I think one of my greatest strengths and at the same time greatest weaknesses (you know, classic interview question) is that I become very attached to my young charges. I still think about many of the clients I had (and their wonderful families) when I worked at Brilliant Beginnings in SC and it brings tears to my eyes - tears of pride and of sadness because they are superstar people and I can't see them anymore. But developing these quick and strong attachments is what I think makes me good at my job. I want my kiddos to succeed because I love them. I pour myself into them because they are amazing, special, and important (if you've seen The Help, think of that last scene when Aibileen says goodbye and just try not to get choked up). I find as much joy in seeing my clients succeed at making eye contact for three seconds as I do when they give my neck "un abrazito."
This issue is what made it so difficult to leave my job as a preschool teacher. I spent 40 hours a week with the same eight little ones. My heart aches when I think I can't get their little kisses or hold their tiny hands anymore. But the promise of more of these relationships is what keeps me in this industry. I love to see the look on a family member's face when their child exceeds expectations. I love the first time a child tries to say my name. I hate when I have to leave and the child cries and says, " jugar más!"
I thought maybe I would jot down a few thoughts from clients I've had as I leave them. So I can remember not what I taught them but rather what I learned from them. Children are often the best teachers. I see so much of myself - my selfishness, pride, and stubbornness - revealed when I interact on a long-term basis with the same child (please no comments of the "just wait till you have your own... " variety. I KNOW). I hope that I keep learning and changing with each child I have the privilege to help. If I don't do this I have no business being in this industry,
-- I learned that my patience is only as strong as my understanding. Understanding child development and Autism Spectrum Disorder are absolutely essential to me being able to have patience when my client needs to get up and dance or won't look at my face. And that understanding tells me when to be patient (i.e. to allow this to happen) and when to be a therapist and provide him with an alternate form of stimulation because his behavior is inappropriate. Understanding Applied Behavior Analysis and Discrete Trial Training is so important to me being able to appropriately address those behaviors and help that child integrate his senses correctly.
-- I learned that it's OK to not go with the plan. Sometimes a child needs to be quiet for a while and do calm activities. Other times they need to do the "Hokey Pokey" six times in a row. Every once in a while a child needs to be stopped from running crazy circles because what they really need is to be held and hugged and talked to sweetly.
-- I learned a lot of new Spanish words.
-- I learned that I've forgotten how important cartoon characters are to childhood. I made myself get online and learn names of characters in various cartoons or films because I wanted to interact on my client's level. Whether I agree with a child watching a certain amount of television is irrelevant.
-- I learned that positive reinforcement doesn't have to come in material form. It can come with a high five and knuckles, a tickle, or a smile.
-- I learned that there is so much I don't know yet. And that's so encouraging to me. I hate being bored and stagnant. I love the challenge of my work and the promise that every single child will be different and that I can love each one of them.