished with a really great morning speaker who encouraged the use of technology, and I could just feel the hesitation in the room, and it just upset me.  There are so many uses, and my specific purpose is just one of hundreds, and this is still getting treated like a sub-par option.

So, if you teach, if you’re an administrator, if you’re *anyone* who has influence in a school… listen. Help a person out, put a bloody laptop cart in your classroom.  Get a few iPads.  Do something to become part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Now I should, you know, plan out that presentation I have to give, which is sort of like this post, but less angry and with more demonstrations.

And finally a disclaimer: this nifty little chromebook thing… still needs work. I edited as best as I could here. But I’m still sort of a noob.  If I screwed something up, it’s hopefully a tech fail, not my momentary morning illiteracy rearing its ugly head.