In my day job, I work part-time as a job coach for folks with developmental disabilities. I want to talk about how this helps me as a teacher and a human.
The best way for me to get my mind around this is talking about what I call my two big rules for my students when they take a class or a private lesson from me:
- Be respectful (or just be nice)
- You have to try
- This last one I usually qualify by saying this, “You HAVE to try. I’m going to ask you to do things that you may not be comfortable with, but I will NEVER ask you to do something you are not capable of.”
These are my rules for my students, whether it be folks with developmental disabilities, typical folks taking a private lesson from me, or a class I’m teaching.
And the thing that is always a challenge for me is that last little bit, “I will never ask you to do things you’re not capable of.” As you can imagine, with folks with developmental disabilities this is a tough one to get your mind around.
How do you define this with someone with a developmental disability? Something you’re not capable of doing today? Something they’re not capable of ever? (And by the way, how do I define “ever”?)
So this last bit is the challenge that has created the most growth with me. I have developed more compassion and patience with my students as a result of really looking at not asking them to do something they are not capable of on that particular day.
Maybe it’s something they’ve done before but can’t do today. So, I need to show some patience with that – Lord knows I have days like that myself. Maybe it’s something that needs to be broken down into smaller, bite-size chunks so they can be at least partially successful today. Maybe I need to let go of a particular goal cause it’s really about me and what I want for my students and NOT about what my student really needs that day. Maybe instead of any instruction at all on that particular day, they need to be inspired instead (this one I miss a lot…A LOT).
The bottom line is that me struggling with this issue as I work as a job coach for my special needs guys has helped me develop a lot more patience and compassion. And now, I really look deeper at this question of “what is my student capable of doing right now, today”, and not worry so much about what they will be capable of at some future point in time.
The other thing that needs to be stated here is that it’s totally OK to be a bit vulnerable as a teacher and admit that you learn as much from your students as they learn from you. I’m used to this idea (I always say my teaching makes my performing better and vice versa), but this is a new thing for many teachers, coaches and mentors out there.
So then–how does this come up for you? At what points in your life when you are working with others (or even alone) does this type of thing come up? Could be at work, could be with family…could be anywhere.
Thanks for reading, cheers!