Monday, November 15, 2010

Things To Do If You're My Teacher

Earlier this month, I posted a blog entry about things not to say if you're my teacher. One commenter recommended that I write a complementary blog entry, about things to say if you're my teacher.

Firstly, the prior post was solely things my teachers have said while in conflict with me. By the time it gets to that point, it's probably already too late. So this post is divided into two pieces: how to prevent conflict with me, and how to resolve it.

Preventing Conflict:

  • Be flexible. As much as possible, have preferences rather than rules. For example, some psychology teachers like to get their students to write on a work of fiction, usually a movie, related to a psychology topic. I hate these assignments. In three classes, my teachers gave me an assignment like this, and with one of them, I dropped the class over it. The professor whose class I dropped had a list of movies, and we had to pick one of them. We could suggest movies, which might be added to the list for later classes, but we wouldn't be able to write on them. I panicked, fearing that I'd have nothing to write about any of those (ironically, after dropping the class, I got a great idea for a paper about one of the movies). One of the other professors had no recommended list. The other class had a recommended list, but we could do a different topic if we discussed it with the teachers and got approval. In that class, I wrote on one of the recommended works.
  • Explain reasons for rules. Some things you can't be flexible about. I understand that. Just tell me what's so important about it. As I said in my previous post, if you can't give me a reason why you're insisting on something, I assume you have no good reason. I'm highly intelligent, I'll be able to understand your explanation. And I'm not going to take it on faith that you have a reason, because I know many people's 'reasons' include things like 'that's how I've always done it' and 'I don't like this student so I'll make things hard for them'. Not all people are reasonable, objective and fair. Prove to me that you are.
  • If I see a flaw in your reasoning and point it out, judge my statement on its own merits. Just because I'm the student and you're the teacher doesn't mean you're right and I'm wrong. And you should be willing to learn from anyone. Remember, also, that I'm not trying to be offensive by pointing out a flaw - I'm trying to reach an agreement with you. If I've misunderstood, explain that to me calmly. If I haven't, then think it over yourself.
  • Don't treat your students equally. This sounds really counterintuitive. But your students are individuals. Every one of them is of equal worth, but that's the only thing that's equal about them. Some of them learn faster than others. Some learn in different ways. Some are talkative, some are afraid to speak up. No matter what you try, you'll never get all your students to act the same way and learn at the same rate. And if you instead try to figure out how everyone works best, they'll all benefit. I understand that in a larger class, this is a lot of work. Being flexible is one shortcut you can use, especially when teaching students who are mature enough to know themselves well. Also, identify the unusual students, since they're the ones who miss out the most when everyone is treated equally.
  • Listen to me about my disability. I've lived as a demand avoidant autistic person for 21 years, and as a person with PTSD for 16-20 years. I've been learning about PTSD since I was 6, and when I started figuring out about autism, at the age of 13, I obsessively researched that too. And since I've lived both conditions, I know things about my own experience that no one else can know. Unless you have psychic powers, there's no way you know my particular mix of disability better than I do. This is the main reason I tend to prefer people who know absolutely nothing about autism over people who have some experience with the condition - because most people who don't know anything about autism know that they don't know, and therefore readily accept that I know more about it than they do. And remember that even if you've worked with autistic people your whole career, each of us is an individual, and autism is quite variable. Furthermore, I have a rare kind of autism.

Dealing with Conflict:

  • Pay attention to my feelings. The conflict starts with a concrete problem. But my PTSD and demand avoidance cause it to develop a very strong overlay of fear, shame and betrayal. If you give me a practical solution while ignoring the emotional overlay, it won't work - even if that solution is just fine. The teacher who had a set list of movies, when I kicked up enough of a fuss, changed the assignment for me. But by then, she'd already said some hurtful things to me, and made it abundantly clear that she was only accommodating me because she felt she had no other option. Because of that, I no longer trusted her enough to continue attending her classes. A lot of people seem to miss this, when having conflicts with me. They assume that if I'm still upset, then the solution they suggested must not be effective. This is not necessarily true, as I'll readily tell you in such a situation.
  • Try to stay calm. I'm working on learning to speak civilly when I'm extremely upset, but that's not easy for anyone. When I'm upset, I'm pretty blunt, and what I'm thinking of you is probably not flattering. Remember, to me, it doesn't feel like just a minor conflict - it feels like a life or death situation. I'm not exaggerating here. I honestly feel like I'll die if someone else controls me too much. It's a phobia, like someone who screams at the sight of a tiny harmless mouse. It may not be reasonable to feel this way, but that doesn't change the reality of my feelings.
  • Work with mediation. I find it hard to reveal vulnerabilities to a person I'm in conflict with. I become extremely defensive, telling you only what you're doing wrong and never admitting that I, too, have faults. It can be very helpful to have a (somewhat) neutral party to talk to, someone I trust enough to reveal my faults to, and to explain precisely why I'm panicking.
  • Be willing to admit mistakes. Chances are, if you've gotten into conflict with me, you've made some important mistakes. If you're not willing to admit that to yourself, then you're likely to repeat those mistakes later on. And if you're not willing to admit it to me, I'm likely to expect you to repeat your mistakes.


Blogger Adelaide Dupont said...

"This is the main reason I tend to prefer people who know absolutely nothing about autism over people who have some experience with the condition - because most people who don't know anything about autism know that they don't know, and therefore readily accept that I know more about it than they do."


And I like the idea of working with mediation. It's not easy to reveal your flaws and faults to anybody.

4:40 PM  

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