I have been noticing advertisements lately for a new 3-D version of the movie, Titanic. I don’t know about you all, but when I saw that movie in regular-D, it freaked me out and strengthened my vow to never go on a boat again. In 3D? Shudder. I know what you’re thinking. How can this woman possibly make an analogy or poignant comment on today’s yoots or school psychology by discussing the Titanic? Well, I cannot. But I can share with you my most epic fail in working with students with disabilities from early in my career.
I often get emails from young, perky students who are eager to be school psychologists someday. They ask, “what kind of experience do I need to be a good candidate for grad school?” The better question, I think, is, “what kind of experience do I need to know this job is for me?” It’s not for everyone. I remember being a bit stunned in my grad school program when a few fellow classmates in my school psych classes admitted that after the first year of practicum, they’d rather do research on education than work with kids. They transferred to the research-side of the building. Now, I love me some research, but I love me some kiddos much more. Shocking they didn't think about whether or not they liked working with kids before signing on to a school psych program, right?
I think the best experience I had to prepare me for the job of being a school psychologist was working in group homes during summers in college. I have worked in group homes for students with developmental disabilities and students with emotional disturbance, and after basically living with these kids for a few summers in college, I knew I could handle any kid (or flying object) heading my way. I found myself learning the on-the-job skills that are not taught in any course: how to get a kid with autism off the roof, how to handle a kid twice your height having a seizure in the middle of the street, how to keep a kid from trying to kill herself or run away, and how to anticipate when a large object is going to be thrown in protest. I would come home after days at the group home and lament on how I had actually used phrases like, “Jeffrey, put down the stove.”
Anyhoo, back to The Titanic. One day, while working at the group home for students with developmental disabilities, I decided to take 5 teenagers to see a movie. Movies were always a good way to kill a few hours on a hot, summer day. The kids were typically happy at the movies. So I picked the longest movie on the planet. I would surely get 3 ½ hours of happy time if we went to The Titanic. It turns out, 3 ½ hours is way too long. To make matters worse, I had an “aide” with me, who had autism. Sure, she was high functioning, but she wasn’t the best person to help when chaos ensued. She had a “thing” about countries, and she had memorized every country and their flag, capitol, and main exports and such, and every time she saw a reference to a country she would scream out the name of the country. I don’t know if you remember, but there were a lot of immigrants on the Titanic. IRELAND! AMERICA! ENGLAND!
About halfway through the movie, the kids were getting restless. I saw one kid’s glasses fly across the screen, because another kid had an obsession about throwing glasses. I fumbled for them in the dark and found 148 old pieces of popcorn and 276 old jujubes as well. Gross. Then, another kid began to masturbate. After a fruitless attempt to tell him “that is for private time” I gave up. We got to the most dramatic point in the movie—[spoiler alert for those who lived under a rock in 1997] Jack is holding on to a piece of wreckage and Rose says, “I’ll never let go, Jack! I promise,” and as I am tearing up at the moment, and I look over to the aisle to see a kid taking his pants off and then running out of the theatre. I quickly grab the other kids and get everyone back in the van to go home.
I never got to see the ending of the movie. Do Rose and Jack end up together? I guess I will have to go see the 3D version to find out. And I will go alone with my box of Kleenex, thank you very much. I learned my lesson. I suppose the bigger lesson is that when you work with the most severe needs students early in your career, you have confidence that you can handle any kid that comes into your office after that. It also gives you empathy for all those special education teachers out there working with students with disabilities all day long. If I couldn't get 5 kids to watch a movie, I shudder to think if I had to teach them to read, write and do math. Here's to special education teachers!