Thursday, April 7, 2011

Emergency Subbing

Today I got called in to be a substitute teacher in my school district. To get to this point, I had to go through a long, complicated, harrowing experience:
Step 1: Go to school board
Step 2: Request paperwork to become emergency sub
Step 3: Fill out paperwork
Step 4: Turn in paperwork and pay $5 application fee
Step 5: Get approved by school board (this is hardly a real step, as I'm pretty sure they'd approve most anyone)
Step 6: Go back to school board to sign more paperwork and have picture taken:

The picture was probably the worst part. It's like having your driver's license picture taken, only you're allowed to smile. And it still doesn't look good.

All in all it was pretty painless.

That was several weeks ago. Today I was needed, called in, and was able to go. An autistic support teacher was unexpectedly out sick and they couldn't find anyone else to cover for him. Of course I was nervous at first; they were sending me in blind to work with a group of kids who had learning disabilities I know nothing about, asking me to do something with which I have no prior experience (teaching). I don't have a certificate; I don't even have that much experience with kids outside when I babysat through my early years of high school.

Autism apparently comes in many forms. I still know next to nothing about the disorder, but I picked up a few things talking to the aides today while we had a little down time. I do know that, across the board, these kids are kind of tough to handle. Some talk way too much and some don't speak in words at all. Some are superhyperactive and some hardly do anything outside sitting quietly and staring at the wall or floor. A lot of parents are really great with their autistic children, catering to their needs and being extremely supportive. But the parents are as varied as their troubled offspring, and just as many don't want any of the extra responsibility that comes with special needs.

Today was eye-opening in many ways -- a definite learning experience -- but if there's one thing I took away, it was a disbelief that anyone could want nothing to do with these wonderful, perfect, beautiful children. I know a lot of people who would disagree with the fact that these kids are perfect; no one is perfect, especially people who have learning disabilities. But to me, the idea that someone wouldn't want the precious delicate little boys that I worked with today is inconceivable and heartbreaking.

One boy doesn't talk. He's very friendly and loves strangers, but he just makes loud sounds instead of talking. He likes to hold your hand and sit on your lap and run around yelling. One boy hardly made a sound most of the day. He's smart, with the silkiest hair I've ever seen and an affinity for computers. One boy is small and blonde, and unbearably sweet. He picks apart all of his food when he eats and only talks when prompted. He's quiet and troubled and doesn't like to be touched as much as the others. The last boy is bigger and louder and calls to mind Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man; he can tell you what day a month starts on from 1988 to 2043, and probably more than that if he was asked, without having to hardly think about it. He's curious and has separation anxiety and likes puzzles and letters.

It would, admittedly, be difficult to be a parent to one of these children. But the effect they had on me today in seven short hours is indescribable. Somehow, I think autistic children, if the rest are anything at all like these four, are just little angels sent to Earth to teach us patience and other things I glimpsed today that are hard to put into words. It almost makes me want to reconsider not teaching.