I don’t often write about my work here in this space. Besides passing references, I try to keep the scope of what I share thoughtful and non-invasive. I want to be respectful of the population of students that I work with and certainly don’t want to paint them in any kind of light that isn’t true or encouraging. However, it seems that the longer I do the work that I do, the deeper its reach becomes. It’s difficult to not mention it here, because it has become so much of who I am. By default, it's bound to leak into this space, if only a little bit at a time.
I suppose the first thing I should tell you is this: inevitably, whenever I meet someone new and participate in the reciprocal exchange of niceties- name (Courtney), interests (cheese), social connections (I went to college with her cousin's ex-husband's new boyfriend), place of employment (school psychologist who works with blind and visually impaired students) – I always get a few follow-up questions or statements that usually sounds a little something like this:
“You work with blind kids? Geeeez. You win.”
Or: “Wow, what an interesting job. So, do just listen to blind kid’s problems all day?”
Or: “Wait. What does that even mean?”
Or, my personal favorite: “Whoa! So, do you speak sign language?”
I generally just smile and answer the questions as briefly as I can, because the truth is, it would take hours to truly explain what my role is in such a unique environment, and nobody has the time or attention span for that. But I get it. It's one of those jobs that just sounds different than most. And I suppose it is. But some days are really hard. And some days the to-do list feels too long to truly make a difference. Often, I feel bogged down with paperwork. I wish, almost all of the time, that I had more hours in the day to do counseling with my students. I get frustrated with all of the rules and regulations that Special Education requires and often wish for simple, concrete procedures that would just STAY THE SAME ALREADY.
But then, sometimes, I feel as though I’m bursting at the seams with stories. I want to shout from the rooftops that I am basically the luckiest woman alive to get to work with such courageous, beautiful, challenging students. I’m continually amazed by the attitude and spirit of these kids. The things they accomplish and navigate put me to shame. While I struggle to get out of bed every morning, they are also struggling to get out of bed every morning, but are generally doing it with the BEST ATTITUDES EVER. While I’m praying to switch places with my dog just so I can sleep an extra hour, they are fully embracing who they are and who they want be. They are determined, almost all of the time, to be the best versions of themselves. They are tech savvy, fearless, and amazingly fashionable. They are committed to learning scary and daunting new things because they want the freedom to pursue their wildest dreams. I can’t even begin to tell you how life-giving it is to bear witness to such a thing.
Have you ever thought about what it would be like to live your life without the gift of sight? Take a moment and just imagine it. Imagine what it would be like to cook a meal, clean your desk, or go to the grocery store. Imagine the skills and tools you would need to simply get dressed in the morning. Imagine introducing yourself to new people, trusting them to help you rather than take advantage. Imagine learning a new neighborhood, a new city, a new job. Think about the challenges that would arise in even the simplest, everyday tasks. I believe most of us would not only lack sight, but also the vision needed to see beyond our physical limitations.
Even more, imagine what it would be like to be a TEENAGER and to be visually impaired. Imagine trying to navigate social situations and crushes and cliques and plans for your future. Imagine trying to learn how to study and take tests and apply for colleges. Imagine the courage it takes to go out and let the world see you try and learn and make mistakes. Imagine wanting to drive, and figuring out that you never will be able to do so. Imagine taking a sex education class as a blind or visually impaired teenager. No. Seriously. Imagine it. There would be SO MANY QUESTIONS, right? Now imagine having additional disabilities to consider – orthopedic impairment, auditory impairment, speech impairment, cognitive impairment, autism – as visual impairment generally has a very high co-morbidity rate with other physical and mental disabilities. Do you have a good sense of what I am trying to convey? These, THESE, are the students that I get to spend time with every day. These are the funny, frustrating, smelly, lovely, courageous teenagers that I get to sit in meetings about, write reports for, design behavior plans for, and provide tissues for. These are the teenagers that I get to help discover who they want to be when they grow up.
I don’t want to romanticize things too much, because teenagers are still teenagers, regardless of the sum of their parts. Some days they make stupid choices. Some days they do hurtful things. Other days they say the wrong thing or don’t say the right thing or lie or cheat or frustrate me beyond words. But they are teenagers. And this is what they do.
Yes, I’m a school psychologist. You picture Freud, but instead, the reality is hours of meetings, and hours of paperwork, and even more hours of navigating a special education system in order to ensure that all parties are happy – student, family, and school. With the time that’s left over, I sometimes get to sit with teachers and students and try to help solve the world’s problems. Sometimes, it's terrible. Sometimes, I laugh until my insides hurt. Other times, I feel helpless and awful and like the world’s worst adult. But whatever the season, I have the opportunity to sit down and learn from the tremendous staff and students that surround me. If I'm honest, there are moments where I'm still not sure how I ended up in such a ridiculously unique place. I didn't plan on it. But I'm thankful for it, even when the days are rough. So, yeah, I guess what they say is true.
I work with blind kids. And I TOTALLY win.