stories from the field

Just another weblog

a reflection on education April 3, 2008

Filed under: stories — stitchmaverick @ 6:26 am

Given that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teachers are the grantees (clients) served by the foundation for I’ve had several opportunities throughout the term to meet with teachers to discuss their experiences and concerns. Due to the challenges that are endemic in a large, inner-city school district like CPS, it came as no surprise that the concerns that teachers have about students and their classroom achievement are numerous. What was surprising, however, is that every one of the teachers I’ve met has expressed concern about their emotional wellbeing. The teachers who receive grants from the foundation are generally the type of teacher who is high achieving and dedicated to making a difference in the lives of their students. Yet this is not an easy task in the CPS system. Many students have serious emotional, behavioral, and learning difficulties and the system as a whole faces regular resource deficits to address these issues. In addition to confronting these challenges, teachers face additional pressures to meet the “adequate yearly progress” benchmarks mandated by No Child Left Behind. Every teacher I have met so far has told me that they feel over-stressed and under-supported in their efforts to meet these challenges. Many feel that they are on the verge of burning out. The fact that so many good teachers are on the verge of burn-out signals that something must be done to increase teacher support. Just as there are school social workers to address the extra-curricular, psychosocial needs of students, it seems that there is also need for school-based social workers that work exclusively with teachers. Although something like this would require a concerted investment in resources that the public would likely rather see invested in students, teacher-targeted interventions can help to ensure teachers are emotionally prepared to help students to meet the increasingly stringent academic and testing standards that have been put in place by education reformers. Realistically institutionalizing therapeutic support for teachers is probably a long-shot. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine my observation is unique and that there are some efforts out there to increase this sort of support for teachers. Seeking out and evaluating these efforts would be a very interesting research topic.


“Getting in it” December 28, 2007

Filed under: stories — stitchmaverick @ 6:26 am

At my field placement in a Chicago Public School I run weekly anger management groups for middle schoolers and high schoolers.  My supervisor chose to use a set curriculum from a Chicago organization so that we wouldn’t have write our own because our time is limited.  A representative from the organization, a white woman in her mid-sixties, came to our groups on their first day to introduce the students to the materials.  Our students were on their best behavior for this guest.
But as the weeks went on it became clear that our otherwise smart and enthusiastic students were lacking interest and understanding of the vocabulary in the materials.  These were not written in towards our audience: inner-city Black and Latino youth.  It was written, in my opinion, for white middle class adults.  When I brought this up and my supervisor agreed and told me to run the group however I thought was best.
I began writing my own curriculum.  The students were much more responsive to my age-appropriate worksheets and I was learning along the way what styles of presentation worked best for each group.  But then our guest representative from the organization that provided us with the original lackluster materials come back to visit.  She brought friends who wanted to observe the groups in action.  I did one exercise from her curriculum as a nod to the organization, much to the dislike of the students.  Then I proceeded to pass out my handouts.  Our guest’s face twisted and she physically stopped me, collecting the papers before my eyes.
She looked sternly at me and said that she really though we should continue with her materials.  I politely told her that I thought her curriculum was great and we just decided to expand on her ideas.  She held tight to my papers, making a power play for authority in my group!  I realized in front of the students wasn’t the place to resolve this. We did her exercises to the delight of her gawking white friends who seemed now to be on field trip to watch these students of color benefiting from their curriculum!  One even commented to me afterwards that my students were “just so cute I wanted to take them home with me!”  I wanted to puke.
In the end our guest representative told me and my supervisor that we could either use her materials exactly as they were written or not use them at all.  We declined saying that we appreciated her offer but we’d like to supplement them with some of our own.  She snapped at me, “well, I’ll just have to take back all of your students folders,” which contained her materials and the students had written all over.  On the inside I was thinking sarcastically “oooh, I’m shaking in my boots lady.”  But she actually followed through with her petty threat, making a trip out the following week to snatch up all the used folders.
But what made me laugh about the whole anger management curriculum situation, which had ironically made me quite angry, was a comment from an eighth grader at our next group.  He asked, “So did you guys get in it?”  I said no, we didn’t have an argument or a fight.  We just had different opinions about some of the papers.  He then told me, “No, I bet you got in it.  I saw the way you were looking at each other” and he imitated the faces we must have been making.  I guess if you’re a student in an anger management group you get pretty good at spotting folks tempers flaring, even if they’re two grown women trying to cover it up with fake smiles!


confidence? December 18, 2007

Filed under: stories — stitchmaverick @ 6:28 am

I think that I gain confidence from knowing what to expect. As a result I experience a substantial drop in confidence when circumstances do not meet my expectations. I had been planning on attending a training session at my agency since my supervisor had told me about it my first week of field placement. I had entered it on my planner, informed clients of my absence and rescheduled appointments, and had recently turned down a lucrative babysitting job. I have come not to expect too many things to happen as they are supposed to at my agency especially regarding therapy appointments. I also have developed a habit of not counting on too many things to go as expected because with lower expectations comes less disappointment as well as a greater adaptability. I have tried to develop a flexible nature but there are times when it still takes me by surprise how structured and scheduled I am.
I planned out my day, woke up early, arrived early, completed a few tasks, and peeked in the room exactly at nine. I assumed it would start a few minutes late so returned to my desk to make a few phone calls. At ten after I assumed my confident air and walked into the Tower room glad to see that there were now several people seated at the table and an instructor in the front of the room. I greeted the woman who I sat next to and momentarily hesitated between setting my notebook on top of the table or half hiding it on my lap. I tried to appear like I knew where I was supposed to be but was wondering if I did considering I did not recognize any of the other attendees and assumed that they were foster parents. I reasoned that my supervisor knew this but just wanted her interns to benefit from the same information that the mentors were receiving. I had anticipated the training and would not a little thing like that stop my learning experience. Until the instructor, who as an employee of some nature I had met on my initial tour of the office, asked; “your not here for the training are you?” At the time I did not cognitively process that the question was worded less than ideally but my hesitant, broken response adequately communicated my uncertainty. At least my voice kept steady as I stammered something about thinking so. Between “ums” I grasped onto the fact that I should mention my supervisor’s name in order to give a reason for my attendance and possibly clear up the situation. This seemed to enable him to give more direction to his instructions for me by explaining he had spoken with her and decided that it was formulated for the mentors and would not be appropriate for the interns attendance. And so I followed instructions and got up and left with a cheery “oh, ok” which is my characteristic method of dealing with anything I am told especially when I do not like what I am hearing. It wasn’t intentional at the time but afterward I noticed that I did not make eye contact with anyone on my way out.
The walk from the training room to my desk takes less than two minutes but in that time many thoughts began tumbling through my mind, continuing as I sat and turned on my computer giving the appearance of productivity until I could adequately process. “I could have met with clients. I didn’t need to cancel and reschedule and fill up all of Thursday. I could have babysat since I already cleared my schedule. By babysitting for Shari on Tuesday like she asked I could have sat for Tom on Friday per our normal schedule. My entire week’s schedule is different because of this and I am losing between 50 and 90 dollars. I could have slept in and exercised. Did I miss a voicemail or an email from my supervisor, no I checked both early this morning. Did I appear as confident as I meant to or does fake confidence come across as cockiness or aloofness or just insecure, uncertainty. How do you balance appearing confident and remaining humble when you can’t see yourself as others do? Even a floor length mirror following me around wouldn’t do the trick because I would still be interpreting my appearance from my own perspective. My day is ruined, I have nothing to do and should just go home. Maybe I can rectify it. Maybe I can still baby sit today and Friday. Or if not, maybe I can still meet with a client or two. Maybe it will be good to go home early. I don’t really need the hours. Maybe there will be another opportunity for training. I know my supervisor is busy and always doing several things at once. I can’t expect her to be sensitive to my schedule, which she is completely unaware of especially regarding my schedule outside of internship. I reserved Tuesdays for field placement and had no way of knowing anything otherwise. I can’t always meet everybody’s expectations and my schedule is not always solely in my responsibility.”
As my thoughts began slowing and leading themselves to a positive conclusion I realized that while it was not the learning experience that I was anticipating for the day I had learned valuable lessons which could relate to various situations I may encounter in life and work. I cannot control my schedule and instead of being upset when things do not go according to plan I can make a new plan and go with the flow. There is always another way of doing things and the first is not necessarily the best. My schedule and my plans are not the priority and I need to be humble in respecting my superiors’ and peers’ priorities. I want to respect other people’s time and schedules by informing them of any changes that would affect them as soon as possible. I cannot control how I appear to other people but can only try to be myself and act in a professional and confident manner. The more I develop my professional self and become confident in my self and my actions the more confident and at ease I will appear. Other people always seem more confident and are easier to be around when they are relaxed and at ease. I can develop this by choosing to be relaxed and at ease despite circumstances not meeting my expectations. I can expect to be flexible and prepare myself to face whatever comes my way.


its on its way December 12, 2007

Filed under: stories — stitchmaverick @ 6:12 am

i’ve been working at this dv agency for three months and i hate it.  I mean, I love it.
But i hate it.  I hate that it exists or rather, that it has to exist.  I hate that
people beat up their wives and husbands and girlfriends and boyfriends and
partners and children and parents and grandparents.  I hate that when those
people do those things, our world looks to the battered and abused and asks
why they didnt just leave.  I hate that in Chicago, there are only 154 beds for
domestic violence survivors and even those are only for women.  I hate that our
shelter is packed to the brim right now.  I hate that last week a woman in the
shelter gave birth to her second child, a beautiful little girl, and instead of
bringing her home from the hospital to a loving caring household, she had to
bring her to a fucking dv shelter.  I hate that statistics show that her baby girl is
so much more likely to experience violence in her lifetime than someone whose
mother hadn’t been victimized.  I hate that women come all the way from
pakistan to apna ghar to escape violence.  I hate that a woman just came
straight from darfur, cannot speak english and therefore cannot tell her story to
the full extent to us.  Her eyes show me that she has so much to tell.

I hate that im so angry.  I hate that im bitter.  I hate that every day I think about
the people that I haven’t helped.  And sometimes I even hate that I think I can
change something that everyone thinks will be a part of our world forever.

But then, out of nowhere that I can pinpoint, I feel love.  Love for these people
who have so much strength and resilience.  Love for my co-workers, who are
whole-heartedly committed to ending violence.  And love for whatever it is in
this world that has made me care so much, that has given me hope that one day
there will be no need for this agency, that 154 beds will be too much, that
newborns will be able to go home with their parents to happy and healthy
homes, that children will grow up with no fear of being abused, that all women
will have the chance to tell their stories to caring attentive ears, that people will
nurture their partners and families, not beat them…that perhaps there will be
one day when there is no more violence.

I’m working towards that day.  I’m praying for it.

It’s on its way.


what is my story? December 10, 2007

Filed under: stories — stitchmaverick @ 6:34 am

While I was sitting at my desk trying to articulate a lesson that I had learned from my field placement my phone rang, representing a prime example. A foster parent was on the other end telling me that she would not be home until 6 o’clock so could we reschedule the 4 o’clock meeting with her foster son. I want to be flexible and generally see myself as such but this frustrated me. I pulled out my calendar and my brain went into gear trying to figure out if I could just meet her request and come at 6. I realized that this would mean remaining at the office for an additional two hours when I had already exhausted every task I could construe. I was growing anxious to leave as it was and did not want to wait longer. In addition I had already made plans to go into the city to visit with my best friend. I counted backward from 9 when she had another commitment and determined that if I did the session at 6 I would possibly have an hour to eat dinner with her at 8. So I went the other direction and tacked on another meeting the following Tuesday crossing my fingers that my client would actually be at his house at 7.
This phone call upset my plan for the day and for the week. I wasn’t as upset about the scheduling difficulty because it was easily rectified but what it represented, another missed opportunity to see my client. My flexibility was challenged but more so my patience with this foster mom. The same mom who had gotten into a fight with my client the week before and had then pulled up all of the miniscule reasons why she did not trust him and something needed to change. The mom who had listed his idiosyncrasies from smelling his bread to keeping pet mice in his drawer and then threatened that if she found drugs in his room she would give in her two weeks. While at the same time praising her biological son who had none of these disturbing behaviors. The mom who had told me that therapy was useless and that I needed to be strict with him like his caseworker, who never sees him or answers any phone calls or responds to any emails.
Each incident was minor and according to charts indicative of her behavior throughout the placement. But they were also the things, which were contributing to my client’s difficulties. In my opinion a main concern was the fact that my client did not feel welcome in his placement. The fact that he makes it a point to only be in the house to sleep is a clear message that his placement is not his home. More than anything I have trouble with the way she talks about him as a foster kid as if he is an outsider who she is allowing to stay as a guest for a limited time as long as he follows every rule exactly instead of as a member of the family or at least a welcome guest.
As much as I want to change the foster mom and the environment in which my client lives I cannot. I can only meet with him and address his behavior and make sure that he is doing what he is supposed to do. It seems unfair but that is life. In life as in therapy, you cannot control other people’s behavior, especially not the behavior of the most influential person in life. You just have to deal with what comes your way and react as best as possible to the people and circumstance in your life. In therapy and social work I cannot control the behavior of the foster parent, the home environment, or even my client’s behavior. If anyone had asked me this or if the principle had come up I would have agreed and argued this point but it takes on a different dimension when it is learned in practice and experience. It is a lesson that I can teach to my client even as I have learned it. Teaching my client this lesson may be the best thing that I can do for him and realizing it in my life will help me throughout my internship and career.
Countless other scenarios are running through my head of all of the things, which I cannot control for and cannot be responsible for. I cannot anticipate cancellations. I cannot change beliefs and preconceived notions. I cannot make anyone do anything. I cannot change or stop life events or stressors. But I can decide how I react to everything that happens to me and I can present my clients with options of how to respond to various situations. I have learned that response to a situation is much more important than the situation itself.


ah hah December 6, 2007

Filed under: stories — stitchmaverick @ 6:36 am

At the organization that I am doing my first year master’s degree program field placement, I was assigned to help the supervisor for the “Sexually Aggressive Children” unit. It is an interesting concept: Children who act out on other children. It is common that such children have been abused themselves, and it is not known until they do things they shouldn’t know how to do to other children. Then the children they do those things to in turn know how to do them to other children. It spreads like wildfire.
My task in helping this supervisor was to sort though pile after pile of incoming files. I was to look at an incoming file and check to see if their name was already on her database list of having an “unusual incident report.” I guess that’s the least labeling way of putting it, “Unusual Incident.” But it doesn’t seem to me anymore that these are unusual incidents. Most of those files were then part of already-established cases in which the children were undergoing treatment or placed in foster care. Sometimes the children, after being placed in foster care, acted out on their foster siblings. A lot of the time the “sexually aggressive child” was originally “aggressed” by their own siblings. One girl had acted out on her foster mother when she allowed her to sleep in her bed because of nightmares—I wonder why she had nightmares.
If I didn’t see the child’s name in the database, I was to look through the file to figure out if they were in residential or intact, see if they were in treatment, and establish if the file was a progress report or a new assessment. This of course required reading at least the majority of the lengthy files. Since I’m a newbie, reading through case files is a great place to start in learning about clinical work. Plus I was kind of bored.
This is when I came to realize how often it really is that children are almost as frequently if not more frequently acted out on by other children—usually their own siblings. It was hard to believe what I was reading. Seven year-olds having intercourse; is that even possible? Apparently so. Then my “ah-ha” moment occurred; it was a sudden and painful sinking feeling in my heart. I could have had an “Unusual Incident Report” as a child, actually quite a few. While it never involved intercourse, I had had a number some rather unusual incidents as a child. I have always thought that it was normal child behavior, to want to explore the exciting world of sex, without actually having it. In fact, I had been involved in a number of sex acts before I even knew what an erection was, or that I had a hole that things went into (and out of).
I began to try to think back as far as I could—was I abused? Did my father ever touch me? No, I have absolutely no recollection of my father or older brothers ever doing anything remotely sexually inappropriate with me. It was always with the neighbor girls. It was addicting. It began when I was younger than I want to admit—six years old, probably younger. Was it the other girl who thought of it first or was it me? It had to have been them that had been abused. I know one of them had been, and she was aware of it since second grade. But there was one before her, the first one, and I have always wondered how it started. How she knew that that would feel good—and how to make it feel good.
I guess I will never really know the answers to these questions. I’ve been seeing counselors since I was in first grade because of my parents’ separation. I suppose I should have been getting therapy for other reasons. I remember my mom finding out what was happening and telling me I had to stop, that it was dangerous and little girls shouldn’t do that. But I didn’t want to stop even though after that point I felt very guilty about it. Who wants to go celibate?    These personal experiences gave me a unique perspective on these cases. What is highly developmentally unusual for a child really is not all that unusual. How does it affect the child in the long run? I have looked to my own entire sexual history and realized that it has been a bit unusual, but not really. Junior year of high school I began to identify as bisexual. Now I look back and think, was that just because I had become sexually active with another little girl early in my childhood? Was what I was trying to express about myself really pathology as a result of childhood trauma?  It is painful to think that my sexual identity may not even be the same if it weren’t for my “unusual incidents.”
Hopefully my next “ah-ha!” moment will be acceptance.


a harsh lesson December 3, 2007

Filed under: stories — stitchmaverick @ 6:38 am

My lesson that I learned from the field is that even social
workers can be judgmental of each other. No one is perfect
and it is prudent to think that you would be.  Not every
instructor is as wonderful as the one I have now. Also, not
everyone is going to like the fact that they have a
critically thinking student (or grad) on their staff
because it may prove to be too challenging them in the long
run to keep up. But above all I learned not to feel bad about
bad experiences because they are just part of life.