I am often shocked at how little some of my former teachers have actually taught me about the real world, going to college and getting a job. This was not the case with all of my teachers, but it was true with most of them. Typical public high schools are only designed to prepare students to graduate from high school, not be a success in the real world. As a follow-up to “You’re Not Even Trying”, I am going to talk about some things related to the “real world” many of my teachers and counselors used to preach to me all the time. Instead of “teaching” and “counseling” me about the real world, they mainly would tell me all kinds of horror stories about how terrible of a place it is.
My experiences with the school system at Freeport and many of the therapists I have worked with were not beneficial in the least bit, especially when it came to preparing me for life after high school. I honestly felt that most of the work I was expected to do at Freeport was worthless busy work. I had a driver’s education class in tenth grade, and the teacher was absolutely horrible. He would give us worksheets, and we would watch videos the entire period. Anytime I had a question about something, he would just tell me “read the book and figure it out”. Driving is a real world skill, and I had this incompetent person “teaching” it. My dad tried to teach me some basic driving skills in the parking lot of the high school, and even the most simple parts of driving a car seemed like gibberish to me. Driving is something that almost any teenager becomes excited about in high school. Because of that, I decided to wait until I turned eighteen years old to obtain my driver’s license.
I have always experienced trouble with math, and I had an awful math teacher. Because of her grouchy personality and her negative attitude towards everybody, I refused to pay any attention to her. I couldn’t understand any of the material we were covering in class, and she was absolutely no help when I asked her for it. The math concept I struggled with the most were multi step fractions. Anytime I would ask her for help on my fractions, she would rudely respond by saying something that basically sounded like “Derek, you do this, this and this. I want it done by tomorrow, I want all work shown and I want it done correctly”. I refused to do it because I had no idea how to do it. On the rare occasions I actually did my homework, she would put me on the spot and make me right my answer on the board. The class would become very impatient with the fact that I didn’t know how to do it after we have gone over it for the past two weeks. The teacher would become so impatient that she would resort to berating me not because I didn’t do my work, but because I didn’t understand how to do it. The students would just sit there and stare at me while I wrote down random answers to the problem.
I was in the learning support class when I was at Freeport, and it basically was a “babysitting version” of a study hall. You were either required to work on homework or study for a test that was coming up. I wanted to opt out of it, but my parents wouldn’t let me. The teachers and aides in that class spent most of the time nagging me about getting work done, or reprimanding me for my negative attitude about high school in general. When they would try to “help” me study for a test, I would stare off into space and guess random answers. I would often stand there and ask “What is the point of learning this”? The aides would then respond “you have a chapter test coming up, it’s going to be on the P.S.S.A (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) test and you have to take it to graduate”. I would roll my eyes and say “It’s still pointless. I won’t need to know any of this after I graduate and the P.S.S.A test won’t mean a thing ten years from now”. I would then expect to hear “Derek, in the real world you have to do things you don’t want to do”. I still wasn’t very convinced.
Teachers were not the only group of people who would try to taunt me about the real world, some of the “social skills” professionals would do it as well. In my blog “You’re Not Even Trying”, I talked about the “coffee talk” activity at Wesley Wonder kids. Each group member was assigned a date on the calendar, and on that specific date you were supposed to bring a desert type snack and choose a topic the group can easily discuss for fifteen minutes. On one particular day, it was another group member’s turn to choose a topic. When it came time for coffee talk, he didn’t have his topic chosen like he was supposed to. It took him five minutes to finally choose one, and he finally chose “pop culture”. Everybody had their favorite movie, band or television show to talk about and I had absolutely no idea what to say. All of the group members would talk over each other, and the parents could hear them in the lobby next door over the air conditioning vent. Because coffee talk was the last activity of the night, I was only focused on going home and going to bed. Then a voice from one of the staff members rang out “Derek, we haven’t heard from you yet. What do you have to contribute to this discussion?” I responded by saying “I don’t know”. The group members turned around and started pressuring me to say something, similar to most of my peers in school when they would ask me things like “Why Are You So Quiet”? When it finally became time to leave, I muttered in disgust “I hate being put on the spot”. Another staff member heard my remark and said “You have to suck it up, you are going to be put on the spot for the rest of your life”.
A few weeks later, I made the decision to stop attending Wonder Kids. After all, I was going to make a new start at Lenape and try to overcome the obstacles I faced at Freeport and at Wonder Kids. If you look at what I wrote in parentheses beside the title it says “engage and teach, don’t preach”. I received strength based therapy for about a year, and I remember it was the only type of therapy that actually benefited me. They tried to use my strengths and make me use my talents to make friends and connect with people. The therapists were actually allowed to take me out into the real world and practice social skills. At Wesley Wonder kids, the group had to stay in the building for the entire group session. They overstimulated me and reprimanded me for going into sensory overload. A teacher can’t convince students into believing why a certain class is important for their success in the real world unless they actually show real world examples. A student will not become interested in the material unless you make the effort to engage them.
To wrap up, the message I am trying to teach is that one should never let a bad teacher or counselor determine their success in the real world. Many people with Asperger’s have expressed their belief that some of the disrespectful neurotypicals (“normal” people) are the ones with disorders. While it is important to be proud of who you are, you should not let it define you. Asperger’s is no excuse for disrespectful and/or illegal behavior. It’s not about their opinion, it is about what you want. I hope you will always remember that in the future.