I have worked as an elementary school psychologist for about eighteen years. This year, I asked to be moved to middle school. The schedule works better for my family, I feel like I had burned out anyway and had fallen into habits that I did not see myself breaking. For many personal and professional reasons, it is just time to move on.
Without boring people with details, this is a huge career change. The duties are different but the biggest difference is that I am leaving a lot of really good friends and am now in a situation where I do not know anyone. Things are going to change for me and I find that scary. I am not a fan of change and this move is not something I would typically take a chance on.
I have obviously spent a lot of time reflecting on the past eighteen years and have decided to write a series of posts about my favorite experiences in elementary. I am not going to post the sad, heart-breaking or scary stories. It is just going to be the ones that I like. And don’t worry. I am changing names, some details, locations, etc so that I am not risking breaking confidentiality
Todd was a seven-year-old student with Down Syndrome. Along with severely limited cognitive skills, Todd’s language was generally limited to two or three word sentences. Todd could also be naughty and thought it was hilarious to get his teacher worked up. It was easy for him too because his teacher had been involuntarily transferred from high school and was always quick to tell everyone that (see also: disgruntled)
We also worked in a very old building. My wing had Todd’s class, my office and that was it. We were really isolated. My office also had its own little bathroom. One day I accidentally mentioned that to Todd’s teacher and she said it would be a good idea to use my office for her kids in a emergency rather than taking them the length of the hall. Being a nice guy (see also someone who has trouble drawing the line between servitude/consideration/putting others first and being being a doormat a.k.a chump) I did not say anything.
However, it quickly became an issue. The teacher made my bathroom her class’s own facility. It did not matter if I was on the phone, with a student, meeting with a family or anything. She would barge into my office and take her student to my bathroom. And she was loud. Always telling the student to hurry or talking at them. Worst, she would sit down and start griping about not working at high school and how she did not have to deal with this at high school. It got old fast. It was worst when she brought Todd in. He would lock himself in the bathroom and just start laughing. She would pound on the door and try to negotiate with him, beg him, threaten him with loss of privileges or whatever before giving up, sitting down and telling me about high schools. It was disruptive and killed huge chunks of my day. Todd would just laugh until he got bored and then he would eventually come out.
One day I was very stressed out and working on a very hard case. I heard yelling, my door burst open and Todd ran into my bathroom, locked the door and started laughing. Eventually the teacher trudged in and started banging on the door and doing the whole song and dance before sitting down and beginning to complain. I reminded her the student bathroom had no locks and she should use that. She stated it was too far. I reminded her that if she was going to use my office, she needed stay with Todd so he could not get ahead of her and lock the door. She reminded me that she did not need to do that at high school and started yelling across my office at Todd from my chair. I was done and told her that this could not continue. She said, “Fine, you get him out.”
I walked to the door, knocked and said, “Todd, I am counting to three and you need to open the door.” Todd cracked up laughing. When I hit three, I reached over, popped the bolts out of the door hinges, lifted the old wooden door off the hinges and sat the door aside. Little Todd’s eyes were huge and his mouth hung open. Without ever breaking eye contact, Todd dropped his pants, jumped on the toilet and took care of business. As his teacher walked him back to class, Todd looked over his shoulder at me every five steps with eyes that were a combination of awe and puzzlement. When he got to his room, he looked back, smiled, gave me a wave and went into his class. From his perspective, someone lifting the door off the hinges must have been almost like a superhero.
The next day I heard the teacher yelling and Todd came bursting into my office. He locked the bathroom door and the teacher came in and started the usual complaining. However, this time, before she could sit down, the noises coming from the bathroom made it clear Todd was doing work. A very short time later, the toilet flushed, the door opened, Todd strutted over to me, put his hand in the air and said.
“Poop fast. High five?”
“Todd, wash your hands first. Them high-five.”
*Hands washed, “Poop fast, wash hands, high five!” Todd blistered my hand, smiled and went back to class. The teacher looked at me and followed him back.
Todd never locked himself in a bathroom again and after a couple weeks we were able to get him (and the rest of his class) using the student restroom instead of my office. However, every day I would hear a knock at my door and would open it to Todd’s giant smile.
“Poop fast! Wash Hands! High-Five!” He would slap my hand and move on with his day. No bathroom charts. No food incentives. The boy just wanted a high five from someone he was impressed with.
If he was goofing around class and I walked by he would look up, run over to his seat and immediately start complying with directives while giving me a thumbs up and a giant smile. Eventually we had to teach him that he could not run down the hallway yelling, “Poop Fast! Wash Hands! High-Five!” whenever he saw me but that was a much smaller task than his earlier behavior.
I love the story because of how unexpected it was. I simply needed Todd (see also: teacher who was driving me crazy) out of my office and lifted the door as a last resort. However, the visual of that completely changed how Todd looked at me and he was determined to please me from that day on. Nothing really profound but just funny and something I will never forget.
“Poop fast! Wash Hands. High-five!”
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