Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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On Subbing: The First Four Years, by Dave

I've been reading a small-press book I bought at the anarchist bookstore in San Francisco last weekend with rekraft. It's called On Subbing: The First Four Years, and it's by "Dave." The author's name is not given at all on the cover, and it's only given as "Dave" on the title page. If you read the book, however, he occasionally mentions his last name. I decided to omit his last name from this journal entry in case he chose to omit it from his title page in order to protect his job as a substitute - although I also noticed that he's already listed by his full name on several websites, so if he intended to keep his last name a secret, the secret seems to be getting out.

Anyway, Dave is a substitute Educational Assistant in special ed classes in Oregon. (ingole, you could probably identify with a lot of this book.) The classes he subs for range from kindergarten through post-high school "transition to adulthood" ages, and they include kids with physical disabilities, learning disabilities, emotional problems, and sometimes severe mental handicaps to the point of living in a hospital during non-school hours, having no language ability of any kind, needing Dave to change their diapers for them when they're seventeen years old, and being completely unaware that they're even being "taught" at all:
October 30 . . . I worked in the Life Skills with Nursing class, the lowest functioning kids in the district. These were nonverbal kids with no motor control. Most had feeding tubes although a couple could be spoon fed, but only if their meal was puréed. These kids didn't even do basic things like look at someone who was talking to them or follow people or toys with their eyes.

The first project of the day was making paper bag pumpkins. Each staff would grab a students [sic] hand and hold a paintbrush to it, then make the student paint the bag. While doing this, some of the students were having mild seizures, tensing up and gurgling. It was depressing. . . . Then we played bingo. The teacher would read off a number and we'd put the student's card in front of their face. If they had it, we'd get all excited, put a dry erase pen in the student's hand and help them mark the square. If they didn't have it we'd get really dramatic and say, "Oh no! You don't have that one. Maybe the next one!" Some of the kids were asleep when we did this. It's hard to muster any enthusiasm when the kids aren't even conscious.
Although that business of sending kids home with paper bag pumpkin craft projects that the teachers had actually made because the students weren't even remotely capable of having helped out with at all was fairly disturbing in itself, the part of the book that provoked me to write this entry was a different part, a part that wasn't specific to special ed classes at all. It was a description of a school assembly that was attended by all the students from both the regular classes and the special ed classes:
The next day there was an assembly on prejudice. Some white guy with facial tattoos and tons of piercings talked about how he's discriminated against and how he learned that's wrong. He legally changed his name to Scary Guy. It was really stupid.
Really, I fear for the state of Oregon after reading this. I happen to believe that when someone legally changes his name to Scary Guy, it's only sensible to take him at his word and be scared of him accordingly. I mean, if you can't even be scared of people who tell you they're scary, who can you be scared of? And clearly there are people in the world who are worth being scared of.

But as long as I've begun writing about this book, I want to say more about it. Dave himself is rather a character. He's a straightedge vegan punk rocker who shoplifts school materials and donates them to schools. He says very little about his personal life, but at one point he mentions having been embarrassed because he was out hitchhiking with a tranny named Iris (whose specific relationship with Dave is extremely unclear) and the driver who stopped to give them a ride turned out to be a special ed sub who had only stopped because she recognized Dave from work, and Dave doesn't like for the people he works with to know anything about his non-mainstream life outside of work.

Dave is sometimes rather clueless about the right way to handle emotionally unpleasant situations, as when he refuses to believe that an elementary school student's mother doesn't love him:
A kid told me his brother sometimes stabs people. His brother was also in the class; he was cutting his ruler with his scissors. I made sure I was an arm's distance away when I asked him to stop.

Recess was next . . . The potential stabber followed me around. He said he once brought a knife to school and that he wanted to kill himself. He also said, "My mother's life would be better if I wasn't born." I said that wasn't true and that he was probably the most important thing in his mother's life. . . .

There was a lot of tension and whispering between the teacher and the principal as we got the kids ready for the bus. The buses took off without the kid who said he wished he wasn't born and his brother. It turns out their mother abandoned them; she snuck out in the middle of the night, leaving them in the homeless shelter.
Unfortunately, telling a kid whose mother perfectly obviously isn't glad he was born that she must be glad he was born is just likely to make him feel worse rather than better. But I can't really be mad at Dave, since he seems well-intentioned enough. I particularly liked these excerpts:
October 2-9

I got called to work one-on-one with a boy who was paralyzed from the neck down for a week of half days. . . . The student was awesome and super cheerful. It made me feel like a jerk for being so bummed out about money. I mostly helped him by putting his assignments in front of him. He had a metal stick about the size of a straw which he held in his mouth and used to type. Or I could put a pencil at the end of it and he could write or draw. The nurse who worked with him was really friendly, too. I was surprised how nice the other kids at the school were. During recess they always invited him to play.

On Wednesday I watched as the nurse put a little suction tube into the hole in his throat to vacuum up the phlegm. He couldn't cough. At recess I asked if he was cold, which was a faux pas as he couldn't feel anything below his neck. . . .

They called me back on Monday morning. They wanted me to fill this position permanently, but I was going to make this my last day here. Though I liked this job, I needed more hours. Early in the day I had my student read a book to me. "'Eddie and Sparky are best friends.' Like me and you!" Then he asked if I was coming back tomorrow. How could I say no to my best friend? . . . On Tuesday I asked if I could get an afternoon class or if they could use me in the office, anything to get more hours. It was no use. . . . Wednesday was my last day . . . As I left, my student called out to me, "See you Monday!" I kind of stammered that he probably wouldn't. I felt really bad for leaving, but when I got outside and the rain poured in through the holes in my shoes and I didn't have enough money to buy lunch I realized I couldn't afford to live on half-day pay.
January 6-17 . . . One kid was insecure and took everything really personally. He'd write down the right answer for math, but he wouldn't be satisfied with the way the number looked, so he'd erase it and rewrite it. He'd d this several times for one problem. When I told him to stop, or put my hand over the problem so he couldn't erase it he'd get depressed and say, "You don't like me." He would also get upset at recess if the kids ran away from him, which is something you've got to get over if you're playing tag.
March 6 . . . I worked in a room with six autistic third to fifth graders. My first job of the day was to help out with deep relaxation. I had to massage kids. I really don't like starting my day with a highball of ridiculous and creepy. Though I have a lot of respect for the other EA [Educational Assistant] and the teacher, the day massaging a 10-year-old kid's temples doesn't seem weird to me, the day it becomes a commonplace occurrence eliciting no more reaction than does changing a lightbulb or checking my answering machine is verily the day I bite a cyanide capsule. I was supposed to massage another student, but she kicked at me so I called it quits. Another kid was acting up and thus didn't get his massage. Afterwards he begged for a massage and pleaded for forgiveness. He said, "I don't deserve your kindness!" at least five times.
(I was somewhat surprised that anyone who seems as unbothered as this guy does by having to regularly change teenagers' diapers wouldn't be equally unbothered by massaging ten-year-olds' temples.)

And lastly . . .
June 6

For the past couple weeks I was the one working most with a student who had to be constantly monitored. I was the only staff he liked, mostly because I was the gentlest, least invasive person there. When I had to follow him into the bathroom, I'd wash my hands or fix my hair instead of stand and wait for him. It's a little thing, but it means a lot. The teacher would tell him to do something and he'd sit and glare at her. I'd give him a few seconds and say, "OK, c'mon, let's go," and he'd do it. He was a tough kid to get close to, but I could tell he trusted me and I gave him the respect others hadn't. I can't begin to explain how horrible I felt today when I learned he had to be constantly monitored because he was a sexual assaulter.
See? This Dave guy is all right. A bit socially awkward at times, but not a bad sort. I do wish he had an editor, so that the book wouldn't contain misspellings, typos, and comma splices on nearly every page; but I guess small presses can't be bothered to care.

. . .

Mostly unrelatedly (although the abuse that some of Dave's students had been though isn't entirely dissimilar) . . . lilerthkwake just posted her story of spiritual abuse (titled "Lily's Traumatic Faith Experience, or What It's Like to Be a Member of a Cult": Part I and Part II), and I found it so interesting and so surprisingly easy to relate to (despite the fact that I've never had a religion) that I decided I wanted to link to it and encourage other people to read it. So there you go.
Tags: books
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