Thursday, November 04, 2010

Things Not To Say If You're My Teacher

I've noticed, in multiple different conflicts with teachers, that they always seem to say the same things. These statements always set me on edge, and my trauma-based 'friend-or-foe' detector immediately switches them to foe when they say this. I've known from a young age that these arguments are wrong, but it's only recently that I've started being able to articulate why.

Here's a list. I probably left some things out, because I've never formally worked on listing these statements before. And based on my prior post about advocacy bingo, I'm going to explain why each one is wrong for me, even though that's not the real point. The real point is how I feel when someone says these things to me, how they send me into panic. Note also that these aren't exact, it's possibly to vary the message slightly and still say the same thing.

  • "I've been teaching for 20 years" - About one out of 100 people is on the autism spectrum. Many are in special education classes, many don't go on to higher-level education. Within the sample of your students, therefore, autistics are probably uncommon. And my own subtype of autism, demand avoidance syndrome, is rare even among autistics, since Elizabeth Newson said most specialist schools for autistic kids would have only one or two PDA students. So it doesn't matter how long you've been teaching, I'm almost certainly your first ever PDA student. (Besides that, what guarantee is there that you've been teaching well for the past 20 years?)
  • "All the other students are doing it" - Again, I'm highly unusual. That does not make me any less entitled to a decent education. Furthermore, there is ample evidence to suggest that many people will do what an authority figure tells them to, even if it's clearly the wrong thing to do. My condition makes me somewhat of a 'canary in the coal mine' when it comes to authority figures, what I'm complaining about might be something others are silently putting up with.
  • "You won't be able to [some measure of living a good life] unless you can handle this" - When I was in elementary school, my teachers warned my parents that unless I learnt to obey their commands, I'd be a juvenile delinquent by the age of 16. Now I'm 21. My sole legal infraction was to steal a bead from a bead store when I was 11, and I confessed and returned it within a couple of days. You're a teacher, not a fortune-teller. Besides, even if you were right, I clearly can't handle that thing. I can't just wish away my disability because you want me to. When I was an elementary student, any teacher who tried to make me do any schoolwork at all ran into conflict with me, whereas in university, only 2 out of 11 professors had any significant conflict with me. I've come a long way, but it took a lot of time and a lot of work. I will continue to progress, but it will continue to be a gradual process.
  • "Just trust your teachers" - Not all teachers are trustworthy. I've learnt that the hard way. If you want my trust, you'd better earn it, not just demand it.
  • "Do it because I said so" - That's code for 'I can't think of any good reason for you to do this, but I'll demand it anyway'. If you have a good reason, you can explain it to me, and I will listen. I might agree to do it, or I might suggest a compromise that works just as well. But being an authority figure doesn't mean you're in the right.
  • "See? You can actually do this" - Sometimes, I can do something in one situation but not another, or can do one task but not a closely related task. And sometimes I can do something only if I'm not being forced to do it. Dark chocolate is one of my favorite snacks, but if you told me 'you have no other choice, you must eat this dark chocolate', I'd be unable to swallow it. Not just unwilling, unable. On the few occasions that I gave in to (or was tricked into obeying) an authority figure, panic filled me to the point where I just wanted to die. It's more intense than my worst flashbacks. Something deep inside of me is convinced that being controlled by another person is the worst fate imaginable. I can't reason with this feeling, and I can't tolerate it. Unless you've got a gun pointed to my head or something, I won't endure that feeling on your command.


Blogger Adelaide Dupont said...

Articulating why you feel this way is GREAT.

Articulating it in the authority's language of action and grounding it in their court: so much better.

It would also be good to read about things teachers might have said. Because 9 of those 11 teachers you might not have had a conflict with.

During the US midterms I saw a lot of reasoning around authority figures and the reasons for rules and principles (as well as acknowledging they have strong, often unnameable feelings).

And what makes a juvenile deliquent? Obedience may or may not be one of the factors. The bead infraction is a very small one in the scheme of things.

It's good to have a list because it could well help other people in the same situation articulate their difficulties with control and authority.

(It can get very very gritty and personal!)

12:42 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Thank you for the list! I'm a teacher, and thank god I haven't said these things. I read them with interest, and did identify some attitudes I harbor that relate to some of your statements, so I'll be working on that!

5:58 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I really enjoyed your post. I'd love to see a complimentary post entitled, Things to say if you're my teacher.

Many thanks again,

7:22 AM  

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