school

If you’re feeling bad about your kid after an IEP meeting

Content note: This is directed at parents, and it’s about mitigating damage that can be done by the stigmatizing language in the IEP process. It expresses sympathy towards parents who are feeling things that can be harmful to disabled kids (as well as a call for parents handle those feelings constructively). This post may be triggering to people with disabilities who have been harmed by these kinds of attitudes. 

The IEP process can be really hard on kids, parents, and families. In order to get your kid the services they need, you’ve probably had to describe them using some awful language. It likely violated every one of your instincts about how parents ought to describe their kids. You may have had to do it anyway, in order to get your kid access to education.

It’s pretty normal to feel awful about either yourself or your child after describing them in such negative terms or allowing others to do so. It’s wrong, and it feels wrong, and you often can’t do anything about it — and it often comes along with pressure to believe that this is being caused by your child’s disability. If you’re finding that you feel that way, it’s important to do something about it. Kids are generally very aware of how adults in their lives feel about them. Feeling that way about your kid on an ongoing basis is really damaging to them and to your relationship with them. Don’t beat yourself up; do find ways to mitigate it.

It can help a lot to remind yourself that nothing about your child’s disability causes this kind of language. No child should ever be described this way, including yours. They’re not being described this way because of the things they can’t do — they’re being described this way because the system is ableist and often unwilling to respond to disability constructively. It’s not their fault, and it’s not your fault — it’s an awful fact about our culture’s attitudes towards disability.

You wouldn’t say that a baby is failing because they’re not talking — it’s just part of being a baby. If someone said that a typically-developing eight year old was failing because they can’t write 10 page papers, most people would be outraged. Your child’s development isn’t failure either, and they deserve appropriate education without stigma or panic. They are allowed to have a body and a brain, and they deserve to be respected as a human being. Language that treats them as a collection of deficits is cruel, and doesn’t reflect reality.

Your child’s differences aren’t a failure. Their development is what it is, and that’s ok. It’s ok to be different. It’s ok to have a disability. It’s ok to need appropriate education. Their need for appropriate education is not failure, it’s just that you sometimes have to cooperate with a system that wrongly describes it that way.

One way you can show yourself that it shouldn’t be this way is to write a better description of your kid after the fact. Rewrite what your child is learning, and what you’d like them to learn. Write about what the barriers are, and what kind of help they need. Write about their rights, and where you see that they might be violated. Write about them as the child who you know and love, not a collection of scary deficits. (It can also help to write down ten of your favorite things about your kid.) Their disability does not call for freaking out. It’s just part of who they are, and that’s ok.

Tl;dr IEPs describe kids using cruel stigmatizing language that doesn’t reflect reality. Having to cooperate with them anyway can do serious damage to parent-child relationships. Rewriting a new and better description of your child can help to mitigate this damage.

Recognizing uniqueness is not a substitute for thinking about disability

Teachers who are really good at teaching typically developing kids sometimes have trouble understanding the significance of disability. I’ve heard a lot of things like “all kids are unique” and “I always individualize my approach for every kid” and “I don’t see the need to label any kids as disabled, it’s just a matter of finding what works for them”.

This sounds positive, but it can be a disaster for kids with disabilities.

We talk a lot about uniqueness, but a lot of effective teaching depends on understanding ways in which kids are similar to each other. Developmentally appropriate practice means understanding how kids the same age are similar to each other — then being flexible in ways that recognize kids’ unique humanity. We develop a sense of what the range of difference is for kids of a particular age.

Kids with disabilities are more different than that, and we need to take those differences seriously. Disability matters, and practices based on typical developmental milestones don’t account for it.

For instance:

Developmental milestones tell us:

  • Two year olds don’t have the motor skills to support handwriting.
  • Early education helps two year olds develop the motor skills that will eventually support handwriting.
  • Ten year olds do have the motor skills to support handwriting.
  • If they’ve had appropriate education, ten year olds should be able to write.

Developmental milestones don’t tell us:

  • How to teach ten year olds who don’t have the fine motor skills to support handwriting.
  • What early literacy and pre-writing instruction looks like for young children who are unlikely to develop the motor skills needed to support handwriting

It’s also important to understand the difference between unusual and unique. Disability means having unusual differences. But not every difference is unique. Some differences are shared by other people with disabilities. Those shared differences are important.

We need to understand the disability-related similarities. Part of that is having the right words to describe them. Calling disabilities by their right names isn’t about labeling, it’s about breaking isolation and making important things speakable.

For instance:

Braille:

  • Braille exists because blind people need it to exist
  • The differences between sighted people and blind people are a reason that braille needs to exist.
  • (And a reason that Braille is better than raised print).
  • The similarities between many blind people are a reason that braille *can* exist as a standard way of accessing literacy. 
  • If each blind person was completely unique, there would be no way to create a reading and writing system that would work for large numbers of blind people.

Some other examples:

  • Wheelchairs.
  • Ramps.
  • Large print.
  • Cars with hand controls and/or wheelchair lifts.
  • Text-to-speech communication devices.
  • VoiceOver and other screen reading software.
  • Signed languages.
  • Medications that manage symptoms.
  • Supportive seating.
  • The ADA, Section 504, IDEA and other disability rights laws.

People with disabilities are unique, and not interchangeable with each other. Similarly, kids the same age are unique, and not interchangeable with each other. Both the similarities and differences are important.

Tl;dr Sometimes progressive educators are uncomfortable with the concept of disability, and want to instead just see every kid’s uniqueness. That doesn’t work, because disability means having unusual differences — and because the differences aren’t unique; they’re shared with many other disabled people. Recognizing uniqueness isn’t enough — we also need to understand and accommodate disability.

Picking humanities paper topics

Picking a good topic for college papers in humanities classes can be challenging. It’s particularly hard if the subject of the class is new to you, and/or if you’re not used to choosing your own topics.

Good topics usually have all of these attributes:

  • You find the topic interesting.
  • The topic is relevant to the class.
  • Enough material is available that you’ll be able to find sources.
  • The topic is small/specific enough that you’ll be able to write about it in the amount of time you have.
  • The teacher knows enough about the topic to be able to help you if you get stuck.

One way to find topics that probably fit into all of those categories is to use the class syllabus:

  • Look through the syllabus of the class.
  • Find the reading that is most interesting to you.
  • When you do that reading, notice what you’re curious or confused about. 
  • Is there something that doesn’t make sense? 
  • Is there something that makes a surprising amount of sense?
  • Or something that you’d like to know more about? 
  • Or something that raises a question?
  • Once you’ve found something you want to know about, write down your question. 
  • Then look at the footnotes in the reading. 
  • Go look up the sources the reading cites.
  • It can also help to check out the book that the reading came from, or to look up other things by the author.

This usually works well because:

  • If the reading has a citation related to your question, that means there’s material on it. 
  • If your topic is related to the reading, your teacher will probably be at least somewhat familiar with it.
  • If you’re raising a question about the reading, it’s more likely that you’ll be able to finish the paper in the amount of time you have.
  • If the topic is coming out of a question you had while reading, you’re more likely to find it interesting while you write.
  • Writing about something closely related to the reading can also help you to review material and prepare for the final exam.

tl;dr Picking a paper topic in humanities classes can be hard. Using the readings and the syllabus to find topics can make it easier. 

Answering “How was your summer?” when your summer was unpleasant

filosoraptor said to realsocialskills:
I go back to school soon and I’ve been trying to prepare for when someone inevitably asks me how my summer was. My first response would be that it was quite lonely because almost all of my plans ended up being cancelled. Would answering like that make someone uncomfortable?

Realsocialskills said:

That response would make most people uncomfortable.

Generally speaking, “How was your summer?” isn’t something people ask because they literally want information about how your summer was.

That kind of question is usually either just a greeting, or a way of opening conversation.

When it’s a greeting, it really just means something along the lines of “Hello, I haven’t seen you for a while.” The usual answer is something like, “It was good. How was yours?”. Answering that way doesn’t mean you’re literally saying you had a good summer. It really just means hello. It’s not a lie, it’s non-literal language.

When “How was your summer?” is a way of opening conversation, it’s an attempt to find something to talk about. The point is to find something that both people can comfortably discuss. The polite way to do this is to ask questions about what the other person said until you find a topic you’re both interested in. It’s considered a bit rude to just change the subject.

Here’s an example of how that can work (the people’s names are randomly generated):

  • Jacob: Hey, how was your summer?
  • Maxine: Pretty good. I was mostly working. How was yours?
  • Jacob: Pretty good — I decided to take a summer school class about color theory and painting.
  • Maxine: That’s cool — I’ve always wanted to try something like that, but I haven’t had the time.
  • Jacob: It wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be, but I did learn a lot of things that are surprisingly applicable to my other classes.
  • Maxine: That’s something anyway. Did the credits count towards anything?
  • (And so on).

If Maxine’s summer actually sucked a lot, mentioning it could end up being really awkward:

  • Jacob: How was your summer?
  • Maxine: It was really lonely. All of my plans fell through.

In this example:

  • Maxine only mentioned two topics: summer being lonely, and plans falling through. 
  • These are both uncomfortable topics.
  • In social situations oriented towards making pleasant conversation, most people won’t want to talk about loneliness or plans falling through 
  • Since Maxine didn’t mention about anything potentially comfortable to discuss, it could be hard for Jacob to keep looking for a mutually comfortable subject without feeling rude. 
  • He might also feel like he’s supposed to comfort Maxine or that there’s no good response to what she just said.
  • This is likely to feel awkward to both of them

There are ways to mention the unpleasantness of summer that are less likely to make the I-haven’t-seen-you-in-a-while conversation unpleasant. It helps if:

  • You avoid giving the impression that you’re upset that they asked, and:
  • You make it clear that you’re not trying to start a conversation about the unpleasantness of summer, and:
  • You include an opening to talk about something else.

For instance:

  • Jacob: How was your summer?
  • Maxine: Eh, kind of sucked. I’m glad to be back — now that I’m past the intro classes things are getting a lot more interesting. 
  • Jacob: What are you majoring in?
  • Maxine: I’m still deciding between history, political science, and pre-law. But a lot of interesting second-year classes count towards both, so I’m keeping both options open.
  • Jacob: I considered that too, but ended up deciding on theater. 
  • Maxine: What are you planning to do with that?
  • Jacob: Hopefully acting or set design. I figure that in any case speaking, acting, and logistical skills will be useful in any job.
  • (And so on).

You can also just say that your summer was ok and then ask how theirs was. That gives them an opening to mention things they did, which might work as a topic of conversation. Eg:

  • Jacob: How was your summer?
  • Maxine: It was ok. How was yours?
  • Jacob: It was pretty good. I took a summer school class on painting and color theory.
  • (And so on).

Again, even if your summer was awful, saying “It was ok” isn’t a lie, it’s just non-literal language:

  • “How was your summer?” isn’t usually meant literally.
  • Your answers to that question don’t have to be literal either.
  • The question usually means something like “Hello. Nice to see you again. Let’s talk about something. Is your summer a good topic of conversation?”
  • Saying “It was ok, how was yours?” usually means something like, “Hello. Nice to see you again too. Let’s talk about something other than my summer. Is your summer a good topic of conversation?”

Tl;dr “How was your summer?” usually isn’t literally intended to find out how your summer was. It’s usually a way of either saying hello or looking for something to talk about. Most people don’t want to have a conversation about how unpleasant your summer was. If your summer was bad, usually the best thing to do is to try steering the conversation to another topic.

Open letter to disability professionals

thetallestofhobbits:

realsocialskills:

Dear disability professionals,

I’m not sure why, but I keep encountering disability professionals who try to deny that disability exists, or to downplay its importance.

It’s so extreme that disability professionals often try to convince people with disabilities that we are just like everybody else. Even when our differences are the reason that you have a job.

We are not just like everyone else. We are alike in that we are all human, with the same basic needs and capacities that go along with humanity. We are also different, in that we have disabilities and most people do not.

Disability exists. Disability is important. People with disabilities are different from most people people in ways that matter. And we need those differences to be speakable.

Our bodies are different. We can’t make this go away by smiling, being brave, and trying hard.

The differences in our bodies matter. Most people can do things that are physically impossible for us. Most people can do some things easily that are excruciatingly difficult for us. The specifics of which things these are depend on the person and the disability. They always exist. That’s what disability means, it means having a different kind of body, a body that can’t do certain kinds of things easily or at all.

For everyone, with and without disabilities, understanding the limits of what our bodies can do is a key life skill. Everyone’s safety depends on understanding that they do not have wings, and that they can’t fly. My safety also depends on understanding that I have impaired vision, motor coordination, and executive functioning. Understanding these things means I have chosen not to drive, and that I have found adaptive strategies that enable me to cook safely.

From my perspective, the fact that I don’t concentrate hard and try to drive isn’t so different from the fact that I don’t flap my wings and try to fly. All I’m doing is acknowledging physical reality, and making choices that fit with my understanding of reality. Some of the physical limitations on what my body can do are the normal limits that apply to all human bodies. Other physical limitations come from my disability. They’re all just physical facts, they’re all just things I need to take into account when I make decisions. 

But as a person with a disability, I learned young that only some limitations are ok to talk about. If I say “I can’t fly”, no one contradicts me. If I say “I can’t catch”, people say “just keep trying”. Both are physically impossible for me. Trying hard will not make either possible. Neither will being brave, smiling, or believing in myself.

For some reason, many disability professionals seem to believe that honesty about our limitations will somehow destroy our self esteem. Actually, the opposite is the case. They want us to believe that if we just smile and keep trying, we can do anything that we put our minds to. But it’s a lie, and we get hurt badly when we believe it.

When professionals refuse to accept our limitations, they force us to attempt impossible tasks over and over. There is nothing positive about this experience. We try and fail, and we watch others our age succeed at the same tasks. If we believe that we can do whatever we put our minds to, then we feel like it’s our fault for not trying hard enough.

It hurts when people yell at us for failing, and it hurts when people plaster on smiles and urge us to smile and keep trying. “Come on, you can do it!” doesn’t sound like encouragement when you know that you will fail. It feels like being told that you’re somehow screwing up on purpose, and that if you would just decide to be a better person, you’d suddenly be about to do it. This kind of thing can go on for years, and it leaves scars. We often come to feel like we are unworthy people, and that there’s something deeply flawed about who we are. 

It’s very, very important that people with disabilities understand that we are disabled. We need to know that our bodies are different, and that some things that are possible for most other people aren’t possible for us. We can’t stop being disabled through an act of will. Our bodies limit us. That is not a moral failing. It’s just a fact of physical reality. And it needs to be speakable.

Our bodies and our disabilities are nothing to be ashamed of.  We don’t have to be different to be good enough. We don’t have to be nondisabled to do things that matter. We don’t have to do impossible things to be worthy of love and respect. We’re people, and who we are is ok.

And for professionals - please understand that when you refuse to acknowledge disability, you are teaching people with disabilities to be ashamed of themselves. This is probably not your intention, but it’s an inevitable consequence of making disability unspeakable.

It is much better to tell the truth. It is much better to support us in understanding who we really are, than to push us to believe in an impossible dream. I could dream of flying or playing baseball, but it wouldn’t get me anywhere. By living in the real world and working with the body I actually have, I can do things that matter. And so can all of your clients. There is no need for silence, evasion, or shame. Disability is important, and it’s much easier to live with when we can face it honestly.

thetallestofhobbits said:

All of this is why I try really hard to be straightforward with my students. I know how it feels to hear the Try for Try’s Sake speech, and I hated it.

When my kids say, “I can’t do this” or, “I suck at this,” I try to say, “I can help you do it ” or, “Let’s see if we can use what you’ve done.”

Disability professionals police language because the narrative is that if a disabled kid gets into the habit of thinking “negatively” about their level of ability related to a particular skill or subject, they will lose the motivation to attempt it, and because accessible education does not keep pace with the attitudes of disability communities about what we as members believe is reasonable about supporting full and equal access to education, we are often forced to police attitudes because we as professionals can’t be seen to “enable” a disabled person’s “failure” by not pushing them to try.

In no way do I mean to imply that this attitude is healthy or positive. It is not. But, until the narrative about supporting disabled people changes to more accurately reflect the attitudes of actual disabled people instead of abled people who think they speak for us, we’re stuck with this.

Access straw men

A lot of people are reluctant to change anything for the sake of accessibility, even if the change would be inexpensive and easy. Often, they resist even considering the possibility that there are changes they could make that would enable a broader range of people to participate.

Often, they set up access strawmen as a way to avoid negotiating access. 

Those conversations go like this:

  • The disabled person asks for a modification of some sort.
  • The resistant person ignores the actual request.
  • They instead describe something vaguely related that’s obviously unreasonable.
  • Then they insinuate that the disabled person asked them for the obviously unreasonable thing
  • They implore the disabled person to be more flexible and reasonable
  • The disabled person generally doesn’t get their needs met, and often ends up disoriented and feeling a lot of shame

An example:

  • Douglas: I can’t climb stairs. I need class to be held in a room on the first floor.
  • Roger: It sounds like what you really need is for all the buildings to be rebuilt for you. I can’t rebuild all the buildings; I have to focus on teaching.

Or sometimes:

  • Dawn: I can only read lips if people are looking at me. Can we talk about how to make class discussions work?
  • Robin: I can’t stop other students from talking to each other. Why don’t you take this opportunity to work on your listening skills?

When a person with a disability asks for an accommodation in school, work, a conference, or wherever, don’t set up a straw man to reject. Respond to the actual problem, and try to find a solution. Is there  a way to do the thing they’re asking for? If not, why not? Is there something else you *could* do that would work? Occasionally there is no good solution; more often, there is a way to make things work. When people in positions of responsibility are willing to look for access solutions and put effort into implementing them, a lot of things become possible.

Uncertain abilities and the right to fail

Being disabled often means being unable to reliably predict what you will and won’t be able to do. Or whether something will be hard or easy. Sometimes this is for physical reasons; sometimes it’s because of how people treat us; often it’s both.

For instance, taking a class might involve uncertainty about any or all of these things (and lots of other things that I didn’t think of):

  • Am I cognitively capable of learning the material?
  • Am I physically capable of doing everything the class requires?
  • Will anyone be willing to do the group work with me in a way that makes it possible?
  • Will I be well enough to come to class regularly?
  • Will I live long enough to get the chance to apply what I learn in the class to my work?
  • Do I have the executive functioning to do this when I’m also doing other things?
  • Will the class material be so triggering that I dissociate frequently and miss a lot of what’s going on?
  • If I miss material for disability-related reasons, will there be a way to make it up?
  • Will I be able to get into the classroom?
  • Will I be able to stay in the classroom safely?
  • Will the teacher want me there?
  • Will they get me accessible materials in a timely manner?
  • Will they teacher have the skills to figure out how to teach me?
  • Will they allowed to be flexible in the ways I need them to be?
  • Will I have to fight for what I need? Will the fight be successful?

Disability typically involves a lot of uncertainty. It means that it’s often completely unknowable whether or not you will be able to do something. This means that the risk of failure is often much higher than it is for people without disabilities. If we try new things, we’ll usually fail at more of them than people without disabilities.

Sometimes people take that to mean that we should only be allowed to do things that are definitely within our abilities, to spare us the pain of failure. Or, to spare them and us the pain of having to notice that we’re disabled and that there are things we can’t do, no matter how hard we try.

This has disastrous consequences for children in special education and adults who live in the system, who may never be allowed to attempt anything harder than preschool curriculum. And, when we’re allowed in mainstream settings, we’re often terrified that failure may mean that we’ll be kicked out and sent to segregated settings.

When we’re not allowed to fail, we’re also not allowed to succeed. Because for all people, success rests on a lot of failed attempts. And because disability typically involves uncertain abilities, we usually need to make a lot more failed attempts than nondisabled people as we figure it out. Watching our peers succeed at things we fail at can be painful. So can trying really hard and finding that something we wanted to do is not possible for us. So can finding that something is dramatically more difficult for us than anyone else we know. That pain is real; it’s also bearable. We can fail and be ok. We can bump up against our limitations and be ok. We don’t need to live in cages full of easy tasks to avoid these things.

Tl;dr Being disabled means we often can’t reliably predict what we can and can’t do. (Or how hard something will be.) Finding the things we can do well often involves trying and failing at a lot of things.  The only way to find out is by trying things. Sometimes people try to prevent us from ever trying anything because they think that the pain of failure is unbearable. When we’re not allowed to fail, we’re not allowed to succeed either. We need space to fail without shame or punishment, so that we can find the things that we can do. It’s ok to be disabled. It’s ok to not know what you can do. It’s ok to try things that you might fail at. It’s ok to fail and keep trying, or to give up and try something else. It’s ok to decide that it’s not a good time to take those kinds of risks. We all learn to calibrate when to take these risks and when not to, and these are decisions that we need to be allowed to make.

Executive dysfunction and teachers

we-aint-borntypical asked: Sorry if this is late, but how do I tell my teachers about my executive dysfunction and how it affects my ability to do assignments?

realsocialskills said:

I think the most important thing you can do is accept that the problem is real, and that it’s ok to need help.

It can be hard to accept that executive dysfunction is real. It can be very tempting to feel like if we just try harder or wait long enough, it will somehow work out. And some percentage of the time that does work — which can make it seems like it will *always* work if we try hard enough. But it doesn’t work that way, and expecting it to causes a lot of problems.

Executive dysfunction means that sometimes there are insurmountable barriers to doing things completely independently. Sometimes this can happen with things that our culture says are easy and that you may not have heard of anyone having trouble with. It can be hard to come to terms with that. It gets easier with practice.

More directly about managing relationships with teachers, I’ve found two things helpful: I try to err heavily on the side of asking for help as soon as I’m feeling stuck, and I also try to select instructors based on understanding and/or cognitive compatibility.

If you’re facing an assignment and can’t figure out how to make progress on it, it’s good to err on the side of asking for help immediately. This can be hard to do, especially if you feel ashamed or like you don’t have a good reason. It’s actually ok though, and it gets easier with practice.

It’s normal to need help sometimes, even if the reasons you need it are unusual. All teachers have students who need help. Good teachers understand this and consider needing help normal. (Not all teachers are good, but many are). A lot of teachers care about helping their students, and it’s usually a lot easier for them to do that if you ask sooner rather than later. (It also saves you the time you’d waste trying to do something impossible through sheer force of will.)

If you can, it helps to explain in concrete terms what you are having trouble with, and what you think would help. (If you don’t know what would help, the concrete request might be “Can we meet to talk about this assignment?”). I think that it usually helps to err on the side of talking about concrete problems rather than abstract concepts like executive dysfunction.

For instance, I think “I’m having trouble getting started on this assignment. Could you help me narrow down my topic?” is usually more effective than “Executive dysfunction makes this assignment hard for me, what should I do?”. That said, if the latter is the only way you can ask for help in a particular situation, don’t wait until you know a better way. It’s ok to ask for help imperfectly; it’s ok to need help even if you’re not sure what help you need.

Not all teachers will be good at helping you. Some won’t be willing, some some won’t know how. Some will be inconsistent. But a good percentage of teachers *are* skilled at helping. If you have a choice about who your teachers are, it’s good to err on the side of picking teachers who are good at helping.

Also, some teachers are going to be inherently more cognitively compatible with you than others. Different teachers do instruction and assessment differently. If you have a choice, it can be good to err on the side of taking classes with teachers who give assignments that are more reliably possible for you.

Aside from attributes of teachers — asking for help effectively is a set of skills. One of those skills is the emotional skill of feeling ok about the fact that you need help. Another is assessing what’s going on and figuring out what your needs are. Another is expressing it to teachers in a way that they can understand and act on readily. And there are other skills I’m not sure how to explain. No one is born knowing how to do these things, and they all get easier with practice.

tl;dr Executive dysfunction makes school complicated. Taking classes with teachers who teach in a way that makes cognitive sense to you can help, when you have a choice. It can be hard to ask for help, and hard to feel ok about needing help. That’s a set of skills, and it gets a lot easier with practice.

A thought on making difference ok

alv529:

mmmyoursquid:

realsocialskills:

One issue with accommodations and modifications in school, is that it can often be hard to avoid stigma. Kids don’t usually like being singled out or doing things conspicuously differently. Also, nondisabled kids often resent it when disabled kids are allowed to do things that they are not allowed to do.

Further, one frequent objection to accommodations is “but if I let one kid do this, then all the other kids will want to.”

Sometimes that’s true — and, often, the best solution to that problem is to just let all the kids do whatever the thing is. Sometimes there’s no good reason to restrict access to something. Sometimes changing the rule works better than making exceptions to it.

One way that something works to correct this problem is to make some of their accommodations available to other kids who would like to try them. The kid who has a documented need for accommodations probably isn’t the only one who would benefit from them.

And even aside from that, it’s good for kids to explore the world and experiment with different ways of doing things. This is a good way to learn that difference is normal, and that doing things differently is a basic fact of life.

For instance, if one kid needs to use manipulatives for math, maybe try making manipulatives available to all the kids.

If one kid needs a large print worksheet, maybe make a few large print copies and let kids try doing it that way.

If one kid needs to chew stuff, maybe make things available for other kids to chew.

If one kid needs to use fidget toys, maybe make them available to all the kids who would like to try it.

If one kid needs to type, and you have the resources to make that available to other kids too, maybe let them try doing assignments that way. And let the kids that works better for continue to do it.

And, beyond that, it helps to get in the habit of providing different ways to do things even when there isn’t a kid who needs them as a specific accommodation.

Not in the sense of “take a walk in the disabled kid’s shoes”, this is not a disability simulation. The point shouldn’t be empathy building, and it should not be presented as being about the disabled kid. The message is “there are a lot of legitimate ways to do things, and it’s ok to experiment and figure out what works for you, even if most people don’t do it the same way as you”.

You can’t always do this, and you can’t always do this for everything. When you can, it helps, a lot.

mmmyoursquid said:

I think this is implied in the post, but just to make it explicit: disabled kids without diagnoses or paperwork are still disabled. You can’t accommodate them without making accommodations available to kids without paperwork.

The other stuff is right and important too, I just thought that could use highlighting.

alv529 said:

Yes to all of this. The main reason other students in my class were upset with me for being ahead of them and two of my friends for getting extra help due to dyslexia and disability? That we got to do something they didn’t get to try. Not that I was “too clever” or “thought I was better than them”, or that my friends were “bad readers”, “stupid” or “not learning fast enough”.

If the other 10-14 kids in my tiny primary school class had been allowed to try my middle school level school books, or had been allowed to try my friends’s dyslexia friendly font books, I’m absolutely certain they wouldn’t have kicked up a fuss like they did. Because they would have realised that my books were too advanced for them, and my friends’s books were basically the same as theirs, but with a different font and sometimes with shorter paragraphs.

A thought on making difference ok

One issue with accommodations and modifications in school, is that it can often be hard to avoid stigma. Kids don’t usually like being singled out or doing things conspicuously differently. Also, nondisabled kids often resent it when disabled kids are allowed to do things that they are not allowed to do.

Further, one frequent objection to accommodations is “but if I let one kid do this, then all the other kids will want to.”

Sometimes that’s true — and, often, the best solution to that problem is to just let all the kids do whatever the thing is. Sometimes there’s no good reason to restrict access to something. Sometimes changing the rule works better than making exceptions to it.

One way that something works to correct this problem is to make some of their accommodations available to other kids who would like to try them. The kid who has a documented need for accommodations probably isn’t the only one who would benefit from them.

And even aside from that, it’s good for kids to explore the world and experiment with different ways of doing things. This is a good way to learn that difference is normal, and that doing things differently is a basic fact of life.

For instance, if one kid needs to use manipulatives for math, maybe try making manipulatives available to all the kids. 

If one kid needs a large print worksheet, maybe make a few large print copies and let kids try doing it that way.

If one kid needs to chew stuff, maybe make things available for other kids to chew.

If one kid needs to use fidget toys, maybe make them available to all the kids who would like to try it.

If one kid needs to type, and you have the resources to make that available to other kids too, maybe let them try doing assignments that way. And let the kids that works better for continue to do it.

And, beyond that, it helps to get in the habit of providing different ways to do things even when there isn’t a kid who needs them as a specific accommodation. 

Not in the sense of “take a walk in the disabled kid’s shoes”, this is not a disability simulation. The point shouldn’t be empathy building, and it should not be presented as being about the disabled kid. The message is “there are a lot of legitimate ways to do things, and it’s ok to experiment and figure out what works for you, even if most people don’t do it the same way as you”.

You can’t always do this, and you can’t always do this for everything. When you can, it helps, a lot.

when a class is harder than you expected

said to :

My entire life English has been my thing - my best class, I even just started writing a novel. And AP Lang is kicking my butt up down and all around.

Advice on avoiding the soulcrushing feeling that I lost a large part of my identity to this class?

realsocialskills said:

I think it might help to remember that this class is not an ultimate test of whether you’re good at writing.

It’s one class. I don’t know why it’s kicking your butt. There are a lot of possibilities.

For instance:

New skills that don’t come naturally to you:

  • Sometimes students who are good at a particular subject expect that everything about it will always come naturally to them.
  • In the long run, that’s unlikely to be true.
  • No matter how good someone is at something, there will probably be things that are difficult, unnatural, and have a steep learning curve.
  • This can be scary the first time students experience it, particularly if they have a lot of identity hung up in being good at something.
  • Particularly if they’re young enough that their peer group might be made up of people who also haven’t experienced struggling with their strongest subject much before.
  • If that’s the issue, it might help to remember that this is normal. Everyone struggles with something related to their field in the long run. That’s ok.
  • And it also might help to remember that part of being great at something is learning how to do hard things
  • Most people who write seriously consider writing to be difficult.
  • Writing is probably going to be hard sometimes. Sometimes it’s going to feel like a miserable slog. It’s still worth doing. For a lot of writers, writing through the stuck places is a vital part of what makes good writing possible.

The class might be designed to kick your butt. Some classes are like that, eg:

  • Some teachers assign things that they know are barely possible for their students
  • The point of this is to push you hard to increase your skills dramatically over the semester
  • Teachers who do this tend to keep making the assignments harder as their students develop more skills
  • Your teacher may be assigning books they expect most or all of the students to find extremely difficult to read
  • Your teacher may be having you write in ways that they know will be very difficult
  • Or holding you to very high standards that they expect to be only barely possible for you to meet
  • Struggling with that kind of class doesn’t mean you’re bad at English
  • It means that you’re in a class where the teacher is pushing you really hard, and not giving you any chances to do anything comfortable
  • If this is a factor, it might help to remind yourself that it’s ok to struggle when you’re being asked to do difficult things

The grading standards might be more difficult than you’re used to:

  • Different teachers grade differently
  • In most classes, there’s a default grade you get if you do all the assignments more-or-less competently. In some classes, that’s an A. In others, it’s a B. In others, it’s a C.
  • If you’re having to work much harder for grades than you’re used to, it may well just mean that the scale is different.
  • (Even if it’s a teacher you’ve had before; many teachers grade AP classes more stringently).

Your classmates might be different than you’re used to:

  • Sometimes students are used to being much better than their peers at a subject
  • Then they take an advanced class, and everyone else is good at the subject too
  • Then they’re not dramatically better at it anymore, and feel like they must not be good at it after all
  • This is also common among people who are used to being at the top of their class in high school, then go on to an elite school and have peers who were also at the top of their classes
  • If this is what’s going on, it might help to try to focus on doing things well rather than doing them better than your peers
  • And to remember that if you’re around others who are strong in your subject, you can learn from them as well as the teacher
  • You don’t have to dramatically outperform everyone else for your skills to be real
  • Writing well and reading seriously matter as ends in themselves, whatever test scores say.

The class might suck:

  • Some classes are terrible and make students feel terrible.
  • The teacher might be giving you unreasonable or unclear assignments
  • The assigned books might be excruciatingly dull.
  • The writing assignments might be pointless busywork that makes you hate writing.
  • The teacher might be mean.
  • Your classmates might be mean.
  • You might have access needs that the teacher isn’t meeting.
  • Or any number of other ways classes can suck.
  • Most people who go to school for a long time deal with classes that suck sometimes.
  • If that’s the problem, it might help to keep in mind that bad classes don’t mean you’re bad, and that the class will end.

You might have a lot of other stuff going on.

  • High school is hard on a number of levels for a lot of people.
  • Particularly the last two years, in which there can be a lot of pressure to believe that your future will be ruined if you don’t push yourself superhumanly hard.
  • Life in general can be hard for all kinds of reasons.
  • Sometimes when stuff is really hard, people find things difficult that they normally are able to do easily.

Mental or physical health:

  • If you have a mental or physical health condition, that can make school harder.
  • Some mental and physical health conditions tend to start in adolescence.
  • Long-standing conditions often also change or develop complications in adolescence.
  • Health conditions in adolescence are not always diagnosed quickly or treated appropriately.
  • Even when things are managed well, they still have to be managed, and that can still complicate things a lot
  • And that’s not always acknowledged, particularly when people want to reassure you that your brain is fine and you are totally mentally normal
  • The reality is that mental and physical health problems, as well as treatment, tend to make school harder
  • It can help to remember that it’s not your fault that dealing with health is hard and takes time and can suck in other ways and makes things other than health hard sometimes.
  • Or, as one of my friends once said to me, “it turns out that brains care more about oxygen than they do about academics.”

Disability issues:

  • Sometimes students with disabilities start needing academic accommodations when their classes get harder.
  • For instance, someone who could take notes by hand in an easy class might need a computer to take notes in a hard class.
  • Someone with dyslexia who can read 20 pages a week of standard print might need to use a screenreader for a class that requires 120 pages a week.
  • When students haven’t needed accommodations before, or haven’t needed them in a while, it doesn’t always occur to anyone that they might need them now
  • (Particularly if they were pushed really hard to learn to do something in the standard way, and were able to do so for a few years before classes got harder).
  • If you have a disability or suspect that you might, it’s worth considering whether you would benefit from modifications or support.

And in general: There are any number of reasons this class could be hard. This class is not a test of whether you are good at English, whether you are good at writing, or whether you should write a novel. If you want to write, you can do that, and do it well, no matter what happens in this class.

tl;dr A lot of things can make classes hard, even in subjects you’re used to being good at. Those classes aren’t tests of whether you’re good at the subject, or whether you can keep doing the things you’re interested in. They’re just classes. It’s ok to do hard things.

Attention ≠ respect

Respect and attention get conflated a lot. They’re not actually the same thing.

When someone isn’t paying attention, it’s often assumed that they are either intentionally avoiding listening, or refusing to put any intentional effort into listening. And that, if they just respected the speaker more, they’d be paying attention.

Sometimes that’s true. And sometimes, the reason someone isn’t paying attention has nothing to do with respect. Often, it’s a neurological, psychological, or psychiatric issue. Or the result of pain or fatigue.

For instance, respecting a speaker and wanting to listen to them doesn’t cure ADHD. Cognitive attention problems caused by ADHD have to actually be accommodated and worked around. (For instance, taking medication, learning organization techniques, using captions to focus attention, collaborative note-taking, etc.)

Addressing values only helps when the problem is values. When the problem is disability; you have to address and accommodate disability in order to make progress. No amount of education in respectful attitudes will help if respect isn’t the issue.

tl;dr Please stop assuming that failure to pay attention is always a sign of contempt. Sometimes it’s just a sign of an attention problem.

When you're talking a lot and worried about how much space you are taking up

Anonymous asked:

Do you have any advice for how to facilitate participation when you’re a student who does tend to talk a lot?

I have social anxiety but when it doesn’t affect me as badly I tend to talk a lot. I’ve tried waiting for others to speak but they often don’t even if I wait 30+ seconds… And then I feel an intense urge to fill the space.

realsocialskills said:

A couple of things:

It might be ok if you’re talking more than some other students. Very few classes have everyone talking an exactly equal amount.

Different students have different preferences about how much they like to talk in class. It’s ok that some students prefer to talk more and some students prefer to talk less. It’s not always a problem. It becomes a problem if some students are taking up space in a way that prevents others from participating.

I’m not sure how to tell whether you are taking up space in a problematic way. One way might be to ask your teacher after class or in office hours if they think it’s becoming a problem. (If they do think it’s a problem, they’ll probably be glad you asked and that you care.)

Another way might be to watch whether you’re interrupting people. And if you are interrupting people, whether or not they’re shut down by your interruptions. If you’re interrupting people and that’s resulting in them not getting to make their points, that’s a problem. (Interrupting isn’t always a problem – in some cultures it’s normal and expected for people to respectfully interrupt one another and be respectfully interrupted in turn. If the class you’re in doesn’t have that culture, it’s important to be careful about interrupting.)

Here’s one strategy that might work for coping with silences without interjecting to fill them (this can also work for overcoming urges to interrupt people).

Typing or writing out what you’re having an urge to say:

  • If you type or write the reply you have an urge to make, it can calm the urge without you having to say anything
  • While you’re doing this, someone else may start talking
  • Then, if you still want to say the thing, you can take a turn and say it
  • If you don’t want to say a specific thing but are just feeling uncomfortable, typing/writing about how uncomfortable you are might work to fill the space until someone else starts talking (This works for me sometimes; it seriously backfires for other people. Your milage may vary; trust your own judgment about whether it will be helpful or harmful to you).
  • This can work even in a seminar class when not everyone is taking notes
  • (It may be more socially accepted in that context to use an iPad than a laptop, because you’re significantly less likely to be perceived as goofing off on Facebook with an iPad)

tl;dr Talking more than some other students in a class isn’t always a problem in itself. It’s a problem if the way or the amount you talk prevents others from participating. Typing out stuff you’re thinking of saying before you say it can make it easier to refrain from interrupting people and from rushing to fill silences.

7 second rule

If you’re leading a group discussion or teaching a class, it’s important to pause for questions periodically. Part of pausing for questions is giving people time to react before moving on. People can’t respond instantaneously; they need time to react. If you don’t give them time to react, it can give you an inaccurate impression of their level of interest or engagement.


Eg:

  • Leader: Does anyone have any questions?
  • Group: …
  • Leader: Ok, moving on. 

When this happens, it’s not usually because no students had questions. It’s usually because the teacher didn’t give them enough time to process before moving on. It doesn’t actually take a huge amount of time, but there has to be some. A good amount of time to wait is seven seconds. If you wait seven seconds before moving on, someone will usually say something.


Seven seconds can feel like a really long time when you are teaching. It can feel like an awkward empty space that, as the teacher, you’re supposed to be filling. That can lead to interactions like this:

  • Leader: I just said a controversial thing. What do you think of the thing?
  • Group: …
  • Leader (immediately):… none of you have opinions about this?
  • Group: …
  • Leader: (immediately):… Really? No one?

When this happens, it’s usually not that no one had anything to say. It’s usually that the leader or teacher kept interrupting them while they were trying to get words together and respond. It’s easy to inadvertently do this, because it feels like you’re supposed to be doing something to get your students to respond. But, often, the best thing you can do to get them to respond is to wait and give them space to do it in.


It helps to remember that as the teacher or leader, you shouldn’t actually be taking up all of the space. You should also be offering your students some space and listening to them, and allowing them to ask you questions so they can understand. It’s ok if that space isn’t immediately filled; no one can react instantaneously. 


If you wait seven seconds every time you pause for questions/responses, it gives people time to process, and some people will become capable of participating who weren’t before.

Dealing with isolation at school

Anonymous said to :

What do I do if my friends are rude to me constantly but they’re my only friends and I literally cannot make friends with anyone else cause I have a v v v small school and they’re the only people around my age? It hurts a lot and I get overlooked a lot and when I try to say something I get ignored or told to shut up:

realsocialskills said:

A couple of things:

These other people at your school might not be your friends. People who dislike you and are mean to you aren’t actually friends. Friends are people who you like, and who like you back. Friends are people who respect you and who you respect. Friends are people who are, generally speaking, nice to you (no one is perfectly nice all the time; everyone is mean or obnoxious occasionally. But people who are intentionally cruel are not friends. They’re bullies).

If people don’t like you, don’t want you around, and are mean to you, that’s probably not something you can change. It’s not usually possible to persuade people to be your friends or be nice to you if they don’t already want to.

Something you can sometimes do is assert boundaries. Sometimes if people are nice to you sometimes but not other times, you can limit your interactions to contexts in which they are nice.

eg:

  • If students in your school are nice when adults are looking and mean when they’re not, it might be best to limit your interactions to closely supervised settings (eg: hang out with them in the lunch room and not outdoors during breaks) 
  • Some people are nice in mixed-gender grounds but mean in single-gender groups, or vice versa. If you notice that pattern, it might be worth paying attention to the gender composition of a group you’re trying to hang out with
  • Some people are nice one on one, but mean in groups. It can sometimes be worth making a point of hanging out with those people only individually.

That said: Being isolated at school is horrible, but I think that being socially intertwined with people who are mean to you is a lot worse (I’ve experienced both). I’m not you and I can’t tell you what you should do - you are the best judge of that. But, from my perspective, I think you would probably be better off seeking friends elsewhere. That’s probably possible even if you’re in a small school.

Friends don’t have to be people who go to your school. Friends don’t have to be your age. Friends don’t have to be people you see in person. There are other ways to have friends.

I’m assuming that you’re a teenager and that you don’t have very much control over your life right now. I don’t know which of these suggestions are realistic for you, but probably some of them are:

One option you almost certainly have is to make friends online. Internet friends are real friends, and can be much better friends than people you know in person who are mean to you. If you take those relationships seriously as friendships, it will probably substantially improve your social life. One good way to meet people online is by participating in a fandom. If you really like something, finding other people to talk to online about that thing can be a good way to make friends and have fun interacting with people. If you’re being actively bullied at school, or if your parents are hostile, it’s probably best to do this in forums that don’t require you to use your real name. (Eg: Tumblr is likely better for this than Facebook.)

Another option is to join a club or group that takes you out of your school, or to take a class outside of school. For instance, many people enjoy the Boy Scouts or the Girl Scouts. (Unlike Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts is a secular organization and is not actively hostile to gay and trans kids.) It doesn’t work for everyone, but some people who are very socially isolated in school have a good time socially in the scouts or in other clubs.

If there is a community center in your area, you might be able to play a sport or take an art class. It doesn’t have to be a class specifically for people your age - it can be really, really good to meet people of a range of ages, especially if you have trouble connecting with people your own age. If you find a group of people doing a thing you like, you’re likely to have more friends than if you’re just relying on people who go to your school.

If you’re in high school, taking college classes at a local community college might also be an option. That might be both more interesting than what you’re doing at school, and a way to meet people who don’t go to your school and might be nicer than you. (It doesn’t always work that way, but it does for some people.)

Another option is to volunteer. Is there a cause in your area that you care about? It might be worth finding out if there’s anything that you can do to help them. Again, that could bring you into contact with other people who care about the same things you care about, and it might be something people with power over your life would approve of. Volunteering to visit elderly people might also be something you could do. There are a lot of isolated elderly people who don’t use computers who want social contact, and some of them are really awesome. Some groups that match people accept teenagers as volunteers. (Again, not for everyone, but this is a good thing for some people.)

If you’re religious or your family is, there might be things you can get involved in at your place of worship that you’d enjoy and that would expand your social options beyond kids your age at your school. If you have a youth group that is largely populated by the same kids who are mean to you at school, it might be better to get involved in something else. For instance, there might be a social action or charitable group that you could join. Or an all-ages study group. (Definitely not for everyone, especially not if religion is something you’re unpleasantly coerced into participating in. But can be good for some people.)

tl;dr Mean people aren’t good friends. It’s usually better to seek out the company of people who are nice to you than to try to make friends with mean people. Even if you are young and go to a tiny school, there are options for finding friends. Scroll up for some ideas.

Anyone else want to weigh in? How do you cope with being surrounded by mean people at school? How do you find friends?

y-shaped pens for people who have trouble with handwriting

aura218 replied to your post “lillivati answered your question “Math without handwriting?” If they…”

Have you tried the pens that are y-shaped? You can get them at accessibility stores like funandfunction.com. You put your index over the u-shape top and hold onto the stem with your thumb and middle. Idk if that would help.

realsocialskills said:

Here’s one on Amazon.

mr-muppetface:

Math without handwriting?

realsocialskills:

realsocialskills:

said to :

Do you or your followers know any math programs for people with hand pain? It’s very painful for me to handwrite, but I can’t understand math without doing problems over and over.

I’m not sure what to suggest; hopefully other people who read this…

mr-muppetface said:

I work in the academic resource center of a college, and I’ve helped a student with this very issue.

My first recommendation, on a PC, is Dragon Dictation paired with MathTalk. These two pieces of software have a fair bit of a learning curve and require purchasing, but once you’ve set them up, you can dictate mathematical expressions simply by talking!

If that doesn’t work, MathType (also on PC) allows you to write expressions with your keyboard and an on-screen toolbar.

It’s worth mentioning that neither of these methods, in my experience at least, allows the fluidity and spontaneity of working out problems by hand, since you have to think about what you’re going to say or type before you do so. That’s a real potential disadvantage, and I don’t know of any good ways to circumvent that.

If you’re a student and haven’t done so already, I strongly recommend checking in with your school’s academic support center or related office to see if they can help you out!

Tell students whether they will be expected to share writing

Students write very differently based on different expectations about whether they will have to share it. For instance, these are all different kinds of writing:

  • Writing that is just for their own processing
  • Writing that only the instructor will read
  • Writing that will be shared with peers, but not seen by the instructor
  • Writing that will be shared with both the instructor and peers
  • Writing that will be graded
  • Writing that will not be graded

When students have to show work to people they weren’t expecting to show it to, that can be embarassing. It can be embarassing because it contains information they’d rather not share widely, or because it isn’t yet polished to an extent that makes them comfortable showing it to others.


To give an example:

  • Teacher: Ok, everyone, take 40 minutes and write a short story about a childhood pet.
  • (40 minutes later)
  • Teacher: Ok, pass your story to the person sitting next to you. Everyone check everyone else’s grammar. 
  • This makes several students very uncomfortable, for these reasons:
  • Bob is terrible at grammar and insecure about it. He focused on getting a draft of the story first, not expecting that someone would be taking a red pen to his grammar mistakes. He would have focused on grammar if he’d known it would be a grammar exercise. 
  • Susan’s story is about a time her dog ripped up her favorite doll and made her cry. She doesn’t want all of her peers to know that story because some of them will tease her about it. She would have written something less private if she’d known peers would see it.
  • James couldn’t think of a story about his pets and spent the whole time writing how frustrated he was that he couldn’t do the assignment. He doesn’t want his classmate to see that he failed at the assignment.
  • Val didn’t have a real pet and so she wrote about an imaginary robot. She doesn’t know if that counts or not, and is afraid that another student will think she did it wrong.
  • Bruce decided to write a story in a style he’d never tried before, and isn’t happy with the result. He doesn’t want to show his first attempt to a peer. He would have done something he was more familiar with if he’d known.

tl;dr: When you assign writing assignments to your students, tell them who will be reading them. In particular, if students will be expected to show their work to peers, warn them ahead of time so that they can make an informed choice about what to write.

On being in school and working

anonymous asked:
What are some ways to balance work and school? Cus I’m working 25 to 30 hours a week and taking only three classes and I’m still behind. I don’t know how some people work fulltime AND go to school fulltime while paying rent and having kids.

realsocialskills said:

I don’t know how people balance that kind of schedule with school/kids/work. I think that it’s nearly impossible and that most people couldn’t do it.

Here are a couple of things I do know about passing classes under time pressure:

Choose your classes carefully:

  • Not all classes are equally time-consuming.
  • If you’re working a lot of hours, it’s probably better not to take all the really time-consuming classes in the same semester
  • (Eg: if you’re taking a class that has five papers, or lots of complicated programming assignments, it might be better not to take others than are like that at the same time).
  • It can also go a lot better to select classes based on who is teaching them rather than based on which description theoretically looks best
  • Classes go much more smoothly with teachers you’re readily compatible with
  • (particularly if you tend to need a lot of help)

Consider taking classes that are relevant to your work:

  • If some of what you’re working on at work can inform your class assignments, that makes life a lot easier
  • For instance, it’s much easier to write a paper on something you’ve researched for work than it is to research something else *and* what you have to work on at work
  • And more generally: if the concepts you’re learning in school are related to and overlapping with what you think about at work, it will be much less time consuming than if you have to do both separately
  • This can be true even if your work isn’t particularly intellectual on the face of it. No matter what your job is, it involves knowing things, and classes are easier if you can make knowing those things relevant.

It is possible to pass classes without doing all of the reading:

  • Most people don’t do all of the reading (except in seminar classes in which most of class consists of an in-depth group discussion of the reading). 
  • If you are struggling to keep up, you may well be doing more of the reading than you should be.
  • It’s worth learning how to skim text in order to get the basic ideas
  • When a teacher cites something a lot in class, it’s generally worth reading it again after more closely

Having a study group or partner helps in several ways:

  • Perspective from other people can make it easier to tell whether you’re understanding what you need to understand
  • It can also make it easier to tell whether you’re doing *more* work than you need to in order to keep up and pass.
  • You can also pool knowledge. There will always be things that some people get and some people miss, and some people talk about it.
  • Meeting with others at a set time to do the work for a class can stop it from expanding to fill all available space
  • Even if you don’t have a regular study group, sometimes you can organize review sessions before tests. Those can also be helpful in similar ways.

Anyone want to weigh in? How do you pass classes when your schedule is very difficult?

On being in school and working

dinosaurusrachelus:

realsocialskills:

What are some ways to balance work and school? Cus I’m working 25 to 30 hours a week and taking only three classes and I’m still behind. I don’t know how some people work fulltime AND go to school fulltime while paying rent and having kids.

realsocialskills said:

I don’t know how people balance that kind of schedule with school/kids/work. I think that it’s nearly impossible and that most people couldn’t do it.

Here are a couple of things I do know about passing classes under time pressure:

Choose your classes carefully:

  • Not all classes are equally time-consuming.
  • If you’re working a lot of hours, it’s probably better not to take all the really time-consuming classes in the same semester
  • (Eg: if you’re taking a class that has five papers, or lots of complicated programming assignments, it might be better not to take others than are like that at the same time).
  • It can also go a lot better to select classes based on who is teaching them rather than based on which description theoretically looks best
  • Classes go much more smoothly with teachers you’re readily compatible with
  • (particularly if you tend to need a lot of help)

Consider taking classes that are relevant to your work:

  • If some of what you’re working on at work can inform your class assignments, that makes life a lot easier
  • For instance, it’s much easier to write a paper on something you’ve researched for work than it is to research something else *and* what you have to work on at work
  • And more generally: if the concepts you’re learning in school are related to and overlapping with what you think about at work, it will be much less time consuming than if you have to do both separately
  • This can be true even if your work isn’t particularly intellectual on the face of it. No matter what your job is, it involves knowing things, and classes are easier if you can make knowing those things relevant.

It is possible to pass classes without doing all of the reading:

  • Most people don’t do all of the reading (except in seminar classes in which most of class consists of an in-depth group discussion of the reading).
  • If you are struggling to keep up, you may well be doing more of the reading than you should be.
  • It’s worth learning how to skim text in order to get the basic ideas
  • When a teacher cites something a lot in class, it’s generally worth reading it again after more closely

Having a study group or partner helps in several ways:

  • Perspective from other people can make it easier to tell whether you’re understanding what you need to understand
  • It can also make it easier to tell whether you’re doing *more* work than you need to in order to keep up and pass.
  • You can also pool knowledge. There will always be things that some people get and some people miss, and some people talk about it.
  • Meeting with others at a set time to do the work for a class can stop it from expanding to fill all available space
  • Even if you don’t have a regular study group, sometimes you can organize review sessions before tests. Those can also be helpful in similar ways.

Anyone want to weigh in? How do you pass classes when your schedule is very difficult?

dinosaurusrachelus said:

Oh hey, I did this for a while. Anon & others in similar situations, feel free to ask me stuff in my ask box if any of this sounds helpful or relevant.

For three semesters I had a full-time course schedule while working a retail job about 10-20 hours a week plus a few other side jobs on campus. My senior year I had a ¾ full class schedule while also working 20 hours a week in an office job off campus and 40+ hours per week on campus.

Unlike a lot of other students who work through college, I was actually well-supported by my parents and not in a precarious financial situation - I just wanted to build up work experience and be involved in a lot of things. I think most of this will still apply regardless, but it’s possible I have blinders on there and if so, I apologize. I also did not have kids, which might negate some of this too.

So here’s my advice.

If at all possible, find ways to study during work:

  • I think this is probably easier in retail or service jobs, where the tasks you’re doing are repetitive and leave room for your brain to think. I would often use my work shifts to study for tests, just by going over concepts in my head. Sometimes, I would even do readings at my checkstand (on late shifts when I didn’t have a manager there) or bring out flashcards.
  • Use your breaks. Even if it’s just 10 minutes (which is usually what’s required by law), pull out a textbook, skim a section of reading or look over some notes you can think about during the next part of your shift.
  • If you have a big assignment or test coming up, you might be able to talk to your manager about it. My manager once scheduled me to work the night before a midterm after I’d explicitly asked for the day off. He said he couldn’t change the schedule, so I asked him if it would be okay for me to have my book and notes at my register and review them when I didn’t have customers, and he agreed to it. Obviously you don’t want to seem unreliable, but asking for a small accommodation like that once in a while shouldn’t be a big deal if you have a decent manager and are otherwise a good worker.

Make school work around your work schedule:

  • You should have at least 2 days a week where you’re not working (maybe even 3 if you’re not quite full time). Set aside blocks of time on those days to tackle big assignments - papers, studying for upcoming tests, etc. Think of them as your second job, and try really hard not to let other things interrupt time you’ve set aside to study.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk to your teachers/professors. If they have office hours, go in early in the semester, explain that you’re also working and discuss any challenges you think that might pose. Many (not all, but many) will think it’s really admirable you’re trying to go to school while also working, and will be interested in helping to accommodate you if you need something minor, especially if you ask them well in advance.
  • For example, I was able to take a biology test a day late (or early maybe, I don’t remember) because the exam was at 8 a.m. on a day after I got off work at 11. I think it’s helpful to ask in a way that suggests you understand it’s an imposition (eg. “I know this isn’t something that’s normally done, but I was wondering if there’s any possibility I might be able to take the test on x day instead”)
  • You might also see if you can find out what assigned readings are in advance (if they’re not all listed on a syllabus) and try to do the next week’s readings in advance during your off-days from work. I got into a schedule where I tackled a ton of homework on the weekend rather than doing a little bit each night on weeknights, which was what most students did.

Be really, really organized and efficient:

  • A lot of students spend forever on homework or assignments because they don’t have good study skills. That means you need to have really solid study skills to make up for your lack of time.
  • At the beginning of the semester/year, take a look at your schedule. Make a calendar of all due dates (I cannot stress this enough) - every paper, every exam, everything you know about in advance. If those items aren’t listed on the course syllabus, ask the professor.
  • Once you make the calendar, notice any times that are likely to be academically stressful (eg. three papers due the same week, midterms, whatever). Since you’ll be doing this well in advance, see if you can either a) adjust your work schedule to accommodate (maybe work fewer hours that week) or b) get some of the work done in advance (see below).
  • Set your own due dates. I once had three papers due on the same Friday, which was absolutely not going to work with my hectic schedule. So, I assigned myself my own due dates and treated them just as seriously as the ones my professors gave me. We had the prompts for the papers well in advance. I made one paper due the Monday at the beginning of the week, one on Wednesday and one on Friday and I stuck with those deadlines. That forced me to focus and work efficiently, and also prevented me from having some kind of sleep-deprived breakdown Thursday night.
  • If your school has an academic counselor or academic resource center, make a visit there early in the semester/year to get advice for improving your study and work habits.

Make other things less stressful:

  • My college had a club for first generation and working class college students. There could also be groups out there for non-traditional students (ie. students who are older than their early 20s) or students who are parents. See if there’s anything like that out there and what resources they might have. The group’s faculty advisor would also be a good source of support an ideas, and if nothing else, not feeling alone is so helpful and important.
  • If you’re in college, especially at a residential college, take advantage of the free food that’s often at events. (If you’re working during events, see if a friend can grab something for you.) I think about 50% of my meals senior year were discretely taken from events with food. Not having to cook as much frees up a lot of time for studying/work (and is cheaper!)

Try to avoid becoming miserable (this was always the hardest part for me):

  • Don’t do things like pulling regular all-nighters or working around the clock all the time. It might seem efficient, but it will make you exhausted and make it so much harder to do work and school.
  • Don’t feel guilty about taking the occasional day off after you’ve finished a major assignment or project. You don’t want to burn out, and you need rest and social time just like every other human being.
  • Give yourself breaks. Ten minutes an hour, 15 every two, whatever. You need to stay sharp and alert.
  • Find a friend or two who’s in the same situation and has been there who you can vent to when you need it.