I realized today that I don't often talk much about my job on this blog. I talk a lot about things that I make, or am threatening to make and sometimes about things that I do besides work, but very little about work. This is funny because my job is actually a huge part of my life and takes up a lot of space in my brain a lot of the time. I'm not sure if I've even ever really said what it is that I actually do. So, for the record, I am what we call an inclusion support teacher. Translation: I work with kiddos with moderate to severe disabilities who are included full time in regular classrooms and need lots of support to make the whole thing work. Sometimes it is great and sometimes it is hard but I've been doing it a long time now and it has really become a part of me.
Today I took one of my students on a field trip. His fourth class had gone up to science camp yesterday afternoon for a three day stay, and my little guy, never having spent a night away from his family as far as I know, wasn't really up for the big "away from home" aspect of things. So we agreed that I would drive him up today to spend the day with his class and then we could come home in the afternoon so that he could be back in his comfort zone by the end of the school day. When you have autism, the comfort zone is an important place. Very.
I will admit, I was nervous and a bit pessimistic about our trip today. I drank extra coffee and ate cake for breakfast. That kind of nervous. The last time I went with said student on a field trip it was a huge disaster that left both of us exhausted and a little afraid of the outside world for some number of days. We've opted out of a few other trips since then, but he wanted to go on this one and science camp is such a big part of the fourth grade experience at our school this year that I really wanted him to be included. So, at 8:45 a.m. today we got in the car and headed out.
A couple of times during the 45 minute drive I looked back into the backseat in the rearview mirror and watched his reflection while I said something like "You know, if we get there and you don't like it or feel scared, we can always come home, okay?" He was absorbed in memorizing maps of favorite areas of the city in my Thomas' guide and didn't answer.
We got to camp without incident, met up with his teacher and got directions to where the rest of his group was hiking through the hills looking at animal bones. He seemed interested in going to find his classmates, so we started walking along the path covered in oak leaves, figuring we would run into them as they headed down the hill towards where we had started from. Suddenly, he stopped.
"A pinecone" I said. "You've never seen a pinecone?"
He shook his head. And then, we spent nearly 70 minutes exploring that pinecone and every other one we could find. We kicked them, threw them, took them apart and looked for pine nuts. We smelled them, stuck our fingers into the cracks and got sap everywhere. We found one that was rotten and peeled back all of the layers until there was nothing left. I found a pile of pine needles and explained that they were from the same tree and that they could be sharp. He made me prove it by poking my hand.
On a normal, day to day basis, this is a kid who can't hold still, who obsesses over computer games which he reenacts in his head most of the day while making their associated sounds loudly enough that we all listen along. As we sat together in the woods, oak leaves around our feet and a pile of pinecones nearby, me explaining about what pinecones are and him looking up at where they fell from and there were no videogames or thoughts about them, I looked around and thought, "Well, this is really a pretty good day."