social skills for teachers

You may be saying that about your student’s parent

Content note: This post is mostly intended for k-12 classroom teachers, but probably applies to other groups as well.

When you teach, it’s really important to be mindful of the fact that people from all walks of life have children. 

When you say something about a particular group of people, you may be saying it about a student’s mother, father, or parent. It’s important to keep that in mind when making decisions about how to discuss things. (Including things that it’s 100% your job to teach your class about).


When you express an opinion about a group of people, your student may hear it as “I think this about your mother”, “I think this about your father”, or “I think this about you and your family.” Don’t forget that, and don’t assume that you will always know who is in the room.

It’s worth speaking with the assumption that there are people in the room who know a member of the group you’re talking about personally. When you’re working with kids, it’s worth speaking with the assumption that this person might be their parent or someone in a parental role.

This is important whether what you’re saying is positive, negative, or neutral. If you speak in a way that assumes that what you’re saying is theoretical for everyone, it can make it very hard for a child to whom it is personal to trust you. And you can’t assume that you will always know a child’s family situation, or that you will always know how a child feels about it.

For instance:


  • Many parents are in prison, have been imprisoned in the past, are facing trial, are on probation, have been arrested, have been accused of crimes, have been convicted, are on house arrest, are facing some other kind of court-ordered punishment or similar.
  • Many parents are police officers, prison guards, judges, prosecutors, probation officers, or in a related role.
  • Many parents (and children) have been the victims of violent crimes. (Including crimes committed by police officers.) Some children may have lost parents this way.
  • All of these people are parents, and most of their children go to school.
  • Some of their kids may be in your class, and you may not know this.
  • Even if you do know about the situation, you probably don’t know how they feel about it.
  • Kids have all kinds of feelings about all of these things (including, often, complicated mixed feelings).
  • If you want to talk about prison issues, crime, justice, legal reform, or any of that, it’s important to keep in mind that whatever you say about one of these groups of people, you may be saying it about a student’s parent.
  • And that you don’t know how they feel. 
  • Speak in a way that gives them space to have opinions, and to be both personally affected and part of the class.
  • If you say “we” and mean “people who aren’t personally connected to this issue”, kids are likely to feel that you are distancing yourself from them and their parents.
  • It’s better to speak with the assumption that what you’re saying applies to the parents of one of your students, and that they may have complicated thoughts and feelings about this.

Similarly:

  • People of all races have children of all races. When you say something about a racial group, you may be saying it about a student’s parent.
  • People with all kinds of disabilities have children. When you say things about disabled people or disabilities, you may be saying it about a student’s parent.
  • (Including blind people, deaf people, autistic people, people with intellectual disabilities, wheelchair users, people with conditions that usually shorten lifespan, and every other kind of disability).
  • When you talk about teenage pregnancy, keep in mind that some students may have parents who were teenagers when they were born.
  • People of all political opinions, including abhorrent opinions, have children. When you say something about members of a political group, you may be saying it about a student’s parent.
  • People who work at McDonalds have children. When you talk about McDonalds workers and people in similar roles, it’s extremely likely that you’re talking about a student’s parent. (Especially if you teach in a public school).
  • Many people who do sex work have children. If you say something about strippers, porn stars, escorts, phone sex operators, dominatrixes, or whoever else, you may be saying it about someone’s mother, father, or parent.
  • People of all faiths and ethnicities have children (who may or may not be raised in their faith). If you say something about a religion or its followers, you may be saying it about the parent of one of your students.
  • And so on.

Being more abstract again:

  • People from all walks of life have kids, and you may be teaching some of their kids.
  • Keep that in mind.
  • Whatever you say about a group of people, you may be saying it about your student’s mother, father, or parent.
  • If you speak about it like it’s an abstract issue that couldn’t apply to anyone in the room, it’s likely to be really alienating.
  • This is true even if what you say is positive or sympathetic.
  • Kids need to be seen and acknowledged. If you speak as though they’re not there, it gets harder for them to trust you.
  • When you speak about a group of people, speak with the assumption that at least one student in the room has a parent who is a member of that group.

(To be clear: I’m not saying don’t talk about these issues. Sometimes it’s 100% your job to talk about these issues. What I am saying is, keep in mind that it may be personal, that you may be talking about a student’s parent, and that you won’t always know that this is the case. Taking this into account makes it possible to teach everyone in the room.)

tl;dr When you’re teaching, keep in mind that the kids in your class probably have parents, and that you don’t know everything about their parents. Their parents may come from any and every walk of life. Keep this in mind when you talk about issues and groups. You may well be talking about a student’s mother, father, family, or parent. 

A thought on inclusive teaching

When you teach a class or lead a discussion, participation is often easy for some people and hard for others.

People who find participation easy will tend to talk a lot and ask a lot of questions. They can really easily fill up all the space with their confidence and their speech. This can result in people who struggle to participate feeling like they have no way to say anything. (This is not necessarily anyone’s fault.)

It is possible to create space for them in several ways. They all start from presuming competence. Specifically - start from the presumption that people who aren’t participating have worthwhile things to say, and 

They also start by paying attention to who is and isn’t participating. If you notice whose voices are absent, it becomes easier to find ways to include them.

Some specifics:

It can help to call on people specifically when you notice they’re not saying things, in a low-pressure way:

  • Say you notice that Susan hasn’t said anything in the discussion
  • You can say, “Susan, would you like to add something?” or
  • “Susan, what do you think?”
  • If you’re not asking for an answer to a particular question, and you ask in a non-demanding tone, this can be a good way to give people a chance to talk
  • Particularly if you wait a few seconds after asking, and take no for an answer (whether it’s a stated no or an implied no)

It can help to ask in a more general way:

  • Sometimes the conversation is dominated by a few people 
  • You can often address this by saying something like
  • “Would anyone who has not said anything yet like to say something?” or
  • “I’d like to hear from people who haven’t spoken.”
  • This lets people who aren’t speaking up know that you care about what they have to say without putting individual pressure on anyone
  • It also lets people who are taking up the space know that you’d like to make sure you hear from everyone

It helps to be available through email:

  • Some people who care deeply about the subject and want to participate aren’t able to do so in real time
  • If they are better at using email, being available by email will make it possible for them to participate
  • (It might also make it easier for them to tell you about barriers to their participation)

People who teach: What have y'all seen work well for people who want to participate but find it difficult? 

People who find it difficult to participate: What have teachers done that made it easier for you? What made it harder?

Age-appropriate interaction with autistic people

Hello, I am a teacher. I wanted to say thank you for your posts. I work with one student who is autistic and not quite non-verbal, but speaks very little.
I found myself talking to her as if she were much younger than she is because I had no way of telling if she was understanding. Your posts have helped me to understand that even though she doesn’t speak, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t understand, and even if she doesn’t, I should still treat her like the 12-year-old she is

On Wednesday I spoke to her to let her know that I was wrong to have spoken to her like a little kid, and that I would now be speaking to her like a twelve-year-old. She seemed pleased. I have ASD traits myself, but I’ve never been non-verbal (even when I couldn’t speak, I still signed), so I didn’t really understand that non-verbal doesn’t mean not understanding necessarily. Thank you.

realsocialskills said:
Oh wow. That is heartening to hear. It’s wonderful that you realized that it was wrong to talk to her like a young child, and that you apologized. That is such an important sign of respect for her. Thank you for taking this seriously, and thank you for telling me about this.

I want to add that, in addition to talking to her like a 12 year old, you probably need to develop better skills at listening to her like a 12 year old.

Probably most of the people you’ve known in your life who had a small expressive vocabulary or spoke only sometimes were very young children. Her speech is not like that. She is thinking much more complex things than a young child is capable of. If you’re not used to listening to nonverbal or minimally verbal folks who are not babies, you probably don’t yet know how to do so in an age-appropriate way.

So it’s not just the way you initiate talking to her that needs to change, it’s also the way you respond to what she says. She has a lot to say. Possibly through her words; possibly mostly through her actions; possibly mostly through body language. But, in any case, she is 12 years old, and she has a lot of 12 year old things to say.

You can learn how to listen to her better. It’s a matter of respect, practice, and skills you can develop. For instance:

You can get a lot of mileage out of asking yes or no questions. (For some people, it helps to prompt with “yes or no” if it seems like answering yes/no questions isn’t a skill they have all the time) Eg: “Did you bring a lunch today - yes or no?”)

You can also use other kinds of two-option questions. Eg: If you know that she wants a book but she can’t tell you which book she wants, you can put your hand in the middle of the shelf and say “Up or down?” “Left or right?” “This one?”.

You can get even more out of asking a question with an open ended and closed response. Someone who can’t give you a meaningful answer to “What do you want to do?” may well be able to answer “Do you want to draw, or do something else?” Or “Is the answer England, or something else?”

You can also listen to what she says, make guesses about what she means, tell her what your guess is, and ask if you are right. For instance “You just said juice several times. I think that might be because you want to drink juice. Do you want juice, or do you mean something else?” Or “You just said "We’re all friends here!” and you sounded angry. Are you upset about something?“ Or "You just said "Separate but equal!”. Are you talking about discrimination?“

I’ve written about listening to atypical communication here, and here, and I wrote a more general post about how to provide respectful support to an autistic student here.

For some further perspective on this, I’d highly recommend reading the blog Emma’s Hope Book. It’s a blog written by the mother of a 12 year old autistic girl whose speech is unreliable (with some posts from her as well), and they have a lot of really important things to say about how to respect people whose communication is atypical. 

tl;dr: Your student has things to say, whether or not she has figured out how to say them. She is already saying some of them (in words or otherwise), whether or not you understand her communication. The more you assume that she is trying to communicate with you, and the more you assume that what she says is worthwhile, the more you will be able to understand her and teach her in age-appropriate ways.

Students who take up a lot of space caring about the subject

Anonymous asked:
I’m a teaching assistant for a medium-large class (~80 students) at a university. One student has a habit of interrupting me or the professor when we are lecturing, which can be very disruptive. Sometimes we have to cut him off while he is speaking, which feels rude, but we have limited time to teach. He’ll also monopolize class discussions. He’s often insightful and on-point, but I want to get other students’ input too! I don’t know what to do! And I don’t want to hurt his feelings! Help?

realsocialskills said:

This sounds like a student who means well, so I’m going to answer this question with the assumption that he isn’t a jerk and isn’t taking up all the space on purpose. Some students do not mean well derail things for different reasons, but that doesn’t sound like what you’re dealing with here.

Here are my thoughts on how to deal with well-meaning students who take up too much space: 

Make time outside of class to talk to them:

  • When students are really into your subject and monopolize class time, it’s generally not because they want to shut everyone else down
  • It’s usually because they’re really into the subject and passionate about exploring the particular questions that are interesting to them
  • That’s a beautiful thing, and there needs to be space for it, but it can’t take over the whole class
  • When students derail class to discuss the questions they’re interested in, it can work well to say something like “That’s a great question, but we need to get through some other things now. Let’s talk about that during office hours.”
  • This demonstrates that you respect them and their questions and dedication to the subject, and that you will make room for it but need to make sure that the things that need to happen in class time happen
  • That only works if you mean it and follow through, though

There also might be a cultural issue. Norms about interrupting are highly culturally dependent:

  • In some cultures, the way you demonstrate that you’re respecting someone and paying attention is to take turns talking, and wait for the other person to indicate that it is now your turn. 
  • In other cultures, the way you demonstrate that you’re respecting someone and paying attention is by interrupting in on-topic ways and expecting that they will also interrupt you. 
  • It can be really frustrating to negotiate conversation with people who have radically different assumptions about how to pay attention
  • It might be that your student thinks that they are doing what they’re supposed to do, and that there’s confused with lack of response and interruption
  • If that is the problem, it might help to make expectations clearer. If the cultural divide is that wide, dropping hints and relying on politeness won’t help, but being explicit might:
  • For instance, by saying when they interrupt something like “I’ll take questions at the end”, or “Let Bob finish his point first”.
  • This demonstrates that you respect him and his interest, but that you aren’t going to allow it to take up al of the space

It’s also possible that he finds it difficult to follow what is going on:

  • I’m not sure how to describe this, but I know that I find it easy to pay attention to conversations and nearly impossible to pay attention to lectures
  • For me, the things that make it possible to pay attention to lectures are asking a lot of questions, using a strategy like collaborative note taking , or writing notes that are as much running commentary as they are taking down information.
  • He might be asking a lot of questions in order to follow what is going on
  • I’m not sure how you’d go about assessing or responding to that. I am mentioning it as a possible problem in hopes that someone else will have suggestions about what teachers can do if they suspect that a college student is having that kind of problem

No matter how you approach the situation, it’s possible that it might hurt your student’s feelings to realize that he takes up a lot of space and that it bothers people. This is not something you have complete control over. Facing up to problems like that can be painful. You shouldn’t avoid getting your class back on track in order to protect him from that kind of pain.

You should treat him and his interest in your subject with respect, and help him find ways to pursue it seriously without taking up all of the space during class. You’re probably in a position to do that. You’re not in a position to manage his emotional life.

Supporting kids who are below grade level


aura218
 said:

I’m a reading tutor for kids who are below grade level. This is a Title 1 school, which means poverty and the parents don’t speak English. The kids in my program do. I have a lot of discipline problems, ie, kids refuse to come in from recess to come to the program, kids being disruptive in group sessions. We don’t get the kids who are DIAGNOSED severely disabled. They’re all in grades 2-5. 

So, what should I  be doing to get kids who don’t want to come in from recess to come in? So far, a sticker/star reward system is helping the group sessions, but some kids still call out, interrupt me and other kids, and won’t write answers unless I tell them what to write. 

Any suggestions?

realsocialskills said:

Someone I know who does remedial reading has had success with some of these things:

Using computer or iPad reading games

  • Some kids who associate books with humiliation and failure don’t have the same association with computer-based things
  • But if you’re going to do this, make sure the games you pick are actually fun
  • It doesn’t work if it’s exactly like the thing that’s miserable for them off the computer
  • Particularly if it’s just a simulated standardized test

Having kids read plays together

  • This can work well as a group activity,
  • Particularly since all the kids are involved even when it’s not their turn to read
  • Some kids who don’t like taking turns reading stuff *do* like taking turns reading parts in a play
  • Also, again, it’s something they’re much less likely to associate with failure and humiliation
  • You can get books of kids plays that are designed for various reading levels

Use books with positive representation of kids like them:

  • Far, far too many kids books are about rich white kids
  • If all of your books are about rich white kids, you can end up inadvertently sending the message that you don’t respect your students (especially if you are white, but even if you are not)
  • Or that reading is rich and white
  • Having books that have poor kids, disabled kids, and kids of color can make a big difference
  • Particularly if they are good books
  • Particularly if they are books written by people from the same culture as the kids you teach
  • Immigrant kids come under *tremendous* pressure to assimilate and reject the cultures they came from
  • And it’s worth making an effort to make sure that what you do isn’t part of that

Do what you can to make it a safe space for kids who are struggling:

  • Do not let kids make fun of other kids
  • Do not have competitions between kids
  • Do not laugh at mistakes, even if they’re funny
  • (But do let kids laugh at *your* mistakes, even if they’re not funny)
  • Praise people for trying, not just succeeding
  • Because being willing to try over and over until you do something successfully is important
  • And for kids who have been humiliated for failing, it can be really important that you explicitly respect their efforts

Sometimes it helps to modify things in a way that work with rather than against kids’ behavior:

  • If kids are calling out, make a lesson where that’s *supposed* to happen
  • Have some time where you tell kids what to write and that’s ok
  • (And where if kids decide to not write what you tell them and to write something else, that’s also ok)
  • I can’t think of more examples offhand, but I know that this is something that people do successfully
  • Remember that the point is getting kids to learn, not getting them to obey you
  • (You do have to control the classroom to an extent - but it’s worth avoiding avoidable power struggles, and modifying your approach when kids refuse to cooperate with your initial plan isn’t a failure )

But also, are kids being pulled out of recess in order to go to extra lessons? That strikes me as inherently likely to end poorly. If that’s what’s happening, is there any way you can pull the kids out of something else instead? 

About family trees: isn’t it exactly the fact that people’s families are so different that makes such a project interesting in the first place? This might depend on the teacher - but if a teacher introduced the assignment by briefly talking about different kinds of families and gave specific suggestions about how people could draw in two sets of parents, deceased relatives etc., would you feel differently about this?
realsocialskills:
I think it would still be a really bad idea and that the reasons I described in my original post still apply.
No matter how a teacher frames this, it’s a really sensitive subject.
It’s great if teachers are sending the message that there are a lot of different kinds of families. They should send that message, and one way to do that is to assign books that show lots of different kinds of families and cultures.
It’s not good to use students as object lessons, though. Particularly if they’re dealing with something painful or socially stigmatized. 
For instance:
  • A kid who’s been in foster care since they were three and doesn’t know who their parents are shouldn’t have to decide between lying and announcing that to their whole class.
  • A kid whose mother just died might not want to talk about that.
  • A kid who has two fathers might be afraid to tell other students that, particularly if many of them are members of a faith that stigmatizes homosexuality
  • A kid who doesn’t have ready words to describe their family situation might not feel comfortable discussing this with you. They shouldn’t have to choose between lying and having a scary conversation about something personal.

thesorrowsongs:

southcarolinaboy:

warcrimenancydrew:

Merf. Thinking is Hard.: A school project not to assign

eshusplayground:

realsocialskills:

If you are a teacher, do not ask your students to make a family tree as a school assignment. *Especially* do not do this as a class art project to be posted on the wall.

A lot of kids have very complicated families, and complicated feelings about which words to use for which people.

For instance: Some kids call multiple people “mom”. Sometimes this is because they’re being raised by a lesbian couple. Sometimes this is because they are adopted and also maintaining a relationship with their mother who gave birth to them. Sometimes this is because their parents divorced and remarried and they also see their stepparents as parents. None of these relationships map easily onto a family tree project.

Some kids don’t have any parents at all. This isn’t something that they should have to tell their peers if they don’t want to. 

Some kids aren’t sure who their parents are. Is it the people who adopted them when they were a baby and disrupted when they were six? The person who gave birth to them? The people they’re living with now? The one nice staff in their group home? The person they’re in foster care with who they’re hoping will eventually adopt them? It’s complicated and not ok to ask kids to declare this in writing in front of everyone.

There are any number of emotionally fraught and complicated situations that go along with describing families. It’s not good to have kids do that as part of an assignment, unless you’re working in a context in which getting people to do emotionally fraught things is appropriate.

eshusplayground said:

Not to mention, some kids have a family history that’s been damn near erased due to enslavement and/or genocide.

warcrimenancydrew said:

and some kids come from cultures where everyone doesn’t keep long detailed family records. the last generation my parents know anything about is their grandparents (and even then, it’s minimal info), it’s pretty much silent from that point back.

southcarolinaboy said:

It’s possible that teachers assign these projects not because they believe it’s a fun and educational thing to do, but in order to find out information about the children’s families that aren’t really any of their business.

thesorrowsongs said

I remember having to do this in 7th grade and it was specifically done as a country of origin type assignment where students go up in front of the class and put markers on where their ethnic background is.

Like, looking back at it now makes me angry at the emotional rollercoaster my teacher put me through because of that assignment. That 12 year old me was forced to laugh off not knowing my ancestry (“Well obviously I’m Black so I come from somewhere in Africa) while all the little white kids had fun putting their names on “glamorous” countries like England and Sweden. 

If I could go back in time I would not only not do the assignment, but I’d draft up a letter to read off to the class that thanks to white people, their bloodthirst, and their laziness my family history is pretty much impossible to trace beyond X generations and even if I knew from exactly which locale in Africa my ancestors were torn from I’d still have no connection to that place… again thanks to all of y’alls inability to see and not take.

A school project not to assign

reinventweather:

seatentsina:

realsocialskills:

If you are a teacher, do not ask your students to make a family tree as a school assignment. *Especially* do not do this as a class art project to be posted on the wall.

A lot of kids have very complicated families, and complicated feelings about which words to use for which people.

For instance: Some kids call multiple people “mom”. Sometimes this is because they’re being raised by a lesbian couple. Sometimes this is because they are adopted and also maintaining a relationship with their mother who gave birth to them. Sometimes this is because their parents divorced and remarried and they also see their stepparents as parents. None of these relationships map easily onto a family tree project.

Some kids don’t have any parents at all. This isn’t something that they should have to tell their peers if they don’t want to. 

Some kids aren’t sure who their parents are. Is it the people who adopted them when they were a baby and disrupted when they were six? The person who gave birth to them? The people they’re living with now? The one nice staff in their group home? The person they’re in foster care with who they’re hoping will eventually adopt them? It’s complicated and not ok to ask kids to declare this in writing in front of everyone.

There are any number of emotionally fraught and complicated situations that go along with describing families. It’s not good to have kids do that as part of an assignment, unless you’re working in a context in which getting people to do emotionally fraught things is appropriate.

seatentsina said:

lol I remember having to do a project like this for Hebrew School, idek remember why. but it was super awkward and uncomfortable and embarrassing to come in with a lopsided, half-blank tree. 

reinventweather said:

my friend (who teaches the sixth grade) just had the ‘bring a parent to school’ day EXCEPT it was ‘bring your vip to school’ and it was parents and siblings and aunts and neighbors and pastors and EVERYONE.

what a great idea.

ahirumama:

Merf. Thinking is Hard.: A school project not to assign

casanova-frankensteins-monster:

eshusplayground:

realsocialskills:

If you are a teacher, do not ask your students to make a family tree as a school assignment. *Especially* do not do this as a class art project to be posted on the wall.

A lot of kids have very complicated families, and complicated feelings about which words to use for which people.

For instance: Some kids call multiple people “mom”. Sometimes this is because they’re being raised by a lesbian couple. Sometimes this is because they are adopted and also maintaining a relationship with their mother who gave birth to them. Sometimes this is because their parents divorced and remarried and they also see their stepparents as parents. None of these relationships map easily onto a family tree project.

Some kids don’t have any parents at all. This isn’t something that they should have to tell their peers if they don’t want to. 

Some kids aren’t sure who their parents are. Is it the people who adopted them when they were a baby and disrupted when they were six? The person who gave birth to them? The people they’re living with now? The one nice staff in their group home? The person they’re in foster care with who they’re hoping will eventually adopt them? It’s complicated and not ok to ask kids to declare this in writing in front of everyone.

There are any number of emotionally fraught and complicated situations that go along with describing families. It’s not good to have kids do that as part of an assignment, unless you’re working in a context in which getting people to do emotionally fraught things is appropriate.

eshusplayground said:

Not to mention, some kids have a family history that’s been damn near erased due to enslavement and/or genocide.

casanova-frankensteins-monster said:

we had to do a family tree project in the 6th grade

i put a lot of time and effort into my project and was very proud of it

but when i turned it in to class at the end of the year, there were literally (white) kids with BINDERS (not 1 binder, multiple) full of material tracing their routes back to like the exact latitudes and longitudes in Europe that their families came from

my family tree project was the size of one notebook and only went back about 4 or 5 generations, and a lot of the information we had was by word of mouth and not, you know, actual documentation

ahirumama said:

yeah teaching English as a foreign language, I was worried about how to do this and found a cool idea of teaching the kids the words and then having them make their own families from whatever they wanted.  So they could have characters and what not or use their real families if they wanted but none them were obligated.  Most ended up with tons of characters or weird creatures and it worked pretty well.  The time one of my head teachers made them use their real families, we did have a breakdown in the class. 

tavablake:

realsocialskills:

mistakeshavebeenmade:

Merf. Thinking is Hard.: A school project not to assign

eshusplayground:

realsocialskills:

If you are a teacher, do not ask your students to make a family tree as a school assignment. *Especially* do not do this as a class art project to be posted on the wall.

A lot of kids have very complicated families, and complicated feelings about which words to use for which people.

For instance: Some kids call multiple people “mom”. Sometimes this is because they’re being raised by a lesbian couple. Sometimes this is because they are adopted and also maintaining a relationship with their mother who gave birth to them. Sometimes this is because their parents divorced and remarried and they also see their stepparents as parents. None of these relationships map easily onto a family tree project.

Some kids don’t have any parents at all. This isn’t something that they should have to tell their peers if they don’t want to. 

Some kids aren’t sure who their parents are. Is it the people who adopted them when they were a baby and disrupted when they were six? The person who gave birth to them? The people they’re living with now? The one nice staff in their group home? The person they’re in foster care with who they’re hoping will eventually adopt them? It’s complicated and not ok to ask kids to declare this in writing in front of everyone.

There are any number of emotionally fraught and complicated situations that go along with describing families. It’s not good to have kids do that as part of an assignment, unless you’re working in a context in which getting people to do emotionally fraught things is appropriate.

eshusplayground said:

Not to mention, some kids have a family history that’s been damn near erased due to enslavement and/or genocide.

mistakeshavebeenmade said:

Reblogging because this is a thing that I wind up having to deal with a lot as a Spanish tutor. I’m not sure what the alternative is for teachers to use while teaching names for family members, because that is an important thing to learn, but there needs to be one. And don’t, for pity’s sake, just teach the words for the traditional nuclear family. I don’t enjoy doing your job for you.

realsocialskills said:

I don’t have a good answer to this. Except that maybe using dolls or doing skits would be better than making family trees?

Does anyone have a better answer?

tavablake said

Why not make a family tree for a fictional or historical family? Particularly for language classes, you could use a family significant to the country’s own politics or culture.

realsocialskills said:

Have any of y'all done this successfully?

warcrimenancydrew:

Merf. Thinking is Hard.: A school project not to assign

eshusplayground:

realsocialskills:

If you are a teacher, do not ask your students to make a family tree as a school assignment. *Especially* do not do this as a class art project to be posted on the wall.

A lot of kids have very complicated families, and complicated feelings about which words to use for which people.

For instance: Some kids call multiple people “mom”. Sometimes this is because they’re being raised by a lesbian couple. Sometimes this is because they are adopted and also maintaining a relationship with their mother who gave birth to them. Sometimes this is because their parents divorced and remarried and they also see their stepparents as parents. None of these relationships map easily onto a family tree project.

Some kids don’t have any parents at all. This isn’t something that they should have to tell their peers if they don’t want to. 

Some kids aren’t sure who their parents are. Is it the people who adopted them when they were a baby and disrupted when they were six? The person who gave birth to them? The people they’re living with now? The one nice staff in their group home? The person they’re in foster care with who they’re hoping will eventually adopt them? It’s complicated and not ok to ask kids to declare this in writing in front of everyone.

There are any number of emotionally fraught and complicated situations that go along with describing families. It’s not good to have kids do that as part of an assignment, unless you’re working in a context in which getting people to do emotionally fraught things is appropriate.

eshusplayground said:

Not to mention, some kids have a family history that’s been damn near erased due to enslavement and/or genocide.

warcrimenancydrew said:

and some kids come from cultures where everyone doesn’t keep long detailed family records. the last generation my parents know anything about is their grandparents (and even then, it’s minimal info), it’s pretty much silent from that point back.

mistakeshavebeenmade:

Merf. Thinking is Hard.: A school project not to assign

eshusplayground:

realsocialskills:

If you are a teacher, do not ask your students to make a family tree as a school assignment. *Especially* do not do this as a class art project to be posted on the wall.

A lot of kids have very complicated families, and complicated feelings about which words to use for which people.

For instance: Some kids call multiple people “mom”. Sometimes this is because they’re being raised by a lesbian couple. Sometimes this is because they are adopted and also maintaining a relationship with their mother who gave birth to them. Sometimes this is because their parents divorced and remarried and they also see their stepparents as parents. None of these relationships map easily onto a family tree project.

Some kids don’t have any parents at all. This isn’t something that they should have to tell their peers if they don’t want to. 

Some kids aren’t sure who their parents are. Is it the people who adopted them when they were a baby and disrupted when they were six? The person who gave birth to them? The people they’re living with now? The one nice staff in their group home? The person they’re in foster care with who they’re hoping will eventually adopt them? It’s complicated and not ok to ask kids to declare this in writing in front of everyone.

There are any number of emotionally fraught and complicated situations that go along with describing families. It’s not good to have kids do that as part of an assignment, unless you’re working in a context in which getting people to do emotionally fraught things is appropriate.

eshusplayground said:

Not to mention, some kids have a family history that’s been damn near erased due to enslavement and/or genocide.

mistakeshavebeenmade said:

Reblogging because this is a thing that I wind up having to deal with a lot as a Spanish tutor. I’m not sure what the alternative is for teachers to use while teaching names for family members, because that is an important thing to learn, but there needs to be one. And don’t, for pity’s sake, just teach the words for the traditional nuclear family. I don’t enjoy doing your job for you.

realsocialskills said:

I don’t have a good answer to this. Except that maybe using dolls or doing skits would be better than making family trees?

Does anyone have a better answer?

A school project not to assign

If you are a teacher, do not ask your students to make a family tree as a school assignment. *Especially* do not do this as a class art project to be posted on the wall.

A lot of kids have very complicated families, and complicated feelings about which words to use for which people.

For instance: Some kids call multiple people “mom”. Sometimes this is because they’re being raised by a lesbian couple. Sometimes this is because they are adopted and also maintaining a relationship with their mother who gave birth to them. Sometimes this is because their parents divorced and remarried and they also see their stepparents as parents. None of these relationships map easily onto a family tree project.

Some kids don’t have any parents at all. This isn’t something that they should have to tell their peers if they don’t want to. 

Some kids aren’t sure who their parents are. Is it the people who adopted them when they were a baby and disrupted when they were six? The person who gave birth to them? The people they’re living with now? The one nice staff in their group home? The person they’re in foster care with who they’re hoping will eventually adopt them? It’s complicated and not ok to ask kids to declare this in writing in front of everyone.

There are any number of emotionally fraught and complicated situations that go along with describing families. It’s not good to have kids do that as part of an assignment, unless you’re working in a context in which getting people to do emotionally fraught things is appropriate.

slashmarks:

[tw: abuse]

If you are a teacher, never make interviewing a family member a part of an assignment.

“Interview an adult” or “Interview a person who fits this description” is probably okay, but many people do not have families, and many people who do have terrible families. Forcing someone to spend extended time with a family member may be contravening their usual strategies for avoiding violence. If they live on their own, you may be trying to force an escaped abuse victim to recontact their abusers.

Not everyone is able to approach you for an alternative — abuse often comes with fear in social situations and problems interacting with people. They also don’t know that you are going to be willing to give you an alternative; you could potentially refuse, be abusive to them yourself, report the abuse (possibly because you’re legally mandated to) and cause serious problems in their lives that way, cause a runaway minor to end up in juvenile detention or just returned to abusive guardians, or even contact their parents and tell them the student is telling lives about them.

In addition to abuse, I’ve seen examples of things like “interview two/three family members.” An only child raised by a single parent may not HAVE two family members to interview. Disclosing your family structure and/or parent’s family abandonment should not be necessary for your grades.

It’s fairly simple to come up with an alternative. If you want them to talk to adults: “Interview [number] of adults about their experiences… Parents, teachers, librarians, and family friends are examples of people who you could interview.” If you want them to talk to people close to them: “Interview [number] of people whom you have close relationships with about… Family, good friends, and romantic partners* are examples of people who you could interview.” (That said, ‘people you’re close to’ runs the risk of being exclusionary to people who have trouble forming relationships so be careful with this one.)

This is true for any age of student, kindergarten through university, though I suspect it comes up slightly less often in university.

*Obviously this one’s only going to be middle or high school and up, but yes, your students may have romantic partners and may be very close to them.

autism awareness for aides

autism awareness for aides

flannelfrog asked realsocialskills: 
2012-12-30 22:29
I recently got a job offer to be an in-school aid for a gradeschooler I know with aspergers and I’m genuinely afraid to take it because, while I have teaching experience, I’ve never been an aid before. I’m afraid I’ll do something wrong and mess the kid up for the rest of his life. Do you have any advice for me?

Several piece of advice:

First, shift the way you’re thinking about this.

The problem before you is how to do right by a kid in your care. Thinking in terms of wanting to avoid doing something wrong and messing the kid up for the rest of his life is going to make it harder for you to do right by him.

You’re going to do things wrong (you’ve done things wrong in every teaching job you’ve had, it comes with the territory); and it’s going to be important for you to acknowledge and fix your mistakes. Making possible mistakes, even serious ones, a referendum on whether you are a good person, makes it a lot harder to do right by others. I’ve written about that before, here.

Treat him as a person

  • Almost universally, autistic people are treated as though they aren’t quite real, especially by caregivers
  • Often, they think of this as looking past the autism to see the real person
  • But the autism is part of who he is.
  • Don’t attribute some things to him, and others to the autism. He is real all the time.
  • He is a real person. Already.
  • Your job is not to cure him. Your job is to support him and help him to develop his abilities. Learning to do more things will not make him any less autistic, nor should it.

Do not try to make him indistinguishable from his peers

  • Because, seriously, what kind of a goal is that?
  • He’s worthwhile as a person, and he’s different from most other people, and it’s ok.
  • He has better things to do with his time than fake normal.
  • Being able to do awesome things is way better than being able to look normal while doing pointless things
  • It’s ok to be different.
  • Don’t pretend that he’s really just like everyone else, or that he will be when he grows up.
  • One of the most important things you can teach an autistic child is that it is ok to be autistic

Forget everything you think you know about the difference between autism and Asperger’s syndrome:

  • People whose diagnosis is Aspergers syndrome are autistic
  • Autistic people who can speak are disabled
  • There isn’t actually any fundamental difference
  • Except that people considered autistic are often seen as incapable, and people considered to have Aspergers are often seen as faking their difficulties
  • Assume disability and ability, and that you will have to figure out how that works for the person you’re working with

Learn how he communicates.

  • All autistic people have some sort of atypical communication
  • Some autistic people are really good at hiding it, and looking normal at the expense of understanding what is going on.
  • Autistic children, particularly boys, often pretend to be acting out in order to mask disability. Be mindful of this possibility.
  • A good percentage of the time, when autistic people repeat things over and over, they are trying to communicate something and aren’t being understood. Be aware of this, and learn how to make communication possible in this situation.
  • If he seems not to understand something, do not get angry and assume he’s just being defiant or lazy
  • Some things are really really hard to understand, even though they seem simple to people with typical development
  • For instance, an autistic child who has been isolated might find fiction other kids their age understand completely incomprehensible because they can’t relate to the experiences and relationships it describes

If he makes repetitive motions, assume they are important:

  • A lot of autistic people rely heavily on motion to think well
  • Or to communicate
  • Or to understand things
  • Or to find words
  • Or to regulate themselves.
  • If you prevent an autistic person from making repetitive motions, you’re probably also preventing them from doing things like understanding what’s going on, communicating, and learning self-control and interaction. 
  • Do not value a typical affect over learning and communication.
  • Do not say “quiet hands” for any reason ever. (Unless you’re saying something like “people shouldn’t tell you ‘quiet hands’”)

Do not make him follow rules the other kids are allowed to get away with breaking

  • Because that’s unfair, and humiliating
  • And it also prevents peer relations
  • It also prevents him from learning how rules actually work, which is a vitally important skill, especially for people who are likely to spend large parts of their life subject to arbitrary decisions made by people with too much power over them

Do not confuse him about consent, and help him learn what consent is

  • If something is an order, do not phrase it as a request. Doing so teaches people to be incapable of saying no.
  • Ask a lot of questions that actually are requests, and go with what he says, even if it’s not the answer you wanted.
  • If he always says yes when you ask him things, assume this is because he has been taught to be incapable of saying no
  • Ask questions in ways that remind him that saying no is possible
  • Or questions in ways that don’t seem to create a compliant option and a defiant option at all.
  • For instance “do you want to stay inside today, or would you rather play on the swings?”
  • But questions that are real. Not forced choices in which each option is basically compliance. 

Support him in navigating the difficult and often hateful world he lives in

  • Do not make him play with kids he dislikes, even if this means he doesn’t play with anyone
  • There are worse things than being alone. Being surrounded by people who everyone insists are nice and your friends, but who actually don’t think you’re real or treat you well is much worse than honest loneliness.
  • It’s possible, and likely, that there are very few kids, or even no kids at all, in his group who it is a good idea for him to spend time with
  • And even if you think he’s wrong about this, it’s a decision he should be making for himself (and his judgement is probably better than yours)
  • When kids or adults do bad things to him (and they will), you usually won’t be able to make them stop. You should tell him that what they’re doing is wrong, and that it’s not his fault. 
  • Knowing that it’s wrong, and that others know it’s wrong, helps a lot.

Some things you should read:

  • Ballastexistenz From the beginning. Every post. It has a lot of fundamentally important things about power, and dehumanization, and about seeing people as real. This blog has a lot of the best things that have ever been written on this topic.
  • Rolling Around In My Head is also a really good blog, written by a disabled man whose professional work is supporting people with disabilities. He says a lot of things worth knowing. Also his book Power Tools is important for understanding how this power dynamic works – and your environment and training will put pressure on you not to understand it.
  • Loud Hands: Autistic People Speaking is a really important book about autism and the world written by insightful autistic people. Buy it and read it and understand it, and it will help you to do right by this boy and others