By Fiona Bessey-Bushnell
When I was asked to choose my favorite blog post of the 2,000 outstanding blog posts on T/TAC’s AT blog, it was a daunting task. Although there are many posts that are packed with information, this one from Susanne Croasdaile caught my eye, although it doesn’t contain the standard “go to” information.
We all know that many secondary students try to “fly under the radar” – sometimes to the point of not wanting to use Assistive Technology (AT). So when I read this post (http://www.assistivetechnology.vcu.edu/2013/07/12/friday-research-spotlight-why-high-schoolers-might-reject-assistive-technology/), I wanted to read more. (Did you know that T/TAC will send you an article upon request if you are in Regions 1 or 8? I requested the full article, and lickety split, Susanne sent it to me). The article was an eye opener for me. Although I traverse the hallways of secondary schools almost daily, the authors drew me in and memories came flooding back to me for the first time since my own experiences in high school. As a sophomore, rounding the corner in the hallway as I entered the sub school, hoping to catch a glimpse of a particular upperclassman, wearing his trademark long sleeve button down shirt and shorts, no matter the weather. And me “faking it”, covering the disappointment when he and I didn’t have the momentary eye contact I longed for each day. And how it all seemed like such a colossal deal to me.
The article delves into student perspectives, based on narratives from high school students, where students reported acting in certain ways in class while knowing that that behavior did not reflect their true feelings. Students also reported “faking it” in front of peers. Further, “it seems that the flat or apparently neutral tone of high school classrooms is deceiving because it masks students’ underlying individual feelings and energy exerted to keep up complicit appearances for the teachers and among peers. Keenly aware of their period-by-period charade, students do what they feel they must to get by within the school system and among their peers” (Pierce, 2005, p. 4).
Faking it. Under the radar.
As we work with students – as educators, paraprofessionals, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, physical therapists – how do we relate to the students we work with? And how do we try and get that “fresh” perspective when perhaps 10, 20, 30 or more years have passed since we were in their shoes? How do we harness that perspective so that we can help a youngster and specifically, a youngster with a disability?
We actively seek out professional development opportunities on a diverse range of specific topics from assistive technology to problem based learning to best serve our students. But when was the last time you turned introspective and re-examined your experience in education? What perspective have you gained? What is YOUR story? And how does that make you better understand kids?
Faking it. The teacher who borrows her daughter’s cardigan or boots to appear up on current trends.
Faking it. The paraprofessional who uses today’s language to relate to students they work with.
Faking it. The physical therapist who reads teen magazines to stay connected to students who identify with the Justins, Jasons, and Codys, so they can name drop.
Faking it. The occupational therapist who knows which video games are the most popular at any given time.
We all have our tricks of the trade. Are we able to conjure up an image that we hadn’t considered in years? How effective are they to use as a conversation starter or identify with a kiddo? How do we measure efficacy and to build our clinical reasoning abilities? How well do we perceive our interactions with students? How well can we can “convince” them to use our prescribed AT? How well does our perception meet reality?
Faking it. Rushing to finish writing down your homework assignment in your assignment book even faster than you typically write, so you can catch it all before you have to leave early to miss the crowds on sensory overload.
Faking it. Trying to answer a question in a crowded hallway, only to have had the person walk away from you before you could communicate.
Faking it. Avoiding the crowded locker commons while using a walker, and missing that chance at eye contact with a peer.
Here’s the thing. If we are faking it, I wonder if we should be spending more time considering the perspective of students and their concerns. Their roles as a student. And traveling back in time to a high school where the colors ran purple and white on spirit days and we were rounding the corner of that sub school (insert YOUR memory here). How does this perspective enable us to relate to the students of today? How can we incorporate this perspective into providing appropriate assistive technology?
Fiona Bessey-Bushnell works in a local school system as an occupational therapist, specializing in assistive technology.