I was invited to speak at a school last week, as part of their staff’s professional development/team building day. A special needs preschool, it was similar to the preschool Owen attended in mid-town Toronto. This one is located in an older suburb in the west end.
Perhaps I will blog about the overall experience in a later post. (I usually leave these things feeling depleted, but that day I left feeling energized and excited. And so impressed by the passion and dedication to the students and their families, expressed and clearly demonstrated by the staff.) For now, a small epiphany:
For the talk, I made notes ahead of time to cover my usual topics of fake work, cheerful pretend, plus a new one: the tyranny of unlimited potential. While I was writing these out I thought a lot harder about teachers and therapists than I ever had before. I put myself in their shoes and wondered what would be useful, how some of the points might be received. Thought about what they might know already and what will be new. The director of the school is very enthusiastic about her staff and shared with me ahead of time what a wonderful group of people they are – I pictured them as I prepared my notes, wanting to meet them where they are and honour the experiences and wisdom they would bring.
For the very first time, I appreciated how teachers and therapists may end up at a school like the one I visited. Years of training and career preparation. An earnest desire to work with this particular population of children. Perhaps the fulfillment of a dream since they were young. For some, they may indeed think of it as a divine calling. And most are probably pretty good at it.
Then for no particular reason, my mind wandered to the parents of the students who attend schools like this. I think I can safely say that, in contrast, none of them signed up for this job of having a child with severe disabilities. That none of them ever really wanted this kind of life and that none of them prefer to be doing ‘this’ instead of what they imagined when they were young. (I’m not talking about having the children themselves – I’m talking about all the work.)
Eagerness and weary resignation collide in a perfect storm! No matter how quickly everyone gets on the same page in terms of goals for the child, there’s an inherent disconnect. A half-empty/half-full friction that underscores everything. Like being forced to volunteer for something you don’t want to do, and being surrounded by people for whom being there is a choice. A pleasure, even. And to make it worse, they can seem so damn enthusiastic!! I can remember that, in the midst of still coming to terms with the reality of my new life with Owen, I found it hard to relate or connect with the teachers in our preschool.
Still processing what this might mean. I wonder how knowing this can improve the relationship between the two groups. How could the staff in particular respond to this disconnect? Any ideas?
(Note: I have edited this post to be more clear that I am not talking about the staff, students or parents of a particular school, and these musings are based on my own recollections. Apologies for any confusion.)