Thriving School Psych Thriving Students

My Titanic FAIL.

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!

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Comments on My Titanic FAIL.

  1. Rebecca M. says:

    This was hysterical. I also worked in a couple of group homes (one psych, one developmental disabilities) during my summers, but they were for adults. I took them to the fair, a professional football game, shopping, and ice cream. It was a lot of fun, and thankfully they listened to me so I had to put up with very little misbehavior.

  2. Ms. Amy says:

    OMG. This is hilarious. I work in a Title I school with a super diverse set of kiddos and I see the same thing. Young teachers who simply don't realize just how much time will be spent with students! Also, I empathize so much with the Special Ed. and Parapros in my building. I only see their students for one-hour intervals and it can be so challenging! Inspiring, awesome, amazing, enlightening. . .AND CHALLENGING. TY for such a fun and insightful post.

  3. LaLa says:

    Yes! I had a similar movie theater experience when I worked in group homes, except I worked with adults. I had one guy pounding on the concession stand glass demanding snacks, another man digging through the trash can to collect straws (his "thing") — but not before drinking whatever was remaining in all of the cups, and another man in the parking lot rubbing his cheek on all of the convertible tops (his "thing"). Your story brought back this memory. It certainly wasn't funny at the time, but now I'm cracking up! 🙂 Thanks for the laugh!! 🙂

  4. Shurl says:

    I hope it was OK to laugh at this! You are so right about prep for a school psychology career working with young folks with big needs. I also found opportunities to teach and run seminars for both students and adults at both jobs (one job was for a city summer arts program and one was as a counseling intern in an "inner city" high school.) This experience is great for applications (I especially liked being able to share, in my statement, how I navigated more challenging moments with parents.)

  5. Rebecca says:

    @LaLa and @Shurl: Oh yes, we can laugh about it now! At the time, not so funny…. 😉

  6. Britt says:

    I have worked at a summer camp for children with disabilities for two years. I was working in a cabin of 7-9 year olds and the camp had porta-potties in certain locations of the camp that weren't near bathrooms. I was taking a boy with down syndrome to use the porta-potty and he assured me he didn't need any assistance with going to the bathroom so I stood outside the door and let him do his business. It was taking him a suspiciously long time for him to use the toilet so I kept asking him how he was doing and if he was almost finished. He said he still needed more time but kept asking me why the water in the bottom of the porta-potty was blue. I explained that it was chemicals but not to touch it because it was dirty and didn't think much else about it. He finally said he was finished and needed assistance to button his pants so I opened the door of the porta-potty and his hands were blue. BLUE. He put his hands in the toilet! There was only a hand sanitizer dispenser in the porta-potty and I obviously had to button his pants up before I could bring him to wash his hands well, so I bent over to button up his pants and then feel his hands in my hair, on my face, poking me in the EYES.. It was only for a few seconds but it felt like an eternity. The dye from the chemicals in the porta-potty stained his hands for the rest of the day and the cabin teacher had to explain to his parents why his hands were blue. I miraculously didn't get pink eye.

    I also worked in a group home and took four adult women sledding at a popular tubing place by myself on my last day of work. This place was fancy and had a rope that towed you to the top of the hill so you didn't have to walk. When we first got there, I sent all four of them down the hill before I went, so they were all cheering and waiting at the bottom of the hill for me, right in the path of tubers. The attendant either didn't notice or didn't tell my ladies to move out of the way so as soon as I stopped and stood up I directed them out of the way for their personal safety. As soon as I said this, two people on a two-person tube come flying down the hill and knock all five of us up in the air like bowling pins. Two of the ladies and I were fine, but two of them (who have a lot of attention-seeking behaviors) said they couldn't walk, so ski patrol had to come and bring them to the medic. There was no obvious injuries to their knees, besides that they said they couldn't walk. The medic also didn't think they were that hurt, and with their attention-seeking behaviors it is really hard to tell if they are really hurt or not. I had to help them get back into the van and up the stairs into the group home but was still dismissing the seriousness of their injuries until they went to a doctor and just had them ice their knees and rest. Since it was my last day I didn't find out until later that one of them wasn't hurt at all, but the other one had a broken knee! I felt terrible! I also had to fill out an obnoxious amount of paperwork documenting everything.

  7. KellyKay says:

    I love all of your stories! I also know that having had experiencing with challenging student's helped me know school psychology was the job for me. I worked on a children's inpatient psychiatric unit where I often came home covered in puke, pee, and bruises. After having read the experiences posted here I would definitely suggest some experience working with children with challenges. These days I don't worry much about how I am going to deal with kids who throw desks, yell in your face, or just won't stop dancing.

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