I remember saying 6 months after I started my job that my advocacy had changed. Now that I am dependent on my employer it is much harder for me to be openly critical of practices as not only my paycheck depends on it, but also my health insurance. In college I said and did whatever I wanted. With my incredible privilege of having parents that supported me through school I didn’t have to answer to an employer. Dissent was actually encouraged and expected at Hampshire.
I used to say the hardest part of my job was the position of power I was(not) in. That is, I spend 40 hours a week with just a few students, and I get to know them pretty well, or would like to think I do. I cannot make any executive decisions about their lives, that’s up to the boss man and their parents. I understand the reasons for that and do not even entirely disagree with them. I can’t lie though, sometimes when I disagree with a course of action it’s very frustrating- but there is nothing to be done when the powers that be speak.
Now, I’ve somewhat revised my idea of what the hardest part of my job is. It’s not easy. I’m in a lot of ways dictating another person’s life. Now it’s time to do laundry, now it’s time to eat, now it’s time for (insert scheduled activity). Sometimes a student won’t want to do an activity but I bring them to the activity anyway. The reasoning is that because of the students’ inability to understand choices on a larger scale, e.g., if I only ever eat macaroni and cheese for dinner I will become extremely sick from lack of proper nutrients, it is my job as caretaker to help the student make healthy choices. This extends to all corners of the student’s life.
Does it really matter if the student doesn’t want to change his stained t-shirt? No. Not really. Not if we’re indoors relaxing on the couch. Does it really matter if the student wants to take a naps at all hours? No, not really. But then my ideas of what is appropriate is usually different from society’s larger standards. I am a feminist after all. So then it gets really tough. As does the amount of force I have to use sometimes-during transitions, diapering, etc…
All in all, now that I’ve been thinking so much about disability rights, my job has become increasingly harder on an ethical standpoint. Many hegemonic forces that encourage certain practices that I do for my job are maybe just not necessary and in order to advocate for myself and the students I take a huge risk as I’m financially dependent on the institution. It is an institution after all, and radical ideas are hard for any established place with its own practices to take. Thus is the nature of an institution.
Nonetheless I’m always trying to re-check myself. Remember “the banality of evil” to try to say something if it doesn’t seem right and to consistently review my actions. I don’t always like what I find when I review myself and it weighs heavy- I constantly try to strive to make sure I don’t make the same mistakes twice. I really try to do my best. I wonder, do all educators feel this or is this just specific to special ed? Or is it just I who is constantly running around in my head, bouncing through library books, and meeting up with the “professionals” in the field to dump my questions (problems) on? What do other people think about this, really? Why is the discourse not open, and flowing, and heavy from voices? It’s some tough stuff to muck through!