Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Teaching History to Some Very Special Children

Yesterday I was invited for a second time to give a presentation to the high school of Haugland Learning Center, a special education school for autistic children. I would like to thank the absolutely wonderful and dedicated staff for allowing me to come and making me feel welcome there. The first time I came I spoke about college and dating. (My main piece of advice for dating was not to be an ax murderer.) This time around I gave a version of my presentation about research on the internet and the limits of Wikipedia. (See My Blog and Wikipedia Versus Frances Yates.) In truth both of these presentations quickly evolved into free running conversations with the kids, which is how I like to teach even as that rarely happens in my regular teaching experience.

I must admit to a rift between my inclinations as a teacher and as an academic. I am working on a doctorate in history, a path suited for teaching in a university. Left to my own devices I lecture on highly theoretical and technical topics best suited for a graduate school setting. (This is one of the reasons why I only lasted a year teaching at the Hebrew Academy.) On the other hand the people that I best relate to are children and particularly autistic children.

Children are not bothered by the fact that I am strange and that they do not always understand me. I am an adult so it is only reasonable that I am strange and not easily understood; adults can get away with this. That being said children quickly pick up on the fact that I am interested in them and respect them in ways that few other adults do. I am not very good at talking up to or down to people. I tend to speak to everyone as my equal and this includes children. For this reason children are far more willing to engage with me than adults are. This helps bring me out of a lecture mode; once I am responding to other people I can stop responding simply to the issues in my own head and deliver content understandable to the listener.

This is even more true for autistic children, who are used to adults looking down on them and thinking of them as things to be handled. I think they pick up very quickly how, on the contrary, it is a relief for me to be with them. I am not bothered by lack of formal social contact or odd gestures. With them I feel at home and I will work with them on their terms.  

If anyone knows of an autistic school looking for a general studies teacher, who, while lacking a formal training in special education, but relates well to autistic children and can serve as a bridge between special education and regular schooling feel free to contact me. (For more on my interest in working with children see My Ideal Job.)   

1 comment:

Clarissa said...

Contrary to popular opinion, autistics often make great teachers and wonderful parents. My father who has a severe form of Asperger's was always adored by all of my little friends because he treated them like adults, with respect and interest.